Wednesday, June 14, 2006

To Tell the Tooth

The dentist said not to eat until the novicane wore off. That was four hours ago. So consider this post me killing time until I can put food in my tummy.

I took the day off work to go to the dentist today to get a cavity filled. I woke up with a headache and didn't want to take any medicine on an empty stomach so I made myself a bagel. And while I sat down to eat it, I couldn't ignore the Sunday Styles section of my New York Times on my kitchen table. Soon I was engrossed in the wedding announcements, and when I finally snapped out of it, I knew I would be late to the dentist again. I took a shower, put on some jeans and my "Smith College: A Century of Women on Top" t-shirt. When I'm wearing this t-shirt, you know I truly don't care. I didn't bother to dry my hair or put on make-up, I was out the door before I realized I also hadn't brushed my teeth. Oh well. The last thing I ate was a peach, and fruit is nature's tooth brush. Right? Right??

I went to my dentist's office on East 58th Street. Despite my misgivings about my dentist because of her cramped and dingy office, I can tell you today that I will never see another dentist in New York City. She was ridiculously nice to me today. She has earned the word "gentle" that graces her business cards and promotional tooth brushes: Dr. Lady X, Gentle Dentistry.

I walked into the exam room. "How are you doing today," she asked.

"Um, okay," I said.

"What's wrong," she said. "You look sad."

"You know I don't like this too much."

"I don't know you very well. How could I know that?"

"Okay, I'm telling you. I don't like this very much." Now, I consider myself a tough person. In addition to personal adversity, I've suffered from blindlingly painful migranes since I can remember and just two months ago I tore a muscle in my back. I try to endure these things with a quite stoicism. But something about the dentist just totally does me in. It destroys my nerves.

"Is that why you were late," she asked. "You were stalling?"

"Not exactly," I said, not wanting to explain my obsession with the Times wedding announcements.

The dentist looked in my mouth. The cavity was very small, but if we let it get bigger it would be a hassle to fill later on. I told her to go for it. While I was in the chair I said, "Can I ask you a question? This is going to sound horrible."

"Sure, ask me anything you want," she said. I didn't even know how to phrase my question.

"Hypothetically, if someone were to have a drink before they came in here, I mean, I'm not saying I've been drinking this morning, but if you wanted to have a drink to calm your nerves, would that be a bad thing?" The dentist explained that other choices like valium and novicane and nitrous oxide were better ways to deal, but that alcohol wouldn't kill you. "I can't believe I just asked you that," I said. "I'm so embarassed, I'm going to have to find a new dentist now."

"People have come in here with alcohol on their breath," she said.

"Well, nobody likes going to the dentist," I said.

"My family likes coming in here."

That so does not count, I thought. But I said, "Okay, I guess some people like going to the dentist."

"Do you want some novicane," she asked.

Um, duh, I wanted to yell. No one mentioned laughing gas, and I knew it would take a while for any Valium to take effect. "Yes please," I said. She gave me a few shots while I gripped the chair arms and then she left the room saying, "There are some magazines over there." Right, like "30 Days to a Slimmer Waist" could hold my interest now. I took deep breaths. I thought about the impending drilling, the stench of something burning in my mouth. Tears ran out of my eyes. On the wall, I saw a colored pencil drawing done by a child. It was a picture of a car and some trees. It said, "I like going to the dentist By Brandon." Fuck you, Brandon, I thought. Fuck you.

The dentist returned. "Are you crying?" she asked. "You're crying!"

"No I'm not!"

"I'm not going to hurt you," she said. "I get up every morning at 6:15am to care for people, not hurt them." How could I explain that it wasn't the pain that bothered be but all the sounds and smells that made me crazy. "Do you feel number in your right side?"

"Only a little," I said. She gave me more novicane. Soon I couldn't even feel my right ear. Tears continued to leak from my face.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm usually a big girl about things. This is embarassing."

"It's okay," she said. "We all have problems. We all have to go to the doctor. My toenail is falling off." Then she told me about her toenail, and how it was falling off. It was gross.

Soon she started drilling. That awful smell filled the room. I felt a light spray on my face. I thought, this is my tooth, being pulverized by a drill, being ground up into tooth powder that is now spraying out of my mouth and hitting me in the face. A fine coat of my tooth dust will start to coat all the instruments in this room. It didn't take very long. "Okay," said the dentist. "You're all done. Your co-pay is $67.50."

I felt relief and gratitude that she had been so patient with me. "Do you take credit cards?" I asked.

"Mastercard and Visa."


She didn't give me a sticker or a prize for being so brave, so instead I went around the corner to the Gap sale and spent $89 on hot pink and lime green t-shirts.


Michael said...

You SO have to write for us!!!!

policate said...

I can definitely relate! I had a horrible dentist as a kid (alcoholic with a hare lip and a tremor) and I am scared of them to this day. My current dentist is super nice, but won't give you anything stronger than novocaine (I had to have a tooth pulled and he said he could do it in the office, but could only give me novocaine. NO WAY! I went to an oral surgeon and the anesthesia was more expensive than the extraction. IT WAS WORTH EVERY PENNY!

Dawn Z(ed) said...

I'm one of those freaks that love going to the dentist. I tend to giggle through the whole thing.

I wish everybody could see it the way I do.

If I were a dentist I'd give anybody that didn't run away a sticker or plastic ring or a bouncy ball, not just the kids.

Cupcake said...

Michael, well, the "Teeth" episode is one of my favorites...

Dawnzzle, you are a freak. God bless and enjoy the bouncy ball.

Cupcake said...

Hi. Me again. I just wanted to say, if it wasn't clear in the original post, that I was not today nor have I ever been, drunk at ten o'clock it the morning. Okay. That's all.

Bayard said...

I feel your pain, Cupcake. I'm going for a cleaning tomorrow and am petrified that they'll find cavities. Even with a nightguard, I grind like hell.

By the way, I discovered the wonderful world of "sedation dentistry" when I needed a root canal last year. It's worth checking out, even though it ain't cheap.

lebrookski said...

when i was getting all my dental work done last month (a filling, a root canal and a wisdom tooth extraction), i did math in my head to distract me from the sights and sounds. i would calculate the number of hours of overtime i would have to work to earn a certain amount of money on my paycheck and then i would add that amount to my current bank balance. it worked like a charm

NancyPearlWannabe said...

My pediatric dentist had doors where the handles were waaaay high up so we children couldn't escape his torture chamber. He also wore clown pants and Santa hats. And my mother still wonders why I need 12 shots of novacaine to make it through a teeth cleaning.

Dawn Z(ed) said...

Yes, I am a total freak.

I thought my upper wisdom tooth extraction was really interesting (the bottom ones are still there, they need surgery) and my root canal was fun.

There must be something wrong with me.

charles said...

OYFG!! I hate dentists with all thier rrrrrr rrrrr sluurp sluuurp "oh. don't mind the nasty burned teeth ash falling all over your face".

Please tell me you write for a living, if you don't you are so wasting your time.