Duffer... I’m telling you the ‘tooth’
I recently developed a toothache – my first in about 25 years – and that meant booking a visit with my dentist. I’m not a particularly dentist-friendly guy and rank dental appointments only slightly higher on my list of fun medical procedures than digital prostate exams.
This was a throbbing pain that I couldn’t ignore any longer and I knew it meant having to see a professional. I had probably gone an entire decade without actually having to see the dentist himself. I had run up a nice streak of cavity-free checkups with the hygienist twice each year and hoped my luck might continue forever.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. The x-ray confirmed my biggest fear. It wasn’t just a cavity, but a gaping hole. The dentist said the cavity was so deep I would need root canal work done, but since this was an emergency visit I would have to do with a temporary “medicated” filling until a proper window of time necessary for a full blown root canal job could be arranged.
Once the local anesthetic took effect, out came the drill. It’s not so much the feel of the drill that petrifies me as much as it is the sound. Comparatively speaking, the sound of fingernails being raked across a chalkboard is downright soothing. While he was working away on me, the dentist decided to engage in some small talk, even though there were two or three pieces of apparatus in my mouth at the time.
“Does your mouth feel fully frozen?”
“Oh, good, I didn’t want to start too early. Are you comfortable?”
“Excellent. Well, let’s take care of this little problem.”
I guess dental schools must teach students how to understand patients speaking with their mouths full of dental instruments. It’s quite a skill, I must say.
This wasn’t my worst experience with a dentist, not by a long shot. About 12 years ago, I had an abscessed tooth that needed pulling and I was sent to a specialist. As I sat in the chair waiting for my mouth to freeze, the dentist re-entered the room with a tray of instruments of various shapes and sizes. By the looks of these tools, I thought he had borrowed them from the mechanic down the street. These were the dental equivalents of monkey wrenches, heavy-duty pliers and ratchets. I was actually looking for the Stanley or Snap-On logos on these things.
With all the bedside manner of a serial killer, the dental specialist warned me that there was a strong possibility my jaw could break during the extraction. The tooth in question was the last molar on my bottom left side, just before my wisdom tooth (all four of which to this day still remain in my mouth). Because of its position, he forced my mouth open beyond what I was capable of doing myself to the point where I could hear the telltale creaking sound that suggested a fracture was imminent.
He then locked onto the tooth with his vice grips and began to pull…and pull…and pull. Believe it or not, he even put one foot up on the chair to gain some additional leverage. Even though we were well into the 21st century, I couldn’t help but think this procedure was more akin to 200 years earlier when barbers did double duty as tooth pullers. I was beginning to think the man who cuts my hair could have done a better job.
After what seemed like an eternity, the specialist finally hit pay dirt. But then he said, “By the way, while pulling out that tooth, I accidentally chipped the tooth beside it. You’ll have to make an appointment with your own dentist to have that fixed.”
Huh? This guy who nearly broke my jaw while yanking away at my tooth with reckless abandon wasn’t going to own up to the damage he caused?
“Can’t you do that yourself while my mouth is already frozen?” I asked.
“Sorry, I have no time. I have other patients to see.”
With that, he wrote up a prescription for painkillers until my own dentist was able to repair the damage the specialist caused.
At another appointment a couple years later, I was fitted with a couple of false implants to temporarily replace my own front teeth that had been knocked out as the result of an unfortunate accident. These temporary teeth – which I had to wear for about five months until crowns were permanently implanted – were not only plastic, they were yellow. What kind of sadistic dentist would place yellow teeth in someone’s mouth and expect him to wear them for five long months? We’re talking lemon yellow, not just an off-white shade. Any smiling I did from that point on was done with my lips sealed shut, and I tried my best to speak with my upper lip completely concealing my top teeth.
As the years continue to pass, I’m starting to wonder how much longer my original teeth can continue to hold up. With time, they’re apt to become more brittle and open to various problems. I hope the day doesn’t arrive anytime soon when I may have to wear dentures and place them in a glass atop my bedside table when it’s time to sleep. I’m pretty sure I’d freak out in the middle of the night if I awoke and saw a bodiless set of teeth staring back at me.
On the positive side, dental practices have come a long way since I first visited a dentist in the late 1960s. You no longer have to spit into a sink every five minutes. That archaic process has been replaced by hanging a suction tube from your bottom lip. And today you lay prone and wear sunglasses while you’re being worked on. In fact, I’ve fallen asleep in the dentist’s chair on more than one occasion.
As my root canal procedure looms, I suspect a nap won’t be part of that coming process. I expect I’ll be doing more wincing than relaxing when I hear that drill at work.
Rod Perry, aka Duffer, is a Niagara-based freelance writer.
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