Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Rinse and Spit

Rinse & Spit - by Donna DeSoto

I hate dentists. It all started when I was a seven-year-old in Fort Richardson, Alaska, holding onto the railing in our carport. As I bent over the bar at my waist to execute a smooth flip, a slightly wrong estimation that I could clear the space below the frosty black bar caused the too-near cement pavement to end up in my mouth. My frantic Mom scooped me up, threw me into the front seat of our station wagon, and quickly stuck my wooly mitten in my mouth to try and stop the bleeding. Then she collected my three younger siblings, threw them into the car, all howling in unison with sympathy pains, and we raced to the nearest Army dentist.

Without going into too many details, let me just say that the memory of that blood-soaked mitten heavy in my mouth is still with me today. That first miserable trip to the dentist would begin my saga of visits to many dentists over the years. I managed to have straight-enough teeth to not require braces. And some more good news--I didn't have to get my wisdom teeth out, and have not had any type of gum surgery. Yet. But believe me, I've had more than my share of dental problems. Face it, no matter how often you brush and floss, or what toothpaste you use, some of us were just born with lousy teeth.

When your teeth are prone to problems like heavy tartar, it has the effect of putting visits to the dentist low on the "To Do" list, which further aggravates the trouble. I am not a baby and am not prone to whining. I've survived a multitude of fillings, 3 extractions, 2 broken teeth, something called "root sensitivity," 3 root canals and various other caps and crowns. It's only when I open wide that I can blind a passerby with silver. But when I smile, the only visible imperfection is a slight gap between the top front teeth a la David Letterman. (Yes, I more resemble Letterman than Lauren Hutton.) No, I keep telling everyone, I don't care to have that fixed.

I hate dentists. Routine visits every six months involve considerable dread and trepidation, and at least three cancellations before I finally force myself to get it over with. I hate the waiting room: the informative and colorful pamphlets on gingevitis, the receptionist who always counts to see how late I am on the half-yearly check-ups and cleanings, and then announces it for all to hear, and then there is just the whole smell of it all. In the examining room all too soon, my blood pressure skyrockets at the mere glimpse of "The Tray". That morbid collection boasting the most sharp, pokey-looking tools all long and silver known to humankind. All else is forgotten with the sound of the drill revving up.

This is the moment when my teeth begin to scream.

I hate dentists. I see each as a giant praying mantis, looming over me with a blinding strobe attached to the too-tight elastic around a sweaty forehead. Flexing those ever-moving elbows out wide, from side to side, in and out, the engulfing arms are in constant motion, clanking hideous instruments of torture in their pincers.

My last visit was to a dentist my dad holds in high regard. "Try this one, Donna. I really like him. He's very good--and gentle, too." (Come on, Dad-this is no bonus. A dentist is supposed to be gentle.) Unbeknownst to me, the pretty but jumpy hygienist-in-training was quite early on in her training. She had been scraping away for what seemed to be a couple of hours. "Whoops," she suddenly gasped, eyes open wide in fear, then she loudly called for the dentist.

Sorry, Dad, but I hated him. I knew this the moment he walked in, a large man who tripped over something and landed inches away from my face. The man's hands were grotesquely oversized for the rest of him. There should be a maximum hand-size allowable for dental school, don't you think? Anyway, Dr. Donohue murmured "How'd this happen?" to the rookie hygienist, then set to work to repair the damage. As he stuffed wads of gauze way back in my mouth, it all came flooding back. The Mitten.

I hear that all-too-familiar phrase, "Let me know if you feel any discomfort." As I attempt to respond, suddenly I am being attacked by Mr. Slurpee, (otherwise known as "Mr. Thirsty" in different regions of the country) stuck on the inside of my cheek, pulled free, flailing every which way, in search of a pool of spit, then reattaching again to the delicate underside of my tongue, precisely where my tongue is attached to my mouth. "Ubflp, errrr," I gurgle, until it is ripped off my tongue. Off it goes,without wasting a second, in search of another place to grab. As the dentist with the way-too-big hands reaches in to retrieve Mr. Slurpee just before it plunges down my throat, he forgets he is wielding something that resembles a crochet hook in the same hand, and it catches my left nostril.

Now it is his turn to mutter "Whoops".

He gives the hook a small tug, and now I am bleeding from a place besides my gums. Where's that mitten? Nothing like a change of pace.

Maybe you can understand now my nervousness upon looking in my six-year-old daughter's mouth one day and seeing her two new top middle teeth just starting to emerge, with an extra one right in the middle, growing perpendicular to the others. My fears were confirmed by the oral surgeon, who said this tooth, this "supernumerary" tooth, would have to be removed as soon as possible. To make a long story short, I worried and lost much sleep in the five weeks I awaited that appointment to have the tooth taken out. My husband commented that if I was that worried, maybe we should just skip the whole thing, since it was just cosmetic. But I knew better. I knew it was time to be a grown-up and get this taken care of. Besides, this was a dental procedure, not anything that was life-threatening. A little bit of perspective always works wonders. As it turned out, I have discovered that dentistry for kids, thankfully, and maybe even for some adults, is not what it used to be. There are many options available now that have resulted in painless dentistry. My daughter did just fine with her surgery. It was her Mom who had weak knees in the waiting room, not wanting her child to have to ever experience anything as frightening as that dreaded mitten

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