Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fear of dentists is entirely justified

So yesterday I went to the dentist for the first time in about five years. It wasn't my intention for it to have been so long, but, a lack of insurance, a move to a new state, unfamiliarity with local dentists, and a lack of enthusiasm for the inevitable dental harangue combined to fuel my avoidance. Even when I regularly visited the dentist growing up, the conversation while I was in the chair usually went like this:

Dentist: Hmmm. Have you been brushing?

Me: Of course. Every day.

Dentist: Hmmm. You should really brush your teeth two times a day, if not three.

Me (to myself): Crap! I forgot he wanted to hear me say that I spent at least three-fourths of my day brushing my teeth! Better make up for it on the flossing question!

Dentist: And how often have you been flossing?

Me: Every hour, on the hour.

Dentist: Hmmm. Looks like I need to get the hygienist in here to show you a better way of flossing your teeth.

Me (to myself): Dammit, I overshot it.

Dentist: You have two cavities. I'll need you to come in two more times because I can only do one at a time, for some asinine reason. And we'll be numbing your mouth both times, of course, so you won't be able to eat or know whether or not you just swallowed your tongue or not for several hours afterward. All because you didn't dedicate your life to brushing and flossing like I did, you worthless schmuck.

OK, so I made that last part up. But needless to say I never enjoyed going to the dentist. It didn't help that virtually all of my forbears came from England, where the people are genetically predisposed to all sorts of oral horrors. I would always have at least one cavity every time I went to the dentist, whether I brushed vigorously or not. Then all of a sudden the cavities started to stop happening. I chalked this up to there being no possible place on any of my teeth that hadn't already been filled. It was around this time that I stopped going to the dentist.

I continued to walk around with my weird-looking, metal-filled teeth for years until recently, when my wife, Cindy, encouraged me to start going to the dentist again. This seemed like a pretty good idea, largely because I had forgotten what going to the dentist was like, but also because deep down, I was pretty sure whatever non-filled corners of my teeth still in existence would probably be rotten enough to rise up against the fillings and have some kind of nasty turf war, like a gang. Opposed as I am to gunplay in my jaw area, I decided to book a dental appointment for yesterday. This was a big mistake.

Soon after I was seated in that half-recliner, half-spitoon dental chair, and fitted with the creepy metal apron so they could X-ray my mouth, my new dentist and hygienist were having very nervous conversations about what they had just seen in my mouth. They gathered around the counter behind the chair and seemed very concerned, but it was hard to tell amidst the medical jargon.

"This is definitely a Grade-3 occlusion!" the dentist said.

"I'm not sure," the hygienist replied. "The axial something-or-rather is all the way over there."

"But what about the mandible occlusory thingamajig?" the dentist shot back. "How will we charge him thousands of dollars for that?"

"Oh, just slap on the double-axial occlusion-mandible surcharge," said the hygienist, with a laugh. "He won't know the difference!"

Just as I whipped my body around in the chair so I could see what was going on, the dentist started speaking to me in language I could understand.

"You have a very pronounced underbite. We'd like to break your jaw in a couple of places so you can bite down properly."

I said nothing, convinced that the dentist had somehow wandered into the wrong office and would soon realize that, no, I wouldn't need to have major maxillofacial surgery, of course not! The guy in the next room has to have it! And we'd all have a good laugh about it while the guy in the next room overheard us and peed his pants.

The dentist was apparently sufficiently appalled by my lack of dedication to my oral health that he called in another dentist to have a look. He marveled at my underbite, giving me a pat on the shoulder while he looked over the X-rays. As he peered into my mouth, I was pretty sure that if there was a third dentist on staff, he or she would have a hard time believing her colleagues when they told him about this new patient who walked into the office the other day.

Dentist 1: So you should have seen this guy. His mouth was full of occlusions!

Dentist 2: Yeah! And all his axials looked like little gummy bears!

Dentist 3: No way! I don't believe it. The British tourists don't show up until January.

As it turned out, the second dentist actually dissuaded the first dentist from prescribing jaw surgery, presumably because the money he would earn from that surgery, on top of my root canal and crowns, would push him into a new tax bracket. Good dental practices don't just involve cooperation on oral health matters. The dentists also serve as each other's financial consultants. The final bill turned out to be about $10,000, but luckily I have insurance, so that figure gets cut down to $5,000, or roughly 10 times what I can afford to pay. I suppose I'll have to get the root canal, about which I am obviously giddy, but I'll probably wind up saving the crowns for later, leading to conversations like this at six-month intervals:

Dentist: Hmmm. So how about those crowns?

Me: No, not yet.

Dentist: How often have you been thinking about those crowns?

Me: Every day.

Dentist: Hmmm. You should really be thinking about those crowns two or three times a day. That's how often I've been thinking about the new yacht I want to get.

Me: What are you talking about?

Dentist: Occlusions. Axials. Never mind. Say, I think we need to perform some emergency surgery on your jaw.

Me: What?!

Dentist: Breathe deeply into this mask ...


  1. This is hilarious. It's hard to tell which parts are true. Did one of the dentists really want to break your jaw?

    I am one of the rare few who likes going to the dentist, except for the pressure to X-Ray I sometimes get. (I don't believe in using x-rays for routine dental monitoring.) Once that fight is over, I'm happy to have the thorough cleaning and polishing that leaves my teeth looking whiter for at least a week, until the tea and coffee start to catch up again.