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Medieval Torture (My Trip to the Dentist)

June 28, 2007

I had to go to the dentist this week. Suffice it to say that I usually get everyone else in my family taken care of before I get myself taken care of (see Wal-ternate Reality), so this was the last little appointment that I had missed for awhile (ok, maybe a year and a half). Everyone else is there, come hell or highwater, every six months on the nose. Cavities get filled, crowns get seated, cleanings happen, the dentist who currently has no children has enough cash flow just from our family alone to support an Ivy League education for any number of her future children. I’ve seen these folks a lot, just not for myself.

It’s a whole separate post to discuss the dentist we had prior to this one. In a nutshell, he stunk… at dentistry and at being a decent human being. We had gone to him for several years, so I’m not sure if he was experiencing a midlife crisis, had some sort of mental breakdown, suddenly had a bad family life, or was experiencing some sort of other catasrophe in his life. Whatever the case may be, he stopped doing the job we expected him to do, hired completely incompetent office staff, tried to bill us in full for several procedures covered by insurance, and ended up with black mark against him from the Better Business Bureau. Chalk one up for me. Anyhoo, after all of the dentist-switching, cavities, crowns, payments to the new dentist that would feed most third-world countries for five years, it was finally my turn.

I went in just for a cleaning in May. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the hygienists are always the perkiest, happiest, blondest people I’ve ever met. This hygienist was no exception. She laughed… a lot… and made a ton of jokes and seemed, in general, to be a fairly agreeable person. I think I liked her initially. I was doing really well until she stuck that sharp thingy into my gums as she was “charting” with the assistant. I’m pretty sure it’s a source of some kind of sick, masochistic glee to stick that thing as far into your gum as is humanly possible. Maybe they have an office pool on who can end up getting a nine or ten depth out of the next patient.

Either way, I ended up with numbers that were distinctly unpleasant to her, although she was still smiling broadly as she explained that she and I “had the privilege of spending more time together.” Like coming back to that sharp instrument stuck down into my gums was a privilege. Like having my teeth drilled, or getting shots of any kind is a privilege. Wow! Kind of along the same lines as it being a privilege to have my brain removed through my nose with a crochet hook while I’m awake. What fun! I could hardly stand that it would be a couple of weeks until we saw each other again.

Time flew and there it was Monday already. Hubby had failed to fill the car up with gas so I was on empty (read: fumes) for the little trip out to the dentist’s office. It’s only 10 miles from the house, but on fumes I wasn’t sure I would make it. Truth be told, I was actually praying that I might run out of gas and therefore have a good enough excuse to get out of the appointment without incurring the $25 missed appointment fee, but it was not to be. The silly car ran just beautifully on fumes right into the driveway of the office. Ugh.

Happy, happy hygienist was waiting for me and she was all set to go. I settled into the chair (curses, I wore capri pants and my calves were sticking to the pleather) and steeled myself for the pain that was coming. She stuck those funky cotton swabs into my mouth, right up on the gum. Someone long ago had the foresight to make them taste like fermenting strawberries, so at least the taste is less unpleasant than the feeling that one’s throat is closing. I’m laying back in the chair, eyes closed against the blinding light (aren’t they supposed to be looking in your mouth instead of your eyes?), strawberry funk running down the back of my throat, trying not to swallow, calves sticking to the chair, palms sweating, and wondering why on earth we actually care about teeth. Maybe I’ll just have them all yanked and I’ll get dentures. Outside of the remote possibility that said dentures might fall out once in awhile, it’s really got to be better than this.

With a giant smile, the hygienist leans into the light beam and tells me that it’s time for the novacaine. “This might be a little uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be too bad.” Yeah, right. How about if we switch places and I administer the shots? Then you can tell me how “not too bad” they might be. My favorite is the one in the upper gum… the one that goes right on into that nerve, the one that feels like my head is about to come off at the same time that the smiling hygienist is yanking my lip clean off. I am soooooo not happy to be here. I squeeze my hands together and curl my toes down into my shoes, close my eyes and think about how facial waxing is less painful than this.

At this point, the entire right side of my face is numb, including my nose, which is an extremely odd sensation. Hygienist is chatting away in her sing-songey happy voice. Luckily she’s only asking questions that require a yes or a no answer. Then she digs out the “instrument”. I’m not sure what it’s called in dental lingo, but it’s some sort of medieval torture device, I’m pretty sure. She hangs the suction thing off the other side of my face so it’s sucking all of the saliva off of the roof of my mouth and threatening to suck my tonsils right out of the back of my throat, and goes to town.

While she’s working and my toes are curling down into my shoes, she says things like, “Let me know if it’s causing you discomfort,” and “No need to be a martyr, K?” She’s given me the novacaine, so I’m not sure what else she has up her sleeve for pain relief. Will she just stop if I say “Uncle”? I think not. I determine that I’ve given birth and this can’t possibly be any worse than that, but at least I got a baby out of that deal. I won’t be a sissy. I’ll take the pain. I’ll just curl my toes a little harder and squeeze the arms of the chair.

Finally, after 45 grueling minutes of buzzing and spraying and rinsing and suction, she’s done. I feel like I’ve run the Boston Marathon, my legs and arms are so tense. I’m sweating and I’m thinking about how much I hate going to the dentist. I’m wondering how one actually becomes a dentist or a hygienist. Maybe they take some kind of personality test that verifies they have a very high level of joy in inflicting pain in others. No wonder she’s so smiley and happy. I’m pretty sure that she and her husband must have had a fight this morning, she just pictured his face in place of mine, and worked away with that water spraying torture-device until she felt better.

She writes me a prescription for some Vicuprofen, advises me to “just brush like normal and floss like normal, ignore the bleeding…,” and says, oh so cheerily, “I’ll see you again next week for the other side. Lookin’ forward to it!” She winks.

I nod and smile with the side of my mouth that isn’t numb, feeling rather distinctly like punching her lights out, wondering if that’s because I haven’t had enough caffeine this morning, and ask in garbled voice, “Why is this kind of deep cleaning necessary? I mean, I know it’s been a year and a half, but I was regular on cleanings and dental work before that.” I turn to go, wiping the numb side of my mouth with my fingers, sure that I can feel drool sliding down my chin. I examine my fingers… they’re dry, and head for the door.

She answers as she hands me my bag of goodies (toothbrush, floss, and a coupon for ACT), perky smile in place, head tilted just a tad to the right, “Well…. there ARE a lot of bad dentists out there. No biggie, though, right? We’ll get you back on track.” Bigger smile. “Try not to bite your cheek, K? Have a great day!”

I hate the dentist.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Busted permalink
    June 28, 2007 5:48 am

    I hated the dentist too for many years until I found a really good guy and office staff that fixed all the crappy work the other dentists did. Unfortunately it took 3 years to fix the problems (mostly because I kept using up the insurance money) but after 3 years I’m pretty happy I did it.

    I seriously think finding a good dentist & staff is worth more than winning the lottery.

    (btw – great site!)

  2. Lynda permalink
    June 28, 2007 8:48 am

    Awwww…I’m sorry you had to go through all that. But it is truly important and necessary. I’m glad you’re taking care of yourself, you are sooooooo worth it! Yeah, it’s torture, at the time. And you’re right, sometimes they’re way too perky for their own good.

    My dentist is in the office next door to my office, so it’s like living (working) 15 paces from hell! Actually they’re very nice people over there and they do good work. It’s just that having someone mining around in your mouth is torture, no matter how nice, competent or perky they are. But, I’m glad they’re not clear across town (in Phoenix that can be like 40+ miles) like my medical doctor.

  3. June 28, 2007 10:59 am

    That was so funny I’m still laughing!!! Bah-bye, ba-bye, buh-bye. The only thing that would have topped that off is if Robin Williams did the impersonation in Aladdin. đŸ™‚ Here’s to happy happy teeth! (PS: Get gas next time…it’s AWESOME. Worth every freekin’ penny).

  4. July 9, 2007 8:41 am

    I have noticed that hygienists are the very happy and perky and very blond, but had never dared mentioned it…Ha!

  5. Noni permalink
    August 14, 2007 9:40 pm

    You never did like to go to the dentist. I think I passed on this feeling to you when you were three years old. Guess what, I still white-knuckle-it every time I go, even though my dentist & hygienist are both the best, and you probably will too!

  6. mcwellington permalink
    November 21, 2008 2:45 pm

    I have a good dentist now. The one before had an older operatory with belt-driven drills which hurt much. I visited him twice a year, every time he found 4-5 cavaties which he drilled and filled in the same session. Novocain he never gave me for drillings and fillings, that was for sissy girls only he said.When nearing his office my stomach felt bad every time. Perhaps someone here who recognize the belt-drill?

    • L Linzu permalink
      February 7, 2014 9:33 pm

      How many years ago was that?

      It’s good to consider your own dental history when you get a diagnosis. If you’ve had no cavities and you’re diagnosed with 10, I’d be skeptical.

  7. June 15, 2010 3:53 am

    That’s what happened at our Dentist. He had some kind of crisis in his life and he turned to shit. Luckily for him he hired a good 2nd doctor and seems to have been getting back on track.

    I went a couple years, gag i know, without having my teeth cleaned because I couldn’t afford it. I also had to sit through the wonderful wonderful process of all that scraping and finger breaking grip.

    Hmmm maybe I should go scrape the money together for a cleaning, like you its been a year…now I’m scared.

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