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I went to the dentist tonight and almost escaped without incident or threat of a return visit.  Almost.  They say I need a crown.  I cannot accept this.  I have no scheme, no possible scenario in which I, a 29-year-old who grew up in the United States drinking fluoridated tap water, who faithfully brushes and flosses daily, and who doesn’t do anything stupid like bleach her teeth or gargle with acid, need a crown.   It just doesn’t make sense.

I can accept if my body has an issue.  I can go full-Monty to find a solution, a diagnosis, a treatment.  I am willing to undergo invasive testing, have cameras shoved down my throat, or tubes shoved up other parts.  If something goes wrong with my body, I want to find out how to fix it.

My teeth are a different story.  I take care of them, and all I ask in return is that they give me six months between Water-Pik torture sessions in the dental chair.  They have let me down again.  When I had my first cavity, I freaked out.  My dentist could sense this, and did all but hold my hand the whole time.  He even called later, from his home, to check on me.  Not on my oral state, but on my mental state.

He retired last month, and some random guy with a mask on his face told me I need a crown.  He doesn’t know me, doesn’t know my teeth, doesn’t know my history and my family.  He doesn’t know my old dentist had been watching “staining” settle into weird cracks in my teeth, and had been hesitant to drill.

I can’t trust him.  I can’t go back.  I can’t face any of it.  I couldn’t bring myself to ask any questions, so I don’t understand anything about it.  I can’t face my husband or my dogs or the “estimate” of $850 to repair what I can’t even accept is a defect.  My old dentist might just see it as staining.  Anyone else might be less alarmist, less drill-happy, and look further.

So, yeah, I have a healthy dose of denial.

I haven’t spoken since I walked in the door 2 hours ago.  I’m having a 29-year-old’s silent tantrum because I cannot process what is allegedly happening to my tooth.  If I keep my mouth shut, will it all go away?

We watched an episode of “Hoarders” yesterday, and one of the people on the show had a decent amount of insight into her problem.  She called herself a hoarder, called her house a mess, and knew it was time to do something.  Everything in the clean-up was going swimmingly, until Dr. Zasio, the condescending therapist called in to support the individual, pushed her too far.  She wanted her to give up a smelly, dirty old moving blanket.  And the woman refused, insisting it could be cleaned, bleached, used again.  Yet Dr. Zasio persisted, and pushed her too far.  She couldn’t read her client, couldn’t respond to her needs as an individual, hadn’t established enough rapport that the woman even trusted her.  The therapist herself was too wrapped up in the blanket, too insistent on what it symbolized.  The woman melted down, refusing to sort the heap in her home rationally, and exploding with mediagenic-drama, saying ,”Fine, throw everything out!  I don’t care.”  In her obsession with the blanket, Dr. Zasio had sabotaged the entire clean-up.  I spoke to the TV as her melt-down began.  Why didn’t they keep the stupid blanket for the time being, and show it again at the end, when the home is (relatively) beautiful and (relatively) clean, for the woman to make her own decision then, seeing the big picture?  Why did it have to happen then?  Why did they push so hard?

What followed was some analysis of the woman’s short fuse (or, in my household, the therapist’s insensitivity), and a discussion of how she cannot handle stressful incidents.  Like being pressured to throw away a filthy blanket.

Whatever her disordered mind may be going through, I am feeling a sort of identification, a kinship.  I’ve been given an ultimatum, with no decision, no choice in the matter.  I don’t trust the authority delivering the message.  Maybe to him, it’s no big deal.  Maybe he’s done dozens of crowns since he finished dental school last year.  Maybe to my parents, who grew up in a different era, and already have mouths full of metal and other foreign objects, it’s a routine inconvenience.  Maybe to my friend who lived in Russia for the first 12 years of her life, who has to accept the dental inferiority of the place she grew up, it’s just the cost of her heritage.  But it’s a little more to me.

I screamed as I drove home.  I wailed.  I’m too young.  It’s not supposed to happen to me.  What did I do for this to happen?  What didn’t I do?  What would my old dentist have said?  What would any other?  How many second opinions can I get before my tooth falls apart?  Why do I have to think about $850 for a crown when I’d rather think about earmarking that money for our trip to Ireland next week?  Why me?  Why does my husband have misaligned snaggly teeth that criss-cross his mouth every which way, but are still otherwise cavity-free and freakishly healthy?  It’s just not fair, and I can’t be expected to rationally consult my date book and make appointments 2 minutes after I’ve been told what’s wrong with me.  I can’t be expected to calmly make plans when I’m still mourning, grieving, processing, and, oh yeah, still in denial.

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I survived the dentist last night, with a clean bill of dental health and I don’t have to go back for six months.  After a period where it seemed like I had cavities every time I went in, or at the least decay the dentist was “watching,” this is a welcome stay of execution. 

As I was sitting in the chair, ignoring the awful scraping of metal on enamel, I began to reflect:

Just don’t talk to me.  Talk to yourself if you must, narrate what you’re doing, but leave me out of it.  And definitely don’t ask me how I’m doing.  If you don’t see my fists clenched or tension wracking my face as I wince, I’m probably just fine, or at least coping alright. 

When do they expect us to swallow?  What is my tongue doing?  It’s hard enough to focus on keeping my jaw cranked open constantly without worrying about my tongue.  When she’s “polishing” my teeth, it’s a constant logic puzzle.  I have to guess where she’s likely to go next, so I can work on keeping my tongue out of the way, lest I get buzzed by the tool or the dubiously minty flavor of the polish. 

Why is a metal tool the one chosen to scrape my teeth anyway?  At my dentist, they use a WaterPik.  It took me several visits to figure out what tool they were shoving in my mouth that sent needles of sharp pain at my gum line.  Whoever figured out that you can use water to accomplish this is a marketing genius.  “It’s only water,” he would say, “but it comes out with so much force it only feels like needles.” So therefore it must be harmless.  Right, just like the water the carved Niagara Falls, and the freezing rain that’s encased my entire block in a sheet of ice and taken down trees and power lines in my neighborhood.  It’s only water. 

I think the hygienists must have a pool to see how many can speculate where the cavities are, and what their accuracy in prediction is.  They poke around, tapping, scraping, digging, and mumble, gravely, “Oh, I think I see something here.”  Then they report to the dentist, “I saw some decay in number 8 and number 17.” And, damn! If they’re right, it must just send a shiver of pomposity up their spines.  As if all they had to do was go to dental hygienist school and not dental school to figure it all out.

“Are you flossing?”  “Mmmph,” I mumble assertively.  “Every day?”  “Mmph Hmph.” I affirm.  They never believe me.  I’m the most religious flosser I’ve ever known.  I get popcorn, broccoli, pasta, crackers, orange pulp, and spinach caught every place they can think to hide, sending me straight for the floss.  But they want to have contempt for my habits and my gum line, so the accusations and doubt hang in the air. 

At least I don’t have to go back for six months.  When I was a kid, I considered which I disliked more – going to the dentist or the doctor.  I was infrequently sick, so I only had to go to the doctor once a year, compared to the dentist’s twice a year dictum, but at the doctor there were often shots and nakedness.  For me, the dentist was less traumatizing, as I never had cavities back then, and the hygienists always told me I was their best patient.  I opened my mouth wider than anyone else, and I was much better behaved than the adults.  So they said.  And I chose to believe it.

Also, as a child, I would come home with my mouth feeling too clean.  I wanted desperately for it to feel and taste normal again.  I would hit the candy and junk as soon as I was out of sight of the dentist’s office.  I could never understand the appeal of the promised “Fresh from the dentist’s office clean” some toothpastes assured.  Now, every time I go, I feel guilty for whatever I’ve done to deserve the scraping, poking, and criticism, not to mention the cavities, and drilling that sometimes follow.  I leave the office with renewed promises to be a good girl.  Despite how hungry I may be from my early dinner, I don’t want to put another thing in my mouth and “ruin” what the hygienists worked so hard to accomplish.  My resolve usually lasts 2 hours. 

Now, however, the dentist is always in my calendar, 6 months out, whether I’m sick or not.  And it’s only by going there that I find out I have cavities.  And they have the WaterPik.  At least with the doctor, nowadays, I go when I’m sick or have some sort of mysterious issue, and my mind (if not my body as well) is always relieved by seeing my kindly old GP.  In comparison to my brain surgery and subsequent recovery, needles and nakedness are small potatoes.