b Papa Dog's Blog: Dentistry and Me

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Thursday, November 18, 2004

Dentistry and Me

In an act of rebellion that in hindsight seems monumentally pointless even to me, I stopped going to the dentist the moment I was out from under my parents’ direct supervision. I had a troubled history with dental care. I brushed regularly but somehow could never keep my teeth clean. I remember a product that came out when I was in single or early double digits. I don’t remember what it was called, but it was some sort of mouthwashy thing that was supposed to show you where you most needed to improve your dental hygiene. You brushed your teeth, then swished this stuff around in your mouth. After you spit, you grinned in the mirror, and the plaque you had failed to remove would be stained red. I don’t think that product exits this day, possibly because one or two people might have questioned how sensible it really was to stain your teeth in order to clean them. On the other hand, the fact that it was utter crap might have had something to do with it. No matter how scrupulously I brushed my teeth, every time I swished with this stuff, I would see a solid set of crimson choppers in the mirror. I know I was probably brushing badly, but I probably wasn’t brushing that badly.

My first dentist was Dr. Bigelow. He did his best to keep pace with the devastation I would wreak upon my teeth through eager consumption of candy and soft drinks. He cleaned them up and plugged the holes. There was always some sort of renovation work required when I saw Dr. Bigelow. I didn’t mind, because he used general aesthetic. I didn’t like the first funny-smelling tang of the gas, but I knew that shortly afterwards I would experience a pleasant feeling for which I lacked a name. I am now old enough to know the name of that feeling, which is “being stoned.” One time they left me gassing up a little longer than they’d meant to, but that was okay with me. The dentist’s chair had started revolving up the wall and around the ceiling like a carnival ride, and I thought it was kind of neat.

We moved west in ’77 and I never saw Dr. Bigelow again. The first time a the new dentist’s, I went in looking forward to that first hit of the dental bhang only to be rudely surprised when this hideous quack suddenly produced a needle and rammed it in my jaw. Local aesthetic! What the fuck use is that? I want my peaceful easy feeling back! That initial sense of disappointment grew and festered through my high school years until I was able to show the world – or at least the Canadian Dental Association – by not visiting a dentist again until I was 34.

Well, okay, the initial grudge only lasted a few years. By that time, though, I was poor and uninsured in America and therefore did not deserve dental care in an unfettered free market. After a few years of that, I gradually developed another reason to stay away: dread. It’s a vicious little cycle – the longer I’d gone without seeing a dentist, the more horrific I became convinced the consequences would be, so I’d put them off all the longer. I know there’s not a lot of rationality in that, but there you go.

Worse, I had a cautionary example in Bernardo. He’d gone through a similar stretch of dental celibacy until a toothache forced him back into the chair. His treatment program had involved the loss of several teeth and the installation of an prosthetic appliance. I’d been away from the dentist longer than he had, and was sure that I’d have it worse. I mean, I wasn’t quite Shane MacGowan, but by then ten years had elapsed since my last dental visit, so I had cause to worry.

I was not so worried that I did anything about it, though. I ultimately went almost eighteen years between visits. It took the love of a good woman to reform me, as is so often the case. As I learned over the course of our first couple years together, Mama Dog had developed a short list of necessary revisions to yr. humble work in progress. One involved finding out whether or not I had a tumour. Close behind that was Doing Something About the Teeth.

I can’t overstate what a big deal this had become by that time. The thought of going to the dentist was my own personal Grendel. I’d grown convinced that after I’d been in the chair about ten seconds, the dentist would shriek in horror and start ripping things out indiscriminately. I had visions of geysers of blood arcing from my mouth and bouncing off framed posters of Matisse paintings while “Up Up and Away” by The 5th Dimension played faintly over the horrible whine of the drill. Mama Dog took pains to reassure me that they wouldn’t do anything I didn’t agree to in advance. I grudgingly admitted that made sense, and filed away in the back of my mind the thought that if my worst-case scenario came true I could at least refuse to pay for it.

To show I had a sense of humour about things, we watched Marathon Man shortly before my first appointment.

Either surprisingly or predictably depending on how far ahead of me you are here, the first visit was a complete anti-climax. Dr. Communist looked my teeth over and managed to keep a poker face instead of shrieking in horror. He also managed to restrain himself from ripping anything out. He formulated and went over a long-range treatment plan. Given the years of neglect and abuse, things weren’t really that bad. I needed deep cleaning, a bunch of fillings, and a consultation with a dental surgeon on my wisdom teeth, which I’d been trying to think about even less than all the other ones for the past couple of decades. I had a bit of survivor’s guilt when I thought about the bum hand Bernardo got dealt. Somewhere along the line, I must have been blessed by the Tooth Fairy.

That initial appointment was about four years ago now, and the treatment plan long since concluded. I’ve been cleaned and buffed and drilled and grouted and relieved of my wisdom teeth, which weren’t really bothering anybody but had the potential to make life more difficult. I did go for a consultation with an orthodontist who had a whole passel of recommendations, but those are going to have to wait for a time when we have the extra cash to buy second and third boats for orthodontists. At first I was in Dr. Communist’s office every three months, but now I’m down to twice a year. I went for a check-up yesterday and I didn’t need anything but a polish. Ten years ago that would have seemed the stuff of science fiction to me. So yeah, yeah. That right there. That’s the power of love.


Blogger RachelleCentral said...

I know somebody who got root canal with a dentist who practiced hypnotherapy. She got no drugs whatsoever, but was instead told to envision a set of traffic lights. When the pain started, she was supposed to envision the lights turning red and to tell them to STOP the pain. Supposedly it worked.

I am also mortally afeared of dentists, dating back to when I was a kid and my parents, sadists that they were, made me see a dentist who gave me several fillings with no pain relief at all. In fact, I didn't know you could get injections for fillings until I was in my teens. Later, I went to my parents' dentist, who had suffered a stroke and literally worked with shaking hands!

3:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was having pain one one tooth, and I wanted to get it fixed before I left for Europe. My dentist didn't have time, so she passed me off to her associate, who was fresh out of dental school. She injected the freezing, and I felt a shock run down to the end of my tongue. She replaced the filling. Later, when I tried to eat, the pain was immense. Much worse than before. And to top it off, half of my tongue was still numb, long after the freezing should have worn off. It seems that when she stuck the needle in, she hit the lingual nerve.

Anyways,the next day she scgeduled me for an emergency root canal with a root canal specialist. When he injected the freezing, he hit the same damn nerve.

Anyways, I left for Europe the next day. My tooth didn't hurt, but half my tongue was numb for about six months.

6:08 PM  

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