There’s a word for what I'm experiencing today: odontophobia. Dentist fear. A jagged-edged tooth has rubbed raw the inside of my lower lip, and I've a dentist appointment tomorrow.

As an adolescent I endured three years of braces, sharp as razor wire, to straighten teeth that were a jumbled, protruding mess. It's possible I’m now feeling the fear and loathing that I suppressed years ago.

But maybe there’s more to it than that. An article in Discover Magazine suggests that - in certain circumstances - we may be experiencing the emotional trauma of our forebearers, a genetic legacy:

“According to the new insights of behavioral epigenetics, traumatic experiences in our past, or in our recent ancestors’ past, leave molecular scars adhering to our DNA. Jews whose great-grandparents were chased from their Russian shtetls; Chinese whose grandparents lived through the ravages of the Cultural Revolution; young immigrants from Africa whose parents survived massacres; adults of every ethnicity who grew up with alcoholic or abusive parents — all carry with them more than just memories."

"Like silt deposited on the cogs of a finely tuned machine after the seawater of a tsunami recedes, our experiences, and those of our forebears, are never gone, even if they have been forgotten. They become a part of us, a molecular residue holding fast to our genetic scaffolding. (Dan Healy, Discover Magazine, May, 2013)

Whether these scientific insights prove valid over time or not, I do know this. My mother, who's ninety-four years old, hasn't been to a dentist since she was a child. She once vaguely mentioned she'd had a bad experience there. I've also recently learned that my oldest sister’s teeth are in serious need of repair. She refuses her son's offer of free dental care.

All of which leads me to believe my odontophobia might be partly inherited.

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