Tuesday, February 20, 2007


(News-Herald, February 2002) Today I’m apologizing to my dentist. I’m not going to name him for the same reason that you don’t usually volunteer your mother’s name when you’re arrested; he’s a good guy who does good work, and I’m afraid my conduct might not reflect well on him.
I was not always a Terribly Awful Dentistry Patient. But a few years ago—
Note: If you are considering the removal of wisdom teeth at any time in the future, you may want to skip the next few paragraphs.
--a few years ago, I had some wisdom teeth removed. The first round wasn’t bad. At least I’m pretty sure it wasn’t bad. I can’t claim to really remember a whole lot about it. I was under the influence of the kind of drugs that make it dangerous to walk past heavy machinery, let alone operate it.
But the second time around, some serious fear reaction vaporized every molecule of senses-clouding drug in my system. I felt no pain, but I heard and felt at the same time my teeth grinding on bone as they were ripped from my jaw, like character mutilation in a horror flick, only in full sensurround.
Since then, I am a dentistry basket case.
My dentist, God bless him, does everything right. He explains everything so that I understand what’s going on. He uses pleasant Dentist Euphemisms like, “This will pinch a little bit” (I believe we dropped pamphlets on the Taliban that said something similar).
He even has an office full of attractive women. I don’t know if this is by design, or luck, or Dental Technician School just doesn’t accept ugly women. But it’s a good choice. First, there is something vaguely comforting about having an attractive woman in the room. Second, no male over age 15 in the same room with an attractive woman is going to allow himself to scream, cry or beg for mercy. So this staffing choice seems a good thing for all concerned.
But even though my dentist does everything right, I do a lousy job of responding to his consideration.
First, there’s my mental problem. My brain is frighteningly retentive. I can remember a poem from Kindergarten (“Little Charlie Chipmunk”; when I know you much better I’ll recite it for you). I remember the combination to my mailbox in college, and the lyrics of many old bad songs.
However, once I’m told a date and time for a dentist appointment, my brain turns to durable Teflon. Tiny little eraser molecules hunt down the information, wrap it in plain brown paper, and load it on the next sneeze out of cabezaville. If I was at the dentist in the morning and made an appointment for the same afternoon, that evening I would be at home scratching my head thinking, “I wonder what I was supposed to do today. Maybe I was supposed to recite ‘Little Charlie Chipmunk’ for the kids.”
Add to that the embarrassment that’s involved in making an appointment because A) I suspect I’ve missed the previous six and B) I’m calling because of some problem that’s become ridiculously advanced while I waited for the tooth fairy to come fix it. I’m a reasonably intelligent person. I understand that when you put off painful things, you only make them more painful when you finally can’t avoid them. As a rational human being, I grasp this principle and can apply it in many situations. Except making dentist appointments.
Once I make it there, more challenges appear.
First off, I am apparently novocain-resistant. Sometimes it takes a few shots to achieve numbness. I suspect that the same anti-dentistry organ that puts out those eraser molecules recognizes that novocain is a prelude to Bad Things, and tries to get rid of it, like a panicked passenger bailing out a leaky lifeboat. Maybe somewhere in my body is a pocket of saved novocain; I envision being attacked by a bear some day who takes one bite out of me and then collapses when his head falls asleep.
Then, well, I feel bad that my dentist has invested in nice comfy chairs, because once he starts to work, I might as well be strapped to a seven foot two-by-four. I believe I actually shrink; I think I clench my entire body hard enough to compress my bone frame.
So I float a few inches above the comfy chair, heart hammering, congratulating myself on looking reasonably collected, and he’ll ask me, “How are you doing?” in that tone of voice that suggests he knows exactly how I’m doing and hopes that I won’t pass out with my mouth closed. I really should call him soon.

1 comment:

Joanna said...

Oh, you made me laugh! I am also novocaine-resistant, so maybe it's genetic. And the first time I had a crown done, my dentist is explaining what will happen and then he's looking at me funny. I looked down, and realized I had curled up in a fetal position on the chair... So now my chart has a sticker on the front, reminding the staff that I'm phobic. But call your dentist anyway...

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