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“I am your dentist…And I get off on the pain I inflict” — Orin Scravello, DDS

I went to the dentist tonight.  When I was a child, I didn’t mind going so much.  I debated to myself at an early age if the doctor or the dentist was worse.  On one hand, the doctor made you undress and might give you a shot; on the other hand, you had to go to the dentist twice a year and endure fluoride treatment.  The dentist usually won because I had such lovely young teeth, free of problems, free of cavities, free of concerns.  The hygienists always told me what an excellent patient I was — much better than the adults — and complimented me on how wide I opened my mouth.  I ate all that shit up. 

Suddenly, at 24, I developed my first cavity.  It was akin to getting my first B in high school, my first C on a paper in college, and, if you believe it, my first/only B+ in grad school.  A record is nothing if it’s an “almost”.  Straight A’s are straight A’s.  No cavities means no cavities.  There’s no almost cavity-free.  It crushed me.  It suddenly occured to me that my parents’ horrible teeth were finally catching up to me in adulthood.  I’d avoided many of their dental perils by growing up with fluoridated water and getting those awful fluoride treatments.  But I couldn’t escape my destiny, whether it was soft enamel, or esophageal reflux, or an unusual number of evil bacteria in my mother, or an addiction to Diet Coke; it would follow me for the rest of my life.  From the first two cavities (“decay” is a nicer word, yes?), to the subsequent disappointments when I hear, “Ah, that’s in an unusual spot for decay!”, and then the “Oh, dear; well, do you want them done in one appointment or two?”  to which I reply, “None, please, ” each visit feels like spinning the roulette wheel.  But Dr. B. takes good care of me.  He’s a family friend, so I know he doesn’t drill just to fund his new boat or vacation home at the shore.  At least not from my pocket.  After my first filling, I was so shell-shocked, he called me at home later.  When I heard his voice (slight lisp on the /s/) on the phone, I immediately asked, “Did I do something wrong?” anticipating I was supposed to not eat pickled squash for a week or take in an all puree diet until the trauma subsided.  Turns out he was calling just to make sure I was okay. 

So now, instead of that minor sense of inconvenience at having to drive down to the dentist twice a year for routine visits, I get to carry with me the sense of dread that I might have to come back for the follow-up appointment.  Shudder.  As my toes curl in my shoes and my hands grip each other tightly while I lay back in the chair, I’m not in pain — not physical pain anyway.  It’s the anticipation of the final pronouncement (I know enough not to trust the hygienist’s overzealous, let-me-please-the-doctor-and-guess-right judgment) from the dentist as to my state of dental health that keeps me stressed.  Now I know why all those adults were such inferior patients to us children; they had something real to fear.  They didn’t get to pick from the pencil and eraser and sticker basket. 

Well, there is physical pain, incidentally.  It’s called the WaterPik.  I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this particular instrument of torture.  I never used to go to these high-tech offices with computer screens and paging systems and undulating new-age ceiling decorations.  Scraping was scraping, and it made a horrible sound, but at least you knew what was going on.  When they first used the WaterPik on me, I thought it was just regular poking and scraping.  I didn’t even guess what “Mr. Thirsty” was sucking up — blood, maybe?  At some point it occured to me.  This was the legendary WaterPik.  No ordinary scraper, poker, picker.  If you haven’t had this experience and think, “Ah, it’s water, how bad can it be?” maybe you’ve been through a high-power carwash and felt the water make your steel doors buckle (unless you have a Saturn — and for you I pray in those car washes)?  Maybe you’ve fallen off waterskis at 75 miles an hour?  Or made  a poorly executed dive-cum-belly flop from the high diving board?  Yes, my friends, that gentle water pulsating from the shower head can hurt like a bitch.  Remember that water has carved out mountainsides and eroded river beds and ran the riverside factories during the Industrial Revolution.  It’s powerful.  I’m not saying I prefer the old fashioned pick.  I just have a healthy respect/fear of the WaterPik. 

I survived the WaterPik, the gum-cutting flossing, and the gasps of horror as everyone examined my “trauma ulcer’ (I bit my cheek quite energetically earlier today while trying to subdue a particularly awful carrot).  And guess what?  I don’t have to go back till December!!!  Mr. Apron, however, who had his appointment last week (and who still has no cavities) has to go back, not for a filling, but to an oral surgeon, to have one of his bottom wisdom teeth, (which has decided to erupt, like, now) yanked.  Now I’m glad mine are in an envelope in the junk drawer in my parents’ kitchen, where they’ve been for almost 11 years.  Now that’s an appetizing sight when you go to look for the can opener or skewers, eh?