First of all, I want it understood that I have excellent oral hygiene. I brush two or three times a day and floss, swish and fluoride on a daily basis. I don’t smoke, drink or chew anything but sugar-free gum. I don’t drink soda and I don’t eat candy. (Well, not very often and only on special occasions.) So, why is it that my dentist and I could file for joint custody of my teeth? I swear, he’s put as much of himself into them as I have.
Kind of like a dog, I tend to be a very loyal person. I stick with family, friends, and business relationships as long as they’re willing to stick with me. So when I find a dentist, it’s kind of like this weird marriage: ‘til dentures do us part. As I attended a university nowhere near where my parents lived, I found a dentist my freshman year. As I am fortunate enough to still live in the same area, I’ve remained loyal to that same dentist all these long years. Every six-months, a check-up and cleaning, with the occasional filling thrown in.
Oh yeah, I asked my dentist, “Why?” Why, with all the careful care I give to my teeth do I still get cavities? He said it was genetics. Thanks, Dad. I love you, but I know that based on your relationship with your dentist, I have you to thank for this. Dad always said I got my father’s teeth in my mother’s mouth: a genetic recipe for disaster, apparently. I’ve had to have eight teeth pulled in the process of orthodontia just to make enough room for the crowded white-horse parade that’s in there now!
So, the time for my six-month check-up drew nigh and I called this Casanova of Cavities to whom I’ve devoted the last two decades of my wallet and oral care to make an appointment. Answering machine. Left a message. No response. Called again. Couldn’t leave a message as the machine was full. My, this gentleman caller must have a lot of clients. There is no indication in the message that his office is closed, or on vacation, or anything. No note, no message, no forwarding address. Just gone! I think he’s having an affair.
Suspecting foul-play, I started where any decent gumshoe might — the internet — to see if he’d been permanently seduced by some Osmond-wannabe. What I found was even more disturbing. The reason his office was closed with no explanation was that his license had been pulled. Why? Apparently, dentists are required to complete a certain amount of training and certification every year in order to maintain their license. He had not done this.
You have got to be kidding me! After how many years of dental school, and how many years of investing in all that equipment, and how many years of establishing that precious clientele; one year you just decide not to play the game anymore? I can understand if this fellow wanted a change of profession, or needed a break, or simply decided to retire. Great! More power to him. But from the reports that I read, it appeared that he was still trying to get his license back!
So, I decided to wait. Fidelity, remember? I am faithful to my people. I decided to wait for him to get his act together and reopen shop… Another six months went by; and another; and another. Two years, I figure, is long enough to wait for any man. I abandoned my sunken ship and went looking for fairer weather elsewhere.
It didn’t take long. Have you ever counted the number of dentists in your area? Wow! Discipline Oversaturation would be a severe understatement in this regard. So I asked a coworker if she liked her dentist. She did, and I went to him.
I’d like to call him Dr. Arm Sandbag. He’s trying way too hard to make me feel comfortable and not succeeding. Somewhere along the way, he must have picked up that showing compassion to a patient is more effective if you touch them a lot. His hand is constantly resting on my arm, applying the solid pressure of a sandbag, with an occasional good-natured squeeze if he’s emphasizing a point. “We want to make you as comfortable as possible.” Squeeze. “Because after all, this is all about you.”
I check my Spidey-sense for the creeper alarm. Nnnooo. He’s not a creeper. But the contact feels a bit mechanical and forced as I really don’t know him that well. After all, we just barely met. Oh, but please allow me to let you inside one of my most private orifices to gawk, take pictures, critique and analyze the health and hygiene thereof. While you’re at it, could you check my sinuses?
Two cavities! I suppose, given my predisposition toward this curse – thanks again, Dad – that it’s really not so terrible. Two cavities in two years. Oh well.
“Oh well,” indeed! While I consider myself to be quite brave on many fronts (see my story about getting gravel scrubbed out of my arm with hydrogen peroxide in “Instant Karma”), dentition repair is not one of them. I’ve mentioned my morbid fear of needles in another post. Add to that a couple of truly memorable experiences at the dentist and you have a luscious cocktail for PTSD (Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder).
One of those really amazing, life-altering experiences involved the needle “nicking” (that’s the term they used) an artery on the way in. Hematoma-city! The entire right side of my face ballooned like a puffer fish on too much Sriracha sauce. They packed a couple of ice bags on my fevered one-eyed grimace and sent me home to heal before they had to attempt it AGAIN in two weeks!
So, whenever the dentist says, “cavity,” I go immediately to my Zen place and pretty much tune out the rest. Fortunately, they didn’t have enough time in the schedule to perform the fillings right then. So I would have the opportunity to make a future appointment, allowing me plenty of time to develop a full-blown ulcer in anticipation of this choice experience.
They had offered sedation. But, first of all, I don’t much like the “drugged out” feeling. And secondly, when I saw what they were charging for it, I decided I’d provide my own sedation/meditation, thank you very much. Consequently, I took a couple of pain-killers prior to going, in anticipation of the pain that was surely to come. They offered nitrous-oxide. I refused. They gave me that stuff once as a kid and it totally freaked me out. Blech.
By the time I’m sitting in the reclined chair, I can feel the migraine medication working. “Good,” I think. Maybe this won’t be so bad. I sit there for a long time, waiting. Getting a bit… sleepy. Maybe? Wow. What if I were to sleep through this whole thing? One of the assistants swabs the injection sites with a bitter numbing gel. Just as I’m dozing off again, she introduces me to Jenny. “This is Jenny.”
“She’ll be administering your agony today.” Anesthesia… she meant. Right? Or am I now hearing things? Oh,… shhhhhhhhhhhhhh-iny… metal… needle… coming right at my face. I can close my eyes, but I cannot hide. I’m awake now! Oh, so awake! Adrenaline trumps drugs every time.
So, before you start playing your invisible violin on my behalf, did you know that every person is of a different vascular density? It’s genetics, it’s health, it’s all kinds of things. I apparently came from Krypton because doctors and dentists are always taken aback just a bit by my ridiculous vascular density: Making it more difficult, therefore, to insert even a thin foreign object between the tissues – like a needle.
Oh man, here come the tremors. I can’t help it. I’m a kinetic processor. What can I say? How Jenny is able to get enough numb-syrup into my jaws as the tremors rack all the way up her hand is beyond me, but somehow she does and I have lost all ability for comprehensive speech.
Dr. Sandbag came and I remembered a question I hadn’t asked. “Blil these be ama… amal… nom-medle lillings?” Seriously, one of those classes they must cover in dental school is how to speak numb-tongue, because he totally got it on the first try. (Two points to him!) “I don’t do anything but amalgam here.” Oh, good. That’s what I needed to hear. I laid back to watch the smoke signals coming out of my mouth.
Twenty-minutes later I walked out the door, soaked in perspiration, a bit worse for wear, but sound. I got into the elevator and the door began to close. Then it opened and a young boy, carrot-topped and bespecked, stood there in his scouting uniform. I could hear his mother encouraging him to get on the lift and go down.
Courteously, I took a step back, smiled, and made a gentle gesture as if to say, “Please come in. There’s plenty of room.” I didn’t dare speak as diction at this point was still a pipe dream. His eyes grew wide and he stepped back, still staring at me. “Uh,… Mom? I’ll take the next one,” he trailed off. I had only a moment to wonder.
As the door closed I saw my reflection. Oh! No wonder! I looked like a Salvador Dali painting; one side of my face appearing to be pulled by an invisible string toward my collar while the other smiled pleasantly. Gads! Poor kid. I hope I didn’t scar him for life.
That’s my motto! “Give a child a reason to be grateful for their mommy,” every day. And so, Faithful Sidekick, my work here is done.