Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dentally Retarded

In the tiny New England town where I was raised, the locals displayed a stoic Yankee distrust of government-sponsored programs that purported to be good for the populace. So, while the rest of the nation bathed its children's teeth in a soothing tide of fluoride, the town fathers of my little village opposed the trend, certain that it represented some sort of communist plot. As a result, I had 19 cavities by the age of 12, and my dental history has been a Little Shop of Horrors litany of crowns, extractions, fillings and invasive procedures. There was the dentist who saw me when I was 17 and insisted I let him remove all four wisdom teeth because they would push all my other teeth around like dominoes (the same wisdom teeth that reside quite happily in my head three decades later). There was the college-era dentist -- a time when I was no longer covered by my parents' insurance and paid for his services by working for a dodgy little newspaper/greyhound racing form in suburban Massachusetts -- who told me that one of my molars would need to be removed because it had the consistency of "balsa wood." More recently there was the Chinese dentist whose staff would titter and giggle over my head as they gossiped in Cantonese. And now my dentist is a very businesslike woman about my own age whose office window, as you lie prone in her chair, frames a postcard view of Coit Tower.

What do all these dental practitioners have in common? They all are appalled by the work of the dentists who have blazed the worn enamel trail before them, so once in their clutches they set out, anew, to replace the supposedly incompetent work of their predecessors.

I went in recently (a high-risk patient, she insists I visit every four months rather than twice a year) for a simple cleaning and was turned over to a new hygienist -- I don't remember her name, being traumatized as I was by the scraping and digging and scouring that seemed to go on for hours. My "pockets" are apparently so deep (I couldn't help but think she may have been referring to the depth of my insurance coverage when "deep pockets" were mentioned, rather than the supposed ravines between my teeth) she needed to deep-clean them with some sort of power water tool that set off the kind of inner skull vibration that probably killed Natasha Richardson. Then she had to "seal" the gums with a strangely fruity-tasting mixture, which led to more scraping and blasting. Next, she wanted me to demonstrate my flossing technique, which, under the influence of the laughing gas I had insisted upon, I performed as though walking her through my repertoire of yo-yo tricks: this is walking the dog, this is burping the baby, etc. Finally, I had to agree to two two-hour treatments of "root planing" the following month. During that epic procedure, as I submitted to more endless sandblasting, I stared up at the textured drop-ceiling and thought about all the daily maintenance I performed that hadn't helped me avoid this ongoing humiliation: brushing three times a day, using a Sonic Care toothbrush so forceful it threatened to induce epilepsy, two kinds of mouthwash, flossing. How much of this was really necessary, and how much of it was imposed by the dental industry's need for a constant flow of income. At my age, with a little luck, no major asteroid collisions, the Greenland ice shield somehow managing to not slide into the sea, the Hayward and San Andreas faults staying put, and a host of other eluded natural, pathogenic, terrorist, or environmental disasters, I might use these teeth for only another 30 years. Must I really endure all this tooth-centric mania just to have them all wind up as charred, chalky dice littering the crematorium?

1 comment:

  1. Ok-here we go-if you're prone in the dental chair-something more than gingivitis is being treated!
    I blamed my fear on my mother (who this week is having all of her teeth removed after avoiding any oral exams at all for at least 40 years) and the dentist who never used novocain. I found out on that many people in my hometown suffered under that same dentist's hairy knuckles (no gloves or goggles back then) and are equally traumatized.
    I coped as an adult by insisting on nitrous oxide, having periodontal cleaning every 3 months and switching dentists every time they told me something that I didn't want to hear. My dentists always complimented my previous dental work.
    My current dentist runs a "spa",not an office. There is the aroma of cookies baking-warm ones offered after your teeth are cleaned (?). Hand or foot massages to help you relax prior to the torture. A warm blanket,massage chair and last time when my mp3 player malfunctioned-listening to Dr.Perez's own i phone music.
    Yet still the distrust persists,even with the valium. This guy is cosmetic oriented- displaying certificates from make-over programs .He came up with a written plan and estimate for me--$20,000 and I'm sure many hours of hard work for the both of us. Starting with the crown that broke because he convinced me to get a pulp cap-like that pulp cap ever did anything good for me.He told me happily that after he did all of that work,then he could give (sell) me BRACES!
    It's all a conspiracy-they make stuff up-I know they do. My teeth are fine-don't be showing me no digital xrays or panoramic interior shots!!

    You are so right-thanks for helping me to endure this tooth-centric mania!!!!