The Dentist

After a conspicuous absence, Debbie recounted her recent
experience with her dentist, Dr. Lecter . (I’m glad you’re back, Deb!)
My dentist visit was much more benign.

I started scheduling my checkups for obscenely in the morning so when I was done, I’d already be “down the hill,” ready for the commute to work. I still schedule them early out of habit, but now it’s because I’m likely to be sleepy. I hate the non-checkup part of dentistry, opting for as much sensory deprivation/distraction as they’ll let me have: headphones (so
I don’t hear the drill), sunglasses (so I don’t see the drill), vibrating chair (so I don’t feel the drill), novocaine double-shot and nitrous (just in case the other stuff doesn’t work). When I had some 25 year-old fillings replaced in 2001, I apparently set some kind of unofficial office record for volume of nitrous consumed. (As a reference point, I feel guilty about taking an aspirin for minor swelling after a strenuous bike ride.)


This morning, were three people were working behind the desk. One asked if she could take my picture “for their records.” This seemed a little creepy, so I made up a lame excuse about not wanting to because I haven’t shaved. She looked puzzled, then handed me their standard form. It fishes for information on conditions that have occured since my last visit six months: Is my insurance the same? (The most important.) Am I taking any new and exciting medications? Have I had impure thoughts?
The dental hygeinist will ask me the same questions again anyway, so I tick the “no” box on the insurance question and sit down.

Right in front of me is a plasma television (turned off).
It’s too large for the waiting room. The juxtaposition of this modern entertainment marvel with the four-year old magazines on the table seems funny. Bets are even that the next time I visit, the TV will be in the dentist’s home, fully written off for (cough) tax purposes.

A few minutes later, Donna, the hygeinist, greets me. She’s always pleasant. I find this remarkable because she’s going to be spending the next fifty minutes X-raying, scraping, polishing and flossing my teeth. This has got to rank far below help desk technician and
TV meterologist but not nearly as bad as this job (go on, I know you want to know). Because I like her, I have refrained from my nominal intake of garlic and asparagus.

Donna reminds me that it’s February, and an odd-numbered year, which means… bitewings! I’m relieved. Even-numbered years are reserved for the CSI-special battery of X-rays. Even though the X-ray emitter is aimed at my jaw and I’m wearing a lead vest and I don’t intend to have any more children, I still reflexively cup my hands over my cajones.

Perhaps as a result of all the Diet Dr. Pepper I drink at work, this checkup is relatively tartar-free, but she hits a couple of “sensitive” areas near the gum line that cause me to wince. These aren’t anything I need to worry about. Yet. They’ve bothered me since, and I’m hoping it’s only psycho-somatic.

After the flossing was done, the dentist came in. He’s a bit of a technophile, always wanting to show me his latest eBay find. One visit he had a Nikon camera that would produce extreme close-ups, which he promptly demonstrated on my teeth. While I concede it was techically cool, I could fine more pleasant things to magnify. (Like, even in my pantry) Another year, I had a filling replaced. After he drilled into the tooth, he paused to show me what a cavity looks like from the inside. Big whiff of nitrous. That’s groovy, doc. Only it sounded more like “barglebruff” because everything was numb and I had a dental dam in my mouth.
Last visit, when he saw me poring through my file, he spent 20 minutes showing me how to read dental X-rays. Factoid: resin fillings are laced with barium so they show up on X-rays as brightly-colored. Without it, they’d be dark blotches.

This visit, he was double-booked and spent approximately 47 seconds checking my teeth and the bitewings, long enough to tell me I ought to lay off the Diet DP because most of my lower teeth, whose fillings are due to be replaced as soon as my insurance runs out, are starting to demineralize. There are pre-cavities, areas where the bacteria start collecting and eventually eat through the tooth, but too small to drill.

Big whiff of nitrous.

16 thoughts on “The Dentist”

  1. i find the worst bit of dentistry is when they clean the inside of your teeth with that buzzy scraper file-type thing. when you lick your teeth afterwards, it feels like you just had your mouth bleached.
    Having dealt with many of the trials and tribulations of orthodonty (if that’s the word), i have also found that that weird shit that the dentists use to take moulds of your jaw is so vile that when you’re sitting with a mouth full of this blue gunge, and the oral hygienist turns round to you, smiles and says “tastes a bit like oranges doesn’t it?”, it almost makes you choke. Not only because in trying to express utter disagreement and/or contempt, the obscene substance adorning your oral passage way chooses to relocate to warmer climes, ie, your tonsils/larynx/trachea, but because you take one look at this no-brainer bimbo with an official title and think:
    “I WANT TO WIRE YOUR FACE TOGETHER!”
    … still bitter about braces, i’m afraid.

  2. Job satisfaction? I think the job satisfaction is balanced by the salary. In other words, being a garbageman wouldn’t be bad if you were earning $300k/year.

  3. Dental hygienist can be a pretty good gig. True, you have to work in people’s mouths – and when you’re in school, you have to work on people who haven’t seen a dentist in years – but there’s a lot of flexibility in schedule, and hygienists are in high demand.

    Ever notice that if you need work done, the dentist can get you in in a couple of weeks, but the hygienist is already booked up 3 months out?

  4. The gel used to produce molds doesn’t bother me as much because it’s only something I’ve had to do a couple of times. What really sets off the Pavlovian reaction is the whine of the drill and the mid-filling burning smell (which I have no idea what it is).

    When I’ve taken the kids to the dentist, the experience is all about comfort. The hygienists are dressed in non-sterile colours, they use cute analogies and the kids get a toy at the end.

    Regarding Ted & Eric’s comments, I expected the salary range for a DH would be closer to $70k, but I hadn’t considered the other benefits. Flex time and not having to take my work home with me both sound good, though.

  5. Debbie is broken!! I got all excited when I saw your entry because I thought it meant she was fixed but no… And I read the entry anyway even though it’s against my Droppout From The Uw’s Dental Fear Clinic principles…

  6. Jim, we’re at opposite ends of the spectrum as to our appointment scheduling habits. I tend to schedule mine for the end of the day so that, when it’s over, I can either meekly cry into a towel without fear of interruption or simply take a long nap to recuperate.

    BTW, I’ve decided to get a second opinion on the whole jaw surgery thing. This should surprise absolutely no one. I’m a big wuss.

  7. I’m with Debbie… end of the day appointments are good, so you can suffer in the solitude of your own house. 🙂 I HATE having my teeth cleaned. My gums don’t like the poking.

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