Upon my return to the dentist today, following the debacle last year where one simple filling resulted in damaged jaw muscles that required months of physical therapy at a women’s wellness center (the only jaw specialist in the state practiced at a women’s wellness center) and my consultation sessions at the schools all had to be prefaced with the disclaimer that I wasn’t drunk and I hadn’t had a stroke (right, a profession where I earn money by talking but I can’t open or move my jaw)—I told you about this, right?—so today I didn’t know what to expect from my fumbling and bumbling dentist. BTW, no one is supposed to keep their mouth stretched that wide for that long.
Before I even fully entered the operating cubicle, I could see my dentist—donned in his blue paper smock—slumped in a chair facing a small table and looking at the wall. He appeared to be sleeping (not good), comatose (really not good) or maybe meditating (only slightly better). Toward the end of the appointment I learned why, but first I had to roust him from this sluggish state.
He grumbled something I pretended to understand as I slipped into the chair, and at that point I determined my best outcome depended on shifting him into the best mood he was capable of achieving. I was friendly, upbeat, cheerful (not an easy feat surrounded by dozens of different ways to get drilled) and I portrayed a picture of confidence and faith in his expert abilities. No problem, take your time, don’t worry about me, whatever you have to do is fine, I’m sure everything will be great (blah, blah, blah, i.e., you have enough problems and if you have to spend an ounce of your precious energy worrying about me you might make another fatal mistake, so just pretend I’m not even here). I should mention, my dentist is at least 75 years old and he looks like Billy Crystal when Billy Crystal plays an ancient old man (you know the movie, maybe one of the Monty Pythons, about a giant).
Me: “So, why I am I getting cavities now when I never used to get them?”
Him (fumbling with the five-foot Novocain needle): “What kind of toothpaste are you using?” (the same kind I was using when I didn’t get any cavities, is this discussion going to net me any useful information?)
Me: “I also use a fluoride rinse”
Him: “That’s no good.” (Well, every single checkup I’ve ever had with you that is what you recommended, so what you’ve been telling me is no good?). “You need a prescription fluoride past, or you can just buy it off me.” (he hasn’t fired up the drill yet so I am as agreeable as possible to anything he recommends, even if it is the opposite of what he has recommended in the past and even if he’s selling toothpaste out of the trunk of his car).
Free of any unnecessary concern about me, my dentist starts lining up the tools and getting the novocain ready.
Him: “This is going to sting right up here in your palette (you mean that thin bony layer on the roof of my mouth that’s packed tightly with nerve endings and just a potato chip crunched against it the wrong way is excruciating?).
Two shots of Novocain, one cracking through the palette and one through the gum (I didn’t look at the monstrous needle), and now we’re ready to let it take effect, that gradual numbness that makes your face feel like its five times its real size and makes you chew on your tongue.
But wait, we’re not letting the Novocain take effect, we’re going right for the drill.
Him: “Let me know if this feels any more uncomfortable than just pressure,” he says (ahmmm, what in the world is going to keep this tooth from exploding with pain as that sharp metal pierces it in just two seconds? do you mean just pressure as in I might pass out from a little too much pressure?).
Sure enough the drilling starts and I instantly feel the first sharp, acid in the cut, knee-weakening jolt.
My goals right now are the same goals I had when I came in. Do not spend any more time than necessary in the chair with my mouth stretched open getting paralyzed, and don’t get the guy with the tools upset. Both goals convince me to take the pain for as long as I can because I also know that within five minutes the Novocain will take effect. How bad can it get, it’s just pain? My eyes are watering and my fingers are digging all the way through the padding on the chair.
Each time he stops the drill and puts it down I think, whew, I’m through, but he only asks the assistant for another fitting so he can go deeper and sharper. When we started this operation, I could understand the assistant completely, but now she is talking to him in Spanish, yet he answers in English. I think for a minute that this could be a hallucination, and then I wonder, where did that Novocain really go. I can’t feel it at all in my mouth (and I never did) so it must have been misdirected into the speech comprehension part of my brain.
He finishes packing the hole and polishing the surface. I can hardly wait to see how it came out. The last time he did such a slipshod job and the material was so poorly matched to the tooth and so much of it was left roughly around the surface it looked like I had just stuffed a hunk of clay in there myself. About now I wasn’t caring too much about appearances. I would have walked out of there with something looking like a horse’s tooth, just to get out of that chair.
Me: “That went fast.” And I meant it too, only 20 minutes for what usually takes a half hour. Of course, if you don’t wait for the Novocain to take effect that can get you on your way a lot quicker.
Him: “Well you were a nice patient.” Not everybody is so cooperative.” (there’s the first clue about why he had looked so beaten when I first saw him slumped in the chair)
Me: “It’s probably a good idea to stay on the dentist’s good side while you’re getting your cavity filled.”
Him: “Not everybody thinks like that, some people fight you all the way.”
Me: “I don’t think that’s a good idea with a room full of drills. Somebody could get hurt.”
Him: “Or worse.” (okay, where’s this really going, what does he mean, worse than hurt, what’s worse, death? I’m just kidding around, but I’m not sure he’s completely kidding)
Me: “Hey, we’re all friends when we enter this room, and we all want the same thing in the end, to leave in better shape.” I say this as I’m backing out the door and inching toward the check-out desk.
Him and the assistant: “You wouldn’t believe some of the people we’ve had in here today. It’s been one of those days, and it’s not over yet.” (for me it is, and I’m getting out of here right now).
One positive benefit, on the way home I didn’t have to deal with that lingering feeling of fat tongue and face enlargement. Remember, it pays to be nice. You never know what’s going on with the person who might be drilling you.