I was reading a blog this week that documented the writer’s uncomfortable history with dentist visits and apprehension of getting more work done.
I can relate to this completely. I’ve been an “on and off” dental patient since I was a teenager. The trouble started when I was a senior in high school and broke my front tooth.
I wish I could tell a really cool story about how it happened, but in fact, I was just screwing around with my brother, Ed. We were in our upstairs hallway, playing a made up football-type game where one person had to get by the other, as if he was running with a football. The hallway provided a narrow lane for us to negotiate. I ran up on my brother and attempted to execute a nifty “spin” move and deftly spun my mouth smack into the wooden railing alongside the stairwell. Knocked my front left upper tooth clean in half.
Man, for a kid, I could really string together the swear words. I was so pissed, because my brother had just wrapped up his own dental adventures from breaking his teeth in 4th grade. He had fallen on the tiled gym floor at school and someone else fell on his head. He smashed out both front teeth. He’s worn temporary caps until his mouth had fully grown, but in the meantime, a number of years later, we were playing catch with a baseball and a ball I threw to him skipped off the top of his glove and hit him square in the mush. I had my accident shortly after Ed finished getting his permanent caps, so I knew what I was in for.
I went in to the dentist’s office the next morning, before school. He couldn’t find any hidden damage and arranged for me to go to a special office where they would make me a permanent cap, hand-painted to match the surrounding teeth exactly.
Meanwhile, I had to go to school with half a tooth, still steaming mad at the stupidity of the whole thing. I went through the entire day, not talking, not smiling. My buddies were wondering “WTF?” It wasn’t like me.
Finally, in study hall after lunch, they applied the screws, trying to find out what was wrong with me. I was tired of dodging and figured I couldn’t keep it up indefinitely, so I just gave them a big smile. They were like, “Holy shit, dude! What the hell happened?”
I must have told them 3 or 4 different stories before I finally copped to the real one. But on the bright side, at least I’d already had my senior picture taken. Also, I looked really tough. If I sneered, I looked like a real rough dude... just as long as I didn’t actually say anything. You can only be so tough when you have a lisp like Daffy Duck.
Eventually I got my tooth nicely capped, but it didn’t last long. I started getting this persistent pimple on my gum, right above the capped tooth.
I know, right? Gross!
So I had it checked out and my dentist said that there was a small crack in the root that he must have missed on the original X-ray, and it was abscessing. He’d have to pull the whole thing out, file down the 2 surrounding teeth and apply a 3-tooth bridge.
Lovely. My dentist and I saw a lot of each other that summer. And that’s when I learned about the wonders of nitrous oxide. Great Flaming Jesus; that was the best stuff ever. I’d only recently begun drinking beer and partying, but this was just the greatest buzz, and there was absolutely no side effect. Doctor would switch the hose to oxygen and I’d be fine and dandy almost immediately. No hangover, no nausea, no headache… just a desperate longing for my next appointment.
I began to look forward to going to the dentist. I’d practically skip up to his office door, but as soon as I got in, I’d have to act nervous. See, that’s why he gave me the nitrous… to calm my nerves. I figured I had to play the part or else he might cut me off.
I think they had me pretty well figured out, though. As soon as they’d put the nozzle on me, I’d be breathing like a veteran phone-sex line perv: “Heeeeeeee-ha heeeeeeee-ha heeeeeeee-ha!”
He’d go, “Bluz, you better stop that, or I’m gonna turn it off…”
So I’d try to suck it in with shorter breaths, like, “heeep-a heeep-a heeep-a heeep-a heeep-a…” Lord knows, I was gettin’ while the gettin’ was good. Plus, I needed something going for me if I had to endure the Novocain shots. They were just the worst. But the funny thing is that they used to give me the nitrous even when I just came in for cleanings. My dentist rocked!
Once he pulled out the bad tooth, I had to wait a couple months for the tissue to heal, before he could take the imprints to have a bridge made. In the mean time, I had to wear this device that looked like a retainer with a single tooth stuck on the end of it. It was bizarre.
Yes, I still have it. Also featured is the knocked out piece of tooth. I really need to clean out my dresser drawers.
I never knew how integral the roof of your mouth is, in the eating process. The device cut off all sensation there. And eating with the thing in would get it all gunked up, so more often than not, I’d just take it out to eat. Luckily this happened over the summer so I didn’t have to deal with it at school.
The cool part was I would fuck with people. I could suction the device up and down with my tongue, which would naturally make the tooth move up and down. So sometimes when I was out in a bar or something, I’d smile at someone across the room and make the tooth go up and down, then turn back away. They’d be left wondering exactly how drunk they really were.
Once I got that cap done, I had one more thing to take care of before I was off my folks’ insurance. The dentist recommended that I get all four wisdom teeth out. I had to go to an oral surgeon for that, and as you may know, they don’t play around with nitrous or Novocain, they just knock your ass out.
I hadn’t had a general anesthetic since I got my tonsils out when I was 4, so I was curious to see what it would be like to drift out of consciousness like that. I’m still wondering.
Doctor said, “Count backwards from 100.”
There was no drifting involved. I went, “One hundred, ninety nuh…”
Next think I knew; I was awake with my mouth packed with cotton.
I was lucky with the whole thing. Mom took me home, with my buddy Billy G there for backup in case I couldn’t walk. Mom would have had to drag me by the foot, otherwise. But I was fine… I practically danced over to the car. We picked up my meds and I went home and slept. For a day and a half. I vaguely remember being woken up so I could take more pills. When I finally arose, there was no swelling, no bruising, no problem at all. (OK, there might have been some discoloration, but I had a full beard so I couldn’t tell.)
After that, I didn’t get out to the dentist much. I just brushed my teeth and went on with life. Unfortunately, I spend 20 years brushing my teeth with the toothpaste equivalent of sandpaper. (Avoid prolonged use of Ultra Brite, no matter how zingy it tastes.) Over the years, I managed to brush away a great deal of enamel. I was on my own then and spent most of the time without dental insurance coverage. So rather than go to the dentist, I learned how to smile with my mouth closed. It wasn’t exactly a satisfactory solution, but I made do. I didn’t have the cash to dump into a shitpile of dental work. When I was married, I saw the Future Ex’s dentist a time or two, and he kind of “spackled” over the trouble spots. But that wore away over time as well.
When I finally moved to Baltimore and got a job with proper insurance benefits, I began to see the dentist my brother and his family used. Remarkably, I still didn’t have any cavities… just the enamel damage. We discussed a plan of attack and I had time to build up my “war chest”. Even with insurance, I still had to pay 50%. And I was lucky for that! The first time he submitted the paperwork, they claimed it was only a cosmetic fix.
It totally wasn’t. There were parts where the enamel was totally gone. Anyway, I changed insurance providers and he applied to the new company for me; this time with pictures. They accepted and shortly after my new dentist replaced my 25-year old bridge and put on 5 more caps. It was nice to be able to smile again. It was at that time that I decided to shave the full beard into a goatee. By the time I made both upgrades, I was a whole new dude… Bluz 2.0
On the down-side, I learned that they don’t use nitrous any more, so I didn’t get to refine my dental-chair huffing skills. I could have used it too, because my new dentist really wasn’t so new. In fact, he used to work on my sister-in-law, when she was a little girl. He was getting up there.
On one hand, it meant he really knew his stuff. But on the other hand, he often had to use my forehead for leverage when trying to work on a stubborn tooth.
It was like, “Ow, Doc! My nose!”
Although it probably sounded more like, “Ahh Daghh! Ghie hose!”
Dental patients ought to come with sub-titles.