Thoughts About Memory Recall

Yesterday I had my upper wisdom teeth pulled out and last night as I was trying to fall asleep, I kept going over the experience even though I really didn't want to think about it.

Earlier in the afternoon and evening, I posted on Facebook that it didn't hurt nearly as bad as I was expecting, the noise wasn't as bad as they made it sound like it was going to be, and overall I felt less uncomfortable than I had anticipated. The anticipation was definitely more stressful than the extractions.

It certainly helped that the oral surgeon that did it was patient, friendly, and explained each step before he did anything. There was a study recently that showed that when people are told what to expect they recover faster and have a much better experience.

But last night when I was trying to get to sleep the different moments kept flashing back to me. And here's what I found really interesting, they were getting worse. They were bothering me more as I thought about them. Then my mouth started bothering me more. I could feel it. I was getting creeped out.

This didn't come as a shock to me. I have been thinking about recall and have been wondering if that is often worse than the actual event. Sure, sometimes the event is really horrible. But usually if someone is in a car accident, for example, and it's really bad, they will never recover the memory of the worst of it.

This happened to me when I was 18. I was in a really bad car accident and while there are a few moments here and there that I have a flash of, I can't remember most of it and there's no pain associated with the memory either.

But this dentist experience is the opposite. The surgeon asked me afterwards how the experience was and I honestly said, while I wouldn't choose to do it, it really wasn't bad at all.

Now, I should tell you, I have a real problem with going to the dentist. I don't like any of it. This is what made me start to come to the realization of this recall phenomenon. I was so afraid of dentists that I didn't go to one for 18 years. When I did last year, I remember saying after the cleaning that it really wasn't that bad.

But some time later, my anxiety and dread returned. My memories seemed the same but they became emotionally charged and it seemed like I was distorting them. When I realized what I was doing, I stopped myself, but it was a huge effort to remind myself over and over what I had originally said after the experience. Which is interesting in itself, that I had to remind myself of what I said afterwards to stop the process.

But my mind seemed to want to make it worse than it really had been!

I had another cleaning and some cavities filled and each time I watched myself do the same thing: honestly say it wasn't that bad, then on recall each time it seemed worse. And that's the thing, I wasn't trying to make it worse to get attention or anything. It just seemed worse.

Fascinating, huh? Why would my mind do this? Have you ever done it (if it's possible to recall accurately now)? What are your thoughts on the matter?



  1. Hm, I should find a dentist to go to... I haven't been to any since I moved to Belgium two years ago.

    The procedure itself is always over within just a couple minutes (my teeth are basically always in good shape (just a quick minor cleaning), but it's just such a bother to go and all that, heh.

  2. I don't know if I recall things as being better or worse, but I definitely have a big chunk of memories that I can't recall in full because they were too traumatic at the time.

  3. Yeah, me too, Rachel. And that's fine by me! :(