A Twinge by Any Other Name



Photo credit: “Toothache” – New stonework for the Minster restoration project. Photo (c) Paul Hudson, creative commons license cc by 2.0

Last week I went to the dentist a couple of times for an issue with a crown on my front tooth. All the work was done with no anesthesia – which was fine, since the tooth in question has had no nerve in it for lo these many years. However, something the dentist kept asking me did make me cringe.

Sensitive to my well-being, the dentist inquired several times if I were feeling any “discomfort.” Well, actually, the word he used was molestia, since I live in a Spanish-speaking country, but this corresponds to the term “discomfort” I have heard in every English-speaking dentist’s office I have ever been in. It’s the use of this term that causes me more pain than some actual dental procedures.

See, what they want to know is if the patient is feeling pain – but they don’t want to use that word. I suppose that in dental school they are all beaten mercilessly with canes until they learn to avoid the words hurt and pain, but hey, if that’s what it is, why call it something else? To paraphrase the Bard, a twinge by any other name would smart the same.

Discomfort is not the same as pain. Discomfort is when I eat too much at Thanksgiving and my pants won’t zip up right for several hours, or when there’s one too many throw pillows behind me on the sofa, or when someone openly refers to the unwelcome elephant in the room. These things are uncomfortable and cause discomfort, but not usually pain.

Now, when my little finger gets broken playing volleyball in high school gym class or I greatly damage a ligament in my ankle by falling (up to my waist) into a huge hole in the sidewalk on the way to work, that’s pain, not discomfort. And when my second inferior molar aches when I chew cold food on the left side of my mouth or when the dentist sticks the pick-from-hell into a cavity before shooting me up with lidocaine, it hurts, and I feel pain, not discomfort.

Since I am not a mom, I don’t know these things: Please tell me that in hospitals they do not refer to the discomfort of giving birth. If so, I at least hope that all those less-than-comfortable ladies are offered meds for the discomfort caused by delivering a child. (Rolls eyes.)

So yes, Dr. Dentist, I am feeling discomfort. I’m stressed, my vertigo tends to flare up when I’m in your chair, the air conditioning is on a little too high, and it’s awkward trying to breathe with this huge wad of gauze in my mouth; all of those things are making me uncomfortable.

However, if what you are really wanting to know is whether or not it hurts, please ask if I am feeling pain. Let’s call things by their real names, shall we? And if we’re doing all this in Spanish, let’s ditch the molestia and come right out and say dolor.

I realize that this little rant is not going to make even the smallest dent in the revered politically correct chairside linguistics of dental practice, but at least I am able (thanks to the modern marvel of blogging) to publish my inconformity with such outrageous behavior.

And you, dear reader, have been a sweetheart to have borne with me all the way to the end – even if the only reason you did so was that you hoped to hear a little more about that time I fell waist-high into a hole on my way to work. Maybe some other time … (It was years and years ago.)

Disclaimer: No dental professionals were harmed in the writing of this blog post. The author has multiple tooth-career-related relatives and friends, and considers them all very fine people.


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