All Smiles


Thaddeus C. Hinunangan, M.D.

Out on Pass is a borrowed term used in hospitals, where a patient is temporarily sent home for a respite, with promise to return for definitive treatment. Dr. Thaddeus C. Hinunangan is a physician by profession, and a writer by heart. His work was published in several anthologies and he also contributes to Philippine Daily Inquirer Opinion column.

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As a child I’ve always had an irrational fear of dentists. Every time I walk through the clinic door with its Lysol smell, metal instruments lined near the dreaded reclining chair, and that huge incandescent lamp, I’d always get goosebumps. That was primarily the reason I had really bad teeth during childhood.

A week ago, my orthodontist told me I had to remove my left lower 3rd molar because it was pushing the other teeth. I needed to have dental surgery before my orthodontist could apply my braces. I was referred to Dr. Christina Estrada of Philippine General Hospital (PGH), Department of Dentistry, when my initial dentist saw the impacted tooth was very near the inferior alveolar nerve. A Cone Beam Computed Tomography Scan was done to further assess the site prior to the procedure.

I found myself one Thursday morning, anxiously waiting for my appointment. Dr. Estrada was very warm and accommodating, yet despite that my childhood fears came rushing back like a mad train. As I lay on the chair with the blinding lamp directed to my mouth, the assistant dentist applied a dental bib and my heart was pounding like crazy. Dr. Estrada explained the procedure and applied some topical anesthesia. She proceeded by expertly injecting the anesthesia to the operative site. She asked how I was.

At that moment, I relaxed a little. I had been pinching the skin of my arm to deflect my attention from the anesthesia injections. My left jaw and lips became numb. Third molars are usually removed in the second decade of life when the bone is soft. I am about to turn forty this year.

I think I started to sense something might be wrong when they had difficulty fragmenting and removing the fragments of the third molar. I heard Dr. Estrada’s firm, yet gentle commands on suction or lights, or more retraction, but despite not being on nitrous or laughing gas, I felt like I was in a daze. My eyes were closed, mouth open while they worked on me, and this memory of my mom came back to me.

I was around eight or nine years old, and my mother accompanied me to the dentist with an older cousin. One of my temporary molars needed to be extracted. My cousin held me on the chair as the dentist applied the topical anesthesia but as soon as I tasted its slightly bitter taste I just went berserk in the arms of my cousin. They could not hold me down. The dentist, in the end, gave up and charged my mom for the topical anesthesia and my mother was so mad we both did not speak with each other for a few days. I left our house to go next door to my aunt to stay temporarily. After a few days my aunt persuaded me to go home, and I was not sure if I was feeling mad because my mom made me go to the dentist or I was mad at myself for enduring the pain of toothache, but I went home reluctantly. Eventually, I remembered pulling out that rotting tooth myself, bloodoozing out and me spitting out that coppery blood on to the pavement. That memory became vivid in that haze.

I suddenly became aware I was holding my hand tightly with my other hand. It was not my late mother’s, but only my own. I felt a tear trickle down the corner of my eye. Oh Ma, there is no hand to hold me now. The procedure was finished after about an hour. An x-ray confirmed the impacted tooth was removed and everything was fine. Dr. Estrada had done a fine job.

As I headed home, holding an ice pack against my left cheek, I realized how ill founded and irrational my fear of dentists were, but of course the eight year old me did not know any better. I did some postoperative care on myself for the next few days. I think Dr. Estrada’s professional skills have reshaped my respect and admiration for dentists and the work that they do. No more pounding hearts or feelings of dread during my subsequent visits, only a wonderful smile to look forward to.

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