Adventures in dentistry

From my first visit in 2001, dentists amuse and confound me.  From feb 2007 Northword magazine.


Adventures in dentistry

By: Russell Bowers

When I was growing up, I never visited the dentist. My father had the attitude that if kids’ teeth were going to all fall out anyway, what is the point of spending money on a dentist?

Sound logic, if medically suspect. Lucky for him, all my teeth did indeed fall out with little fanfare—or pain—and my adult teeth generally descended in a straight and orderly line. If you didn’t know any better today, you’d say I had an Ultra-brite smile.

But like an iceberg that veils its bulk beneath the surface, dental problems hide away in dark recesses and then, when ready, announce their arrival with sharp emphasis.

Tooth-ache pain is something no one should have to endure, and is patently unfair. Cavities are developed over a long period of neglect and mistreatment and it seems to me the resulting pain should be parceled out in similar fashion.

Of course, I bring this up because my “chicklets” have come home to roost, and I have been seeing the inside of the dentist’s office a lot in the last little while.

The very first time I went to a dentist was in 2001, for an upper left tooth towards the back (I’m sure there’s a numeric designation for this, but I’ve long since forgotten—if indeed I ever made a point of knowing). The extra-strength Tylenol just wasn’t helping, so I broke down and went to see a professional.

It’s not that I feared the process. I had no idea what it was like, so it would be whatever it would be. But that first visit was spent getting over my gag reflex. Every time they tried to put that metal doo-flicky in my cheek so they could take an x-ray, I wound up having that about-to-chunder reaction.

The best way to get over that, I was told, was to raise up my leg and focus on that, taking my mind off the metal unpleasantness. It worked so well that I now raise my leg to deal with any situation causing me grief. This practice once caused some tension during a talk with my boss—but imagine our combined horror as we both had our legs hoisted across the meeting table!

Back in the chair, the technique helped me get through that initial extraction, and a second one in 2004.

However, now I find myself back in the chair dealing with yet another bad tooth, a cavity and a possible root canal. I can’t tell if it’s a squealing bit of dental equipment I’m hearing, or a cash register going “ka-ching.”

Welcome to the world of private health care. It seems that anything covered by medi-care will take several months to fix, but if a credit card is required, the treatment simply cannot wait another minute.

An over-simplification, I’m sure, but a curiosity all the same.

As I sit and rue my orthodontic negligence, I take some solace that the people at my dental office are nice, supportive, and treat me like an 8-year-old. Which is certainly no knock to my ego and—under my circumstances—is actually necessary.

Tooth pain makes me cranky and immobilized. It’s fine if it happens at home, but it’s been cropping up at work lately and that doesn’t help at all. I’m like a sullen grizzly who has a nasty splinter in his paw and can’t quite pry it out.

I seem to be in the school of thought expressed by Notre Dame football coach Frank Leahy, who said: “Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity.” (Football quotes were better in the 1930’s.) And so the indignity of asking for help is outweighed by the impending relief you know the help will provide.

So bring on the Novocain—but watch out for the leg!