I hate going to the dentist.
Something about people digging in my mouth with metal instruments and the chalky, medicinal taste of latex gloves. And the way the office smells. It’s vile and I dread all of it.
But what I dread even more than going to the dentist’s office, is losing my teeth.
I have a very strange, abnormal fear of losing my teeth. And I’m not sure where it came from. Perhaps the ‘science fair’ at my junior high in Morgantown, West Virginia? Where they’d displayed posters of the teeth and gums of chewing tobacco users? (Or was it crystal meth?)
And no, I’ve never in my life used chewing tobacco or anything else. But for some reason, those pictures were permanently engraved upon my retinas and, ever since, when I go to the dentist I worry that I’m two weeks away from dentures and polident. Or that the dentist will bust out words like: ‘crowns’ and ‘root canals’ and ‘denture implants’.
I was at the dentist a couple of weeks ago, for the first time in eighteen months. Because we moved. And I had a baby. And I’ve things to do – like play a lot of Bejeweled Blitz and WordTwist on Facebook. And bake cookies four times a week.
First, the dental assistant insisted on taking x-ray after x-ray. And all I could think, when I wasn’t hyperventilating that they’d seen doom in my mouth, was ‘how much is this going to cost me?’
After the x-rays were taken, she loaded the images onto the flatscreen monitor twelve inches away from my face. So that I could SEE what they’d seen. I’m of the opinion that there’s nothing pretty about teeth and gums. Even in ‘flattering’ black and white.
My earnest dentist came in and introduced himself. Then he went through each set of images in painful detail. Clearly he did not see the look of panic on my face or the way I was clenching my hands while waiting to hear if he was going to deliver bad news. ‘These are really kind of gross,’ I finally managed to say. When it became clear that he wasn’t just going to say ‘well done’ and turn off the screen.
‘Really, you think so?’
Maybe when you spend all day looking at people’s teeth and pictures of their teeth, you don’t give a second thought to the shadowy skeletal images. But to me, it looks like my mouth is a ticking time bomb and I’ll be smacking my gums by Christmas time.
In the end, the news wasn’t so bad. He suggested I have two fillings replaced – of the old silver variety. And a few other little things. I aged five years during that sixty minute visit. They scheduled a cleaning appointment for me and I hightailed it out of there before they could summon me back for a full-set extraction.
Today was the scheduled cleaning. An appointment I wasn’t dreading too much, because, in my mind, the scary part – where I potentially lose my teeth – was over. I breezed in, expecting the usual spiel: ‘your teeth look great’. Or something like that.
Instead, the hygienist said: ‘when was the last time you had your teeth cleaned?’
A year and a half ago.
And she proceeded to ‘probe’ my teeth and gums, to assess their health. And she made copious, secretive notes on the little paper at her desk. She’d poke around in my mouth. Then roll away on the chair to her table. And write stuff down. Poke. Roll away. Write stuff. And I’ve no idea what she was writing down. Could she not see the fear on my face?
All I could think was: they missed something last time and she’s spotted it. Today is the day.
She tossed off various phrases like calculus and gingivitis and I don’t even know what else. And I was freaking out. And then she whipped out the camera and turned on the screen.
What’s grosser than looking at dental x-rays? Looking at footage from a ‘live’ camera inside your mouth. Dees-gus-ting.
I imagine those Skoal users of West Virginia would have seen the error of their ways if they’d been confronted with live images from the inside of their mouths. The jostling footage, the fleshy gums, the distorted looking teeth.
Make it stop! I wanted to shout. But I didn’t. I just kept clenching my poor little fingers, bracing myself for the news.
After the fluoride rinse, she handed me a warm towel. ‘Here’s a warm towel for you,’ she said as she placed it in my hands. I had no idea what I was supposed to DO with the towel. Was this related to H1N1? Another immigrant experience to suppress in my embarrassing moments file? So I wiped my hands and dabbed at my mouth. It seemed a reasonable thing to do with a warm towel. And I handed it back to her.
It reminded me of the professor’s recent experience at an undisclosed location. When a woman he didn’t know handed him a pack of gum. And he had no idea if she meant for him to TAKE a piece of gum. As in, ‘here, would you like some gum?’ Or if she thought it was his gum that he’d accidentally dropped on the floor. Which it wasn’t. So he took the pack of gum and stuck it in his pocket.
The hygienist sent me on my way with a ‘complimentary’ toothbrush, floss and toothpaste. And a ‘suggestion’ that I use a ‘rinse’. And an appointment for another cleaning in six months.
When I got home I was too scared to eat.