I used to go to the dentist every six months like clockwork. I was never afraid of going; I enjoyed the feeling of squeaky-clean teeth and never had a cavity and found the whole process rather soothing. (I had years of orthodonture, you know. You never escape one of those visits without something being twisted, tightened, or otherwise painful. Bi-yearly cleanings are a cakewalk.)
Then in grad school I started falling off the dental hygiene bandwagon… no time, no money, my teeth look fine, I brush twice a day…. Then at some point the ex more or less got up one morning declaring that we must go to the dentist! and before I knew it, we had back-to-back appointments at a local office.
Dr. Braces (I do not remember his real name, but I do remember that he had a mouthful of braces) was young and enthusiastic. Emphasis on young. It is my firm belief that no medical professional should ever be younger than myself. And this incident was ten years ago, which puts me in my early 20s, so imagine my panic. What, is this Doogie Dentist, D.D.S.? And he wants to put sharp pointy things in my mouth? I tried to soothe myself with the knowledge that surely Dr. Braces was older than he looked (please, God). And I tried not to be creeped out by how excited he seemed about my teeth. And I let him clean my teeth and poke around in my mouth.
Well, Dr. Braces had some bad news for me. “You see, Mir,” he explained, barely able to contain his excitement, “years of using hard-bristle toothbrushes is starting to wear down the enamel on your teeth and cause your gums to recede just a bit.” He paused for me to soak in this information, but then rushed on with great glee, “I think we need to have you come in for a deep sub-gum cleaning! The receptionist will make your appointment!” Then he danced around the room a little while explaining that he would numb my gums and then peel them back a bit and clean deep at the base of my teeth.
Maybe I was on drugs. I’m not clear. I returned for the deep cleaning, marvelled over how I truly couldn’t feel a thing, and went home. About an hour later the novocaine wore off and it felt like someone had hit me in the mouth with a sledgehammer. For about a week.
I had the predicted mature adult reaction to this train of events: I stopped going to the dentist–any dentist.
Fast forward to last week. The ex called to ask me to meet him at the dentist’s office with the children on his assigned afternoon. The kids had appointments and it made his life easier to meet there rather than for me to bring them to his place and then him drive to the office with them. No problem. (Yes, the children go to the dentist regularly. What sort of mom do you think I am?) Then the ex said, “You know, they’re really super nice and very gentle at this office. You should make yourself an appointment while you’re there. You’ll like them.”
My ex is funny that way. For the better part of three years I was more or less either invisible or infuriating, to him, and here he is concerned about my teeth. Genuinely concerned. And urging me to go in because I need to, and it’s free (on the dental insurance he carries for me). He is nothing if not weird.
Anyway, I thought about what he said. I was still thinking about it when we got there (my dad had to drive since I was still only a week post-op). I asked how far out they were scheduling introductory appointments and after a glance at the computer screen the lady behind the counter said “probably six to eight months.” Perfect! Plenty of time for me to cancel! I started filling out my paperwork. I flinched a little when I filled in “1994” as “date of my last dental visit.”
Imagine my shock when I turned in my paperwork and was happily informed that they’d just had a cancellation; how about next week? OH GOD NO! my brain screamed. “Sure, that sounds great,” my traitor mouth replied. Crap. Crap crap crap crap. I do not WANT to go to the dentist!!
Well next week was, in fact, today. I have this theory, and it’s a completely stupid theory, but it goes something like this because I am a very slow learner: When life is feeling kinda gross and sucky, why not do yet another gross and sucky thing in an effort to distract oneself from the original suckitude?? (See how that makes no sense whatsoever?) It’s okay that I have to go to the dentist! I told myself. It will keep my mind off the nausea and hot flashes! Yay!
Yes, my first post-surgical stint behind the wheel of my car was to the dentist. How pitiful is that? (Yes, I remembered how to drive, and the car started.)
A Happy Hygienist got me started, and she was sooooo happy I wanted to slap her, but I didn’t, because I am a wonderful person. Also, she took me to a machine which takes a panoramic x-ray of your jaw that wasn’t entirely unlike a mini-MRI tube for your head, and I was afraid that if she smelled my fear she would leave me in the machine to die. She managed to maintain her joyful happiness through the entire appointment, even when I confessed that “1994” was in fact the correct date and no, I don’t ever floss.
“You must floss sometimes!” she chirped.
“No, I mustn’t,” I replied. “I brush. Often. But I do not floss.”
“It shouldn’t!” she cried in horror.
“That’s what I thought, too. So I don’t do it any more.”
You could tell she thought I was quite the enigma. Oh dear.
So. She scraped some stuff off my teeth, continually telling me how for ten long years of accumulation this really wasn’t bad at all, and then she polished me up with cherry-flavored gunk, and then made me hold the mirror and watch while she flossed my teeth.
“See all that blood?” I said. “That’s why I don’t floss. Ow.”
“If you flossed regularly you wouldn’t bleed!” (Ya know, they always say that. I think it’s a scam, myself.)
Then Happy Hygienist took the little measuring tool and measured my gum loss in several places. Which seemed bad. And was, as it turns out.
Dr. Serious came in, then, to look over my teeth and talk to me About My Dental Health. He declared two cavities in need of filling. When I was visibly bothered by that, he rushed to assure me that only two cavities at my age is not that big of a deal, they’re both small, and they’re both in molars I’ve had for over 20 years. He then examined one tooth extensively and announced that he was going to refer me to a periodontist for the gum loss along this particular tooth, because it may well be in need of repair. I asked how such a thing is repaired (I’m new to this, remember; I used to think all the dentist did was make your teeth shiny). He said there are “a variety of available methods” but that his guess is that it will require a “graft of some sort.”
That’s when I fell out of the chair.
Well, no, I didn’t, but I probably would’ve if I hadn’t been lying down, already. I also resisted the urge to stick my fingers in my ears and cry, “I just had surgery and you can’t make me and I can’t heeeeeeear you, LALALALALA!” He then went on to ask me if I ever clench or grind my teeth. I said, “I have two small children, what do you think?” Dr. Serious–being a serious sort–didn’t seem to find that very amusing. But then he went on to say that depending on what the periodontist says/finds/does I may need some sort of nighttime mouthguard to prevent further gum loss due to excessive jaw-clenching.
The moral of my cautionary tale?
Don’t go to the dentist. Floss your teeth every day.