Pearly Whites

– By Michael!

Raise your hand if you love going to the dentist.

Ok, seriously, put your hand down. You’re an awful liar. Nobody loves going to the dentist. Don’t be like that.

Realize that I am my grandfather’s descendant. He ascribes to the philosophy that if nothing is dangling off of your body at an unnatural angle, a doctor is a waste of money. This definitely applies to teeth – he went a couple of decades without darkening the door of a dentist. He finally caved in to familial pressure and went, only to have the dentist tell him “You have great looking teeth! I’ll see you again in six months!”

To which my grandfather replied, “No. No, you won’t.” And to my knowledge, he has not returned.

I’ve been down the same path. We only recently had health insurance – before this past February, I had been to a dentist once since 2006. At my visit this past February, I had the pleasure of being informed that I had two cavities that needed some attention at the caring hands of our dental dynamo.

These were my first fillings ever, and only my second experience with any kind of oral surgery in my entire life. So part of me figured, “Hey, I made it for thirty years with no fillings. Pretty cool.”

A larger and more visceral part of me replied, “There are going to be whirring metal blades cutting into your mouth-flesh. These spinning prongs of pain purpose to create larger holes within your teeth than there currently are, so that the masked man wielding these implements of inhumanity can then stuff those holes with unnatural substances. And maybe see if he can cram a tennis-ball in there without you noticing.”

As I sat in the chair waiting for the doctor to begin Filling Number One, I thought back to other dental experiences over the years. Like the time I woke up in the middle of getting my wisdom teeth removed because they had misjudged the amount of anesthesia I would need.

Mind you, I did not feel any pain. I felt nothing but bliss, coupled with a desire to laugh brought on by the traces of nitrous oxide. Of course, I also felt the need to laugh at their horror when they realized their mistake, because I interrupted the surgery by singing along with Dave Matthews’ “Crash Into Me,” currently playing over the radio.

Another adventure in dentistry occurred during our year’s sojourn in Wichita, Kansas. We couldn’t afford dental insurance, you see, so when we learned that the local university had an “oral hygienist” school – and that they offered cleanings for a flat $20 – we jumped at the opportunity. I mean, we take good care of our teeth, of course, but the occasional cleaning is reputed to be necessary and… well … it had been a while, as mentioned previously.

So I cleared it with my boss, told him I’d be going when the doors opened at 7:45 and would be in as soon as they finished up.

Here’s the thing about oral hygienist students, though:

They are very, very slow.

I was in a chair with my mouth open for over four hours while a very smiley and slightly clumsy young lady poked at my teeth. And gums. And, in one memorable misstep, my nose.

By the time I left at slightly past noon, I had both a sore and bleeding mouth and a series of increasingly irate texts from my boss.

All of this flashed in my mind’s eye as I waited for the filling to begin. Other than the anesthesia itself, it wasn’t so bad – took less than half an hour, and the weirdly cool half-numb-tongue sensation more than made up for the discomfort of the poking itself. I learned, however, that I am not the only person to sing their way through oral surgery.

While the aforementioned whirling blades of death were at their business, my dentist sang to me, belting out in a cheerfully unturned voice the strains of Sixpence None the Richer’s 1998 classic, “Kiss Me.” I didn’t want to turn him down too roughly, as that makes some dentists crazy, but to be honest…

I would have preferred the tennis ball.


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