No Skin Off My Teeth

What do you think or feel when I say the word, “dentist”? Some of you are probably curled up in a ball practicing breathing exercises, some of you are wistfully thinking of all the other things you could have done with the money that has kept your chompers in good order, and a few of you who are genetically blessed are laughing because you don’t believe in dentists.

True confession. I love the dentist. Outside of 4 or 5 cavities I had as a kid, I can go to the dentist with very little fear that I will end up flat on my back with numb mouth full of instruments that set designers use in movies featuring alien probing. But that’s not the main reason why I love the dentist, although it certain helps.

And I can’t say I had a fantastic childhood dentist experience. Growing up our dentist had bad teeth. As a kid we joked about it, but kids just accept what is, and it didn’t occur to me until I was an adult that maybe, just maybe, in my town of 60,000 people, there may have been another dentist working in town, perhaps one without bad teeth. But then I realized ours may also have been the cheapest dentist in town, and when you have 4 kids and no fluoride in the water, cheap probably trumps quality. And to Dr. Bad Teeth’s credit, those fillings he put in 40 years ago are still in there, so maybe having a dentist with good teeth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Probably the creepier thing about him was that he gave us a plastic iris corsage every single time we went to see him. They were all over our house, and they ended up in a lot of our play. I mean what else were we supposed to do with those things? How many opportunities do kids have to wear plastic corsages? It begs so many questions, doesn’t it? Like, why irises? Did he win a 1,000 of them in a raffle? If we got different flowers each time, maybe we could have made some sort of plastic flower bouquet or a wreath–something homemade and ugly and perfect for Mother’s Day.  But I mean who makes an ugly plastic wreath out of just irises. So tacky, right?

In college I had the best dentist experience ever, and it was totally all about the drugs. I needed two of my wisdom teeth pulled, and lucky for me the college health plan sent me to a real, private dental practice run a by a dentist with nice teeth and everything. They gave me this little blue pill that made me sooooooo happy, he could have pulled all my teeth out, and I wouldn’t have cared. He actually did hold up the bloody tooth at one point and asked me if I wanted to keep it. I’m notoriously squeamish, but all I did was giggle, and say no.

You might think that’s when I decided to love the dentist, but you’d be wrong. A few short years later my other two wisdom teeth were ready to come out, only by this time I was working full-time and paying for my own dentist insurance, which was cheaply supplied by the area dental school. I know they need to practice on someone, but I think they should just practice on each other or pay their victims/patients rather than the other way around. Or at least for things like tooth extraction. I got my teeth cleaned there, and I will give the hot dental student credit for getting me to floss. He gazed lovingly at my x-rays, then turned his handsome face to me and said wistfully, “You’d have such great teeth, if only you flossed.” And just like that I became a flosser for life. Maybe it helped that I hadn’t had a date in years, and it was the closest thing I’d had to a compliment from a man in a long time.

But tooth extraction? Not so much. But I was young and naive, and I flounced into the exam room, remembering the Best Tooth Extraction Ever. I don’t know if they didn’t have access to the fabulous blue pill, but the pill they gave me was much more slow-acting. Plus, Dr. No Experience didn’t really wait that long for it to kick in. They should hand out flash cards to the students like, “Wait 20-30 minutes for the pill to kick in; do not go ahead based on patient’s silly answers.” He came in and asked me a question. Now, granted, I gave him a silly answer that may have seemed like I was ready to have my teeth pulled, but I’m a silly person by nature, and believe me, I had miles to go before I was silly enough to giggle at a bloody tooth. But a second later, I was flat on my back with a numb mouth full of those instruments that set designers use in movies featuring alien probing. Oh, and that non-blue pill was also like a bad drug trip; rather than dreaming of rainbows and unicorns, I felt like I was choking and struggling the entire time. So fun.

So when did I really start loving the dentist? When I became a working mother with a small child, that’s when I realized the potential of the dentist office. It did help that thanks to some luck and Dr. Dreamboat Floss Smooth Talker, I walked in knowing there was little chance of some stress-inducing pronouncement of a root canal, gum graft, or some other dental horror.

Once at the dentist I could step away from the demanding, sticky, repetitive world of working and small children. I slid into the cushioned chair with a foot rest, not unlike a lounge chair at the pool. After a few easy questions that were not repeated over and over, I got to relax to soft, cheesy top 40 easy listening music, while my now silent companion lowered the chair into a position that induces sleep. For the next 30-40 blissful minutes, no one wanted anything from me, no one spit up on me or pooped on me or had a fever on the day I really, really, really had to be at work. I just had to keep my mouth open. Sure there was mild poking and scraping, but that was still way better than getting a toddler head-butt or hair pull. All too soon it was over, but I got a brand new toothbrush (no plastic irises!) and the relaxation equivalent of a weekend away at a spa.

Even now that I have a teen and a much less demanding and sticky life, I still get that blissful feeling of being in a cushioned chair coccoon. It’s almost better than the little blue pill. Almost.


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