Dental Nerves of Steel: Passing My Anesthetic Certification Exam

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Sweaty palms, right armpit smelling as per its now-normal state thanks to menopause, light-headedness from lack of sleep thanks to anxiety over the exam, and again, hormonal insomnia. Nausea so bad I thought I might vomit right on my partner… who lay there trusting me with her life.

She gagged so hard, sitting up, coughing from all the extra anesthetic pooling at the back of her quivering throat.

She tried so hard to hold back, as to not make it overly obvious I almost drowned her with my huge hesitation. What a dear, sweet soul she was, as we both took turns with our practical exam for our local anesthetic module.

As graduates of colleges that didn’t require this certification, we were granted a two-year conditional registration upon entering the work-force as hygienists in British Columbia. During this time, the requirement must be met to be granted full registration in this province. Did I mention I waited until one month before the deadline to commit to doing this? As to why I did that (and no, I wouldn’t recommend that for anyone!), well, that’s another story for a later date.

I worked in two offices at the time, one full-time one and the other part-time. The dentist at my full-time place of employment agreed, reluctantly, to observe and give wise instruction while I practiced on patients for the three-week interim before the exam. This turned out to be an extraordinary adventure of mostly self-instruction and a lot of prayers, let me tell you. Fortunately for me, I had many understanding patients who were up for the challenge while I learned. I gave forty-five injections in those twelve working days and thought I had this thing in the bag. Or did I?

So back to the beginning… feeling faint, sick, shaking…yadi-ya-da.

The rest of the class was dismissed, having successfully completed the written portion that morning and now skipping off with their certificates in their greedy hands and congratulating each other with laughter, joyful tears of relief and promises of some celebratory libations soon after. But not me or my partner. We were paired together because we were the only ones who had to repeat four (yes four!) of our lovely injections to pass this test and move on as hygiene superheroes who could do anything we set our mind to. To conquer the whole dental world and… ok, I’m getting ahead of myself here (forgive me, I’m so passionate at times).Trying so hard to concentrate on not passing out, or thinking too far ahead about what would happen if I didn’t pass this torturous trial of my last nerve, I proceeded with the injection. It was the dreaded IANB which for some reason decided to be difficult for me this day, even though I practiced successfully at the clinic so many times prior.

Being the type of person who doesn’t test well because she tends to blank-out and therefore freaks out, didn’t work out well for me, however. I discovered I had to really breathe through it, remind myself I knew this stuff, it would soon be over and that I really was going to be ok. I studied hard, practiced harder and wanted it so bad I could taste it.

I envisioned sitting with a patient in my op at my practice and how calm and confident I would need to be.

Lots of self-talk and nose-breathing later, we had success, and I was able to move on to the next injection, finally. I can’t even remember which one that was now honestly. The rest is a blur. That is, except for when one of the two instructors who was testing me passed me an envelope and congratulated me for successful completion of the course! Heaven’s gates opened from above and light poured on my face like a beacon of love. Holding back my tears of joy until after my partner could perform her injections successfully and receive her precious envelope too, I knew all would soon be right with the world.

Hugging each other wildly once we both had our precious paper cargo, our smiles lit up the universe as we sang songs of praise to the other. After parting ways, I hopped on the bus and made my way back to my hotel, as it was an out-of-town experience. I made sure to announce my joy online immediately; I was so gosh-darn proud of myself.

Covetous of my new certification, Ontario colleagues quickly sent messages of congratulations and wish they too, could have the opportunity to perform such a controlled act. The dentist still holds reign out there to administer local anesthetic and therefore if a patient is in need, he or she must be called in to implement it. Not that I am some megalomaniac or anything, but it sure felt good to know that I had a new certification and that with such, I could help alleviate my patients’ physical and mental pain during procedures. After all, dental pain and dental phobia often go hand-in-hand, as we all know. Something as simple as freezing the nerves in the oral cavity prior to treatment can go a long way, to offer relief.

I now offer local anesthetic as a viable option for dental patients who either need me to go a little “deeper” to reach the base of a pocket, without the worry of pain or simply need some relief from the mental stress that can be associated with even the simplest of procedures. What’s great too, is I can prepare a patient for the dentist before a restorative treatment. The best part in my opinion, though, is my patient can lie there, worry-free and trust me when I say, “Everything is going to be ok.”

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Corina Hartley is a Registered Dental Hygienist in the province of British Columbia, Canada. Moving from Ontario in 2015 to establish herself in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, she is surrounded by mountains and lakes and loved by her very supportive husband, four children, and two very spoiled feline sisters. Graduating from Durham College in Oshawa, Ontario in 2006, she has experienced the challenges of commuting to big cities, working in more remote areas and also temping at various offices with different ethnic backgrounds.

While Corina’s family will always be her first love, the dental world is certainly the field she is passionate about. She has a unique ability to relax the most phobic patient and calm an irate one with a smile, understanding attitude, and a special sense of humour. She enjoys getting to the heart of the matter with everything she does in life, and this is demonstrated by her witty writing abilities as well. Corina’s biggest desire is to share life with as many people as possible, through close-up experiences, story-telling, and simply just being present.