Going to the dentist, as I have mentioned before, is always a high anxiety experience for me. I go to a dentist in small town in Southern Illinois about two hours from St. Louis every six months. I have a two-hour trip of dread wherein I imagine the worst possible scenario. It’s the same dentist I’ve gone to since I was in eighth grade because I hate change. I am comfortable with my dentist and I don’t want to have to try my joke out on anyone new. (He asks how I’m doing and I say “I’d be better if I weren’t here” and no one but myself finds it amusing. It’s the same joke I’ve been using since I first went to him. See? I told you I hated change.) I try to distract myself by singing along with my music but that makes my mouth dry and since I don’t want to screw up the perfect brushing job I did ten minutes before I left, my only option is water so I just stop singing because the water will rinse away the minty clean feeling.
When I leave the dentist, I always tell myself that I’m going to do better between now and the next time I have to visit. I’m going to brush for the full three minutes in a circular motion all over my teeth. I will floss every day. And then about two days later, after the I-just-left-the-dentist clean teeth feeling is gone, I go back to my old ways of not doing as well as I should in both areas. Then about two weeks before I have to go to the dentist I start cleaning them all crazy compulsively, like the hygienist isn’t going to be able to tell that for five and half months I semi-neglected my duties. Who do I think I’m fooling?
I enter the office by way of the five by five foot lobby and always stop by the bathroom to make sure I am boog free because I don’t want the hygienist looking up my nose in disgust, worrying that with one misplaced jab at my gums the boog is going to fly out at her when I exhale in pain. So far I’ve been lucky enough to never have this happen (the booger flying, not the exhale of pain. The exhale actually happens every time without fail.) I’m not even sure how I would recover from the humiliation if it did happen aside from just getting up and walking out without saying a word and never returning. The lobby smells like a basic commercial lobby: industrial carpet and Pledge. It’s size keeps it from holding more smells.
The bathroom didn’t really have an odor (thank God) and I was indeed boog free, so I went into the office, signed in and sat down with my book. I look at the walls to see if there is any new “art”. What I’ve noticed about every dentist I’ve ever been to is that there are three things that will never change: Every dentist I’ve ever been to has Norman Rockwell paintings on their wall. Every dentist also has that Children’s Storybook Bible mixed in with their magazines and every dental waiting room I’ve ever been in has Highlights magazine. And the pages are always scribbled on in blue and green crayon, the hidden pictures are always solved and someone has spilled some unknown liquid on it so that there is no way I’m going to touch it without imagining what kind of liquid it is. Yes I am on the upper edge of my thirties and I still enjoy a good hidden picture puzzle.
The waiting room has that dentist-y smell: It smells like the gritty toothpaste they use to clean your teeth. I think the smell of the gritty paste is less noticeable (but still slightly minty, even though the paste is always pink. What’s up with that?) because of the feeling of biting down on wet sand that you have when they tell you to rinse.
I look around the waiting area and notice a wide variety of people who appear to be from 1995. There is the small town cheerleader and her mom. I know she’s a cheerleader because she always has a high school cheer shirt on with matching shorts. Then there is the elderly couple, both there for their denture check-ups and fittings. She is wearing sensible flats and he is wearing the old person staple, New Balance tennis shoes.
Sitting on the other side of the room is the overly tan biker lady whose cigarette smoke I can smell from ten feet away. You’re at the dentist lady, you should at least brush your teeth before you come in.
I was sitting by the door to the lobby and pretty soon I heard the front door open and the bathroom door close almost simultaneously. I dove back into my book until about ten minutes later when this older gentleman in a John Deere trucker cap sauntered in, bringing with him the smell of whatever he did in that bathroom. This smell soon permeated the lobby and overtook the smell of the commercial toothpaste. Every time I looked up John Deere was either heading to the bathroom or coming from it. Sir, perhaps you should have rescheduled if you are having that many stomach issues.
They call my name just as I am starting to think I might have to offer John Deere some Tums. They lead me back to the cleaning room and I sit down, dreading even more what I know is to come. I sit down in the chair and assume my normal dental position: legs crossed at the ankles (so that I can press them together in anticipation of the pain) hands with a death grip on the rests as my knuckles turn white and every few minutes I have to unclench them and do little finger exercises, and my neck so stiff that I am sore from it for an hour after I leave. I lay there in this position, jaw clenched until I’m told to open up, assaulted by even more smells: the burning of the drill, the toothpaste and someone’s lunch, which while I can’t prove that this is what it is, smells like day old Chinese takeout.
Hygienist adjusts her stool, turns on the light and pulls it closer so that I am now in the spotlight. Every time I look at this light, while I am waiting, I can’t help but think that it looks like a giant snake falling out of the ceiling. The light itself looks like a giant snake mouth coming at you with big venom-dripping fangs.
Look at this light next time and tell me it doesn’t look like a gaping snake mouth.
Hygienist begins her task of scraping my teeth with that sharp pointy jabby tool. I tense even more. She always starts conversations by referring to whatever t-shirt I happen to be wearing that day. Usually it’s a Cardinals shirt so she will reference the team or tell me that they went to a game a few weeks ago. I appreciate that she is trying to talk to me like a normal person but in this instant I am not a normal person. I know this because normally I don’t have a stranger’s hands poking and jabbing and shoving their entire fists into my mouth. Every time she talks, I have to respond which means prolonging the time that I am in the chair. I realize she’s probably trying to put me at ease but I’m not there to discuss the National League standings or to hear about her daughter’s first concert experience (Miley Cyrus) Just keep scraping. The scraping is the worst because not only can you feel it, you can hear it. The sound of the scraping is worse than the actual scraping.
After much blood loss and rinsing, she draws out a long piece of dental floss. I’m just getting over the trauma of the scrapey scrape when she starts to floss my teeth really fast. Obviously she does this twenty times a day but she’s still very rough with it. She’s so rough that I worry every time she flosses my teeth that one of these times she will hurriedly put the floss between my teeth, swish it around and when she goes to pull it out, will send one of my teeth flying out of my mouth. Again, this has yet to happen but I am sure that one day it will occur.
That takes less than two minutes and then the wet sand cleaning begins. Before she begins she puts on one of those little rings that has a well in it for the paste. Is that a necessary tool? Is it that much harder to shove your hand six inches further and dab on the paste from the little table? I wonder if a dentist has ever proposed to his hygienist and used one of those rings as the engagement ring. I’ve never seen anyone wearing one outside of the dentist office, so probably not.
She finishes brushing my teeth and gives me the little Dixie shot glass of water to rinse with. It’s never enough water so I have to do two shots of it just to get the sand out of my mouth and even then, I walk out with some remaining sand in my teeth but I’m afraid if I go for a third cup Hygienist will think I’m questioning the quality of her work and will store away that information and will use it against me in six months. Like it’s going to make her mad and be even rougher next time.
The dentist then comes in to check her work. I guess that’s why he comes in. He trots in whistling his little made up tune ( I wrote about this in the Candy Drawer post if you missed it) and sits down at the stool. He asks me how I’m doing.
“I’d be better if I weren’t here.” (dead silence. Is this thing on?)
Smelling like onions from his lunch, I try to hold my breath as he gently pries my mouth open and takes a look-see (his word not mine). He continues to hum and decides that I have a cavity (even though as he says ” I thought we’d be past that at this point,” meaning “I thought by now your candy eating addiction would have subsided but I can tell by the teeth that it has not.”) Since I live so far away he does my cavities on the same day as the cleaning to save me the trip.
He gives me the shot in the jaw that causes my eyes to fill with tears from the sting. Then he turns off the snake mouth and tells me he will be back in five minutes. After about five minutes I hear him standing at the desk having a conversation about his weekend and the things he got done on the farm. I am getting peeved thinking that he has forgotten me and that by the time he remembers me the numbness will wear off but he will drill anyway when he walks back in.
He drills and the smell of decaying tooth along with burning plaster pipes up to my nose. At least, that’s what I think burning plaster smells like. Then he calls off some numbers and the hygienist hands him tools. He pokes and prods and jabs and crams and then tells me to bite down, which I do. After a few more scrapes to remove the excess gunk, he tells me I am done and that I can rinse the gunk out. I do my two shots again, not taking a necessary third. The hygienist hands me a crappy little toothbrush with the dentist’s name on it. With the quality of the toothbrush, they can’t possibly expect me to actually use this thing on my teeth but it will be good for cleaning the grout.
I step into the office which smells like musty paperwork from 1979, scotch tape and dust. My dentist is like no other I’ve ever been to. He has a deer head hanging on the wall of his office. Nothing says “sterile environment” like half of a dead carcass on the wall. I make my six month appointment and pay and the lady hands me the appointment card.
As I am leaving the dentist, I get that surge of happiness and relief. I survived and have clean and happy teeth.
This must be how Yadi feels after leaving the vet or groomers. We both have an extra little bounce in our step. Clean and happy because we survived and know that we are going to get a treat when we get home. Hers is a dog bone, mine is a Happy Meal.
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