Friday, July 24, 2009

Cavity Search

I woke up with a toothache, the pain annexing my jaw and much of the right half of my face, like I'd been pistol-whipped in my sleep. In keeping with my strategy for handling most Medical Issues, I ignored it, save for occasionally prodding it with my finger. Still sore? Yes. Still sore? Yeah, we get it, right hand.

Somewhere between the pair of Mama's Family reruns that I'd penciled in for the afternoon, I noticed a knot near the source of the OW OW OW, one big enough to warrant a name. I called it Felix. The problem with Felix--one of the problems with Felix--is that once your body grows something big enough to be named, it's probably a good idea to get rid of it, the exceptions being massive boobs, swollen biceps, or a goiter huge enough to score an hour-long special on Discovery Health.

Because of my addiction to House, as I worked Felix's tender borders I had a flurry of increasingly irrational thoughts that involved jaw tumors or a nest of baby spiders beneath my skin and freaked out, wondering how I'd endure the rest of the summer what with the radiation burns and the hatchlings wriggling out of my face.

I called my most level-headed friend to get a second opinion that didn't require a co-pay. After giving a quick explanation of the situation and introducing Felix, I breathlessly asked "So do you think I should spray a can of Raid into my mouth just in case?"

"Go to a dentist," he said, sighing deeply.

"OK, but what are the symptoms of lupus?" I asked, hearing the click of his phone before I even reached the question mark. I gave one more shot at curing myself--a trio of Tylenol P.M. washed down with a mouthful of cranberry juice--but on the third day, Felix was still hanging out.

I admit it. I haven't been to the dentist in years, probably since before American Idol was on television, at least three relationships and twenty pairs of running shoes ago. Because I'm essentially Unemployment's conjoined twin, regular dental checkups are a luxury I can't afford, on the same list with oil changes, PBS pledges, and brand name soups.

After reluctantly axing the idea of keeping Felix and claiming him as a dependent, I played Yellow Pages roulette, flipping to the D-for-Dentists section and making a choice based on which doc had the happiest-looking cartoon tooth. I selected the beaming molar that--creepily--flashed a mouthful of perfect teeth while holding hands with a toothbrush that was either winking or had Bell's Palsy.

I dialed the number, casually deflecting the questions about the last time I'd been flossed and fluorided. After writing the appointment in my planner, I bolted to the sink to start doing all the shit I should've done for the past several years. I scrubbed and Scoped, wove a piece of waxed floss between my molars and dusted the back of my tongue, even though I knew it was way too late, like the kid who sits quietly in the back of the car for the ride home in the hopes his parents will forget that he threw a massive tantrum at the restaurant.

The truth is that other than my money situation--which can only be expressed by turning my pockets inside out and making a frowny face--I'm actually kind of terrified of dentists. I've never had a bad experience in any of their identical mint-scented and Highlights-filled offices, and even dated one of 'em for the better part of a baseball season. The reason we split had less to do with his job and more because of his unfortunate Stevie Nicks fixation; as much as I liked him, I'm never gonna pull off that fingerless lace gloves and witchcraft vibe. Also I hate white-winged doves.

Anyway.

A massive chunk of my DDS-related squirminess comes from a late night HBO airing of The Dentist, a post-LA Law Corbin Bernsen flick where he plays--no shit--a dentist who has some issues with his wife's infidelity and starts pulling his patients' incisors like unwanted weeds in a flower bed. Granted, I don't recall screwing around on Corbin Bernsen so I should be safe, but my brain keeps spewing out one of the final scenes of his wife crawling on all fours, toothless after he'd yoinked every bicuspid out of her face.
__________
Cut To: Yesterday afternoon when I drove through an endless office park of identical squatty buildings before plopping onto an equally squatty piece of office furniture. The receptionist handed a prescription-logo clipboard through her plexiglass window, asking me to please complete a questionnaire that asked whether I'd ever had angina, tuberculosis, or a recent vasectomy.

I made one giant circle around the entire 'NO' column and flicked my tongue across my just-scoured teeth, kind of wishing I’d taken the opposite approach. Rather than trying to overcompensate for years of neglect and a case-a-day Diet Coke habit, I wished I’d made lunch out of Laffy Taffy, corn on the cob, and a number of well-seeded fruits. You know, so I got my money's worth.

My name was called quickly and--to their credit--correctly and I was led past the unmistakable sound of drilling to a chair covered with plastic, a decorating decision I recognized from my grandmother's living room. The hygienist clipped a bib around my neck and said "We're going to do some X-rays" before draping me with a lead blanket. With every "Bite down", I heard a cash register ching in my head and wondered if the gyno's office across the parking lot would let me pawn a handful of my eggs so I could pay for this.

She left me alone while she developed my scans, as the speaker above my head leaked a number of back-to-back-to-back musical tragedies. By the time she came back with a stack of transparencies, Brenda and Eddie had had it already, no doubt squabbling over which one of them got the Sears wall-art and who got the plush carpeting.

Without any warning other than "Open", she'd shoved a hooked tool in my mouth and started scraping, a menacing sound that reminded me of the pair of raptors in Jurassic Park scratching at the kitchen door. Much like the terrified kids on the other side, I had no choice but to smash my eyes shut and wait for it to be over. Unfortunately my choices were to listen to pieces of my enamel being etched off or to hear the worst radio station ever, one that made me want to exhume Nikola Tesla just so I could punch him in the face. "Do you hear that?" I'd shout, shoving his ear toward "Me & You & A Dog Named Boo". "THIS IS YOUR FUCKING FAULT."

The two noises tag-teamed to make the next several minutes industrial-strength misery. Scrape scrape scrape they called her Wi-i-i-i-ldfire scrape scrape scrape and he shall be Levon and he shall be a good man scrape scrape scrape I heard my mama pray the night Chicago died...

About the time a pocket-sized Paul Simon was strumming his tiny guitar about something so right the dentist came in. He was not Corbin Bernsen, thank God. He was, however, efficient, skipping the introductions and moving in a blur of crisp white sleeves and gleaming chrome instruments. He gently prodded my still-bleeding gums. “Do you floss?” he asked, pulling his paw out of my mouth so I could reply.

“Religiously,” I said, wiping at my lip with the bottom of the bib.

“Every day?”

“No, Christmas and Easter.”

He sighed deeply, which was disappointing. That was comedy gold, Tooth Man, GOLD.

“You’ve got a significant cavity in your number thirty molar, which is contributing to the inflammation and discomfort of your gingiva."

"My gingiva is inflamed?"

He nodded.

"I should've worn a longer skirt."

Nothing.

James Taylor duked it out with fire and rain above our heads, a battle less painful than this exchange. He pulled his gloves off, turning them inside out and dropping them into a smudged stainless wastecan. "We'll need to see you again next week to take care of this." He stood, replaced the stool underneath the desk and walked out without looking back.

I unclipped my bib and left it wadded on the Saran-wrapped exam chair. “I always thought that I’d see you one more time again,” Sweet Baby James said as I trudged down the hall.

I made my follow-up appointment and reluctantly agreed.

36 comments:

Jan said...

I am sorry that #30 is giving you trouble. You have led me to so much good music - it troubles me to hear that you were treated so badly at the dentist's office (my dentist would have laughed at those great jokes!). Ask your friends for dds recommendations - you can surely do better than this. [Also, thanks a lot for bringing the subject up - I suddenly have a sensitive upper left molar!]

*~*Lis*~* said...

Holy Shit - now that was funny! I'll have to remember the "Christmas and Easter" line next time I go to the tooth doc.

miss. chief said...

HAHAHA i should have worn a longer skirt - wow. that's awesome! i am also going to steal the christmas and easter line

Tara said...

just pray you don't need to have a root canal! i had to get an emergency RC last year and am still waiting to get insurance to get a crown in place. my filling is 3/4 of my tooth and will probably be breaking any day now.

*mary* said...

Ouch. I think your comedy makes up for your lackluster flossing. Too bad dentists just have NO sense of humor!

Eddie said...

That is a shameful lack of humor on the dentist's part. What's the point of being a dentist if you don't smile, amirite?

For the record, though: Marconi. Not Tesla.

Perfectly Shelly said...

Holy crap.......Religiously........too funny.....why can't I BE FUNNY?

lacochran said...

Love the "religiously" set up and follow through. :)

And--even though I hate being this person I clearly am this person--it's "white winged dove". Nobody likes a one winged dove.

Gilahi said...

You had me until "Levon", which may be the best song Elton John ever performed. I will grant you that that's sort of like saying the '57 model was the best Edsel Ford ever made, but still.

rockygrace said...

Thanks, lacochran, I was getting worried there for a minute. I was all, "ONE-winged dove? Oh my God, you mean I've been singing it wrong all these years?!"

STP said...

Gold, indeed! Perhaps a gold filling to match?

Minda said...

Whatever you do don't let him get rude with you. Just cause he has a degree doesn't mean he has the authority to be an A**. By the way you should remind him that good customer service can make him or break him....

Judy Haley (CoffeeJitters.Net) said...

religiously! :) i love it

i've got to get to the dentist too - i haven't had dental insurance for years either.

CoyoteGirl said...

Gack. I haven't been to the dentist in about a decade. I have serious dental phobias. I know I'll pay for it someday...but not right now.

*Akilah Sakai* said...

Eff'n hilarious! I hate the dentist as well and I'm once again overdue for a cleaning. And why can't they just fix the damn cavity on the spot?

Eric (Extra P.) said...

I went to the dentist two days ago, and here's what I learned:

Sometimes when we touch, the honesty's too much.

Jaymie said...

I laughed! And i'm sure my dentist would've laughed!

the dentist needs the laughs, they are one of the most down people in the world, even before shrinks!

Abecedarius Rex said...

You'll see a dentist!
They have a knack for causing great pain...
to paraphrase Steve Martin

kathy said...

I actually have a dog named Boo... those songs are part of the sound track of my childhood so I can't hate them, I'm afraid... Wildfire actually used to make me cry (hiding my head in shame)

and I bet my record of not dentist going could beat yours in a heartbeat

Natalie said...

I go to the dentist regularly and I still hate it. The scraping, the opening, the madness. Can't do it. But I'm also terrified if I don't, I'll get a felix. So see, you're just brave going all these years dentistless

Phil said...

1. That WAS comedy gold, I agree.

2. My grandmother had plastic covering, too! That couch was SO much more comfortable once we kids managed to rip it up enough that the cover had to come off.

3. I'm beginning to think dentists don't have much of a sense of humor. My brother is in school to be one and, oy, if he heard that he'd probably not even get the joke. Unless the joke was about teeth. Dentists love their inside jokes about teeth. I guess.

Angela Seraphine said...

You are too effing funny! One tip: brush with baking soda at least a couple of times a week. It helps reduce the tartar build up and can extend the time between dental visits. I use it and during my visit last week, the dentist couldn't believe I'd gone 3 years without a visit since my teeth looked so good. I'm in bed now, unbrushed. Also - floss once in a while...it helps. More often than Christmas & Easter (that was comedy gold)! Keep posting the funny! You're becoming a bright spot in my day, and a kindred spirit. I'm laid-off and navigating the unemployment world.

MonsteRawr said...

Oh my god, dentists hate me too! I grind my teeth in my sleep and I refuse to wear a mouth guard.
On a related note, I once ate an entire bag of Swedish Fish on the way to the dentist office. The death stares were epic.

theloosemoose said...

i feel guilty yuckin' it up at your dental trauma, but that was good shit. I LOLed and LOLed.

Get that inflamed gingiva taken care of, preferably by a dentist with a sense of humor.

Katherine said...

You are too funny. I laughed at all your witty retorts. Too bad you found an uptight dentist.

I don't know where in NC you live, but do you happen to be anywhere near a dental school? Years ago, when I moved to Richmond, VA, I had a job that didn't provide dental insurance. I skipped dental visits for a few years and then I needed a root canal and a crown. I got it done at the dental school. They did a great job, and it was cheap! They HAVE to explain everything to you and get all their procedures approved by a professor. The only downside was that the clinic appts take a long time--each visit is usually 2 - 3 hours. I guess though that many without funds might have more free time. If you live near a dental school, you may want to check it out.

d said...

I hear you, sister. Hearing a syntho-harp-instrumental "Let My Love Open The Door" on my dentist's Muzak made me want to grab the drill away from him and experience the sweet release of death. I've heard that many Gingiva get inflamed - particularly a few days after waxing. I liked the longer skirt solution. Tre elegante.

emmysuh said...

Poor #30. He just needs some attention. He's not trying to be bad, he just wants to know you love him as much as the others.

Seriously though. I haven't been to a dentist in 48393 years and every time I have even the sliiightest tooth pain, I go into paranoid mood and think, "It can't be a cavity. It will NOT be a cavity."

As of now, I'm 22 and I've never had a cavity. But 1) I probably just jinxed myself. 2) As previously stated, I haven't been to a dentist since I had braces. Yeah.

Good luck with #30 and the Joyless Dentist.

sevenyearitch said...

Having a crippling fear of dentists I can never be so witty, I applaud your efforts, haha.

BrioII said...

I use a Gripit Floss Holder - www.gripit.biz - to floss regularly and make my dental visits painless. These handy devices come with their own floss supply that can be advanced in seconds and refilled from local drug and grocery stores. They last a lifetime and don't clog land fills. I've had mine for 35 years.

Holden_Cualfield said...

The dentist asst left the room and I was still so nervous about getting my tooth fixed. Believing in my heart of hearts that they just didn't understand how I would need more nitrous than the normal person I decided to reach back and adjust my own level of gas. When they woke me, my hand was still on the knob. I'm not allowed to be left alone at the dentist anymore.

sashyjane said...

Hahaha! You're so right, that was comedic gold. It infuriates me when I make a hilarious remark and it's under-appreciated.

Andy said...

Sorry about the cavity. Perhaps if you would have worn an even shorter skirt, he would have drilled you for free.
...
...

Nothing?

Anonymous said...

I got toothache last week but I am determined to ignore it until it goes away. My head is throbbing and it kept me awake last night but ...I...wont....give...in!

Anonymous said...

love it .. thanks for making me laugh I haven't giggled like that in a while!!

steelopus said...

Did you know Coke Zero burns like hell when exiting your nasal cavity?

Goddamn.

jules said...

Great story! I totally think crazy things are happening to my body like implanted spider babies too! I recently had a dentist appt., and burst into tears at the mention of having my wisdom teeth removed.

Next time you go, bring your ipod to tune out the noises and skip the Stevie Nicks!

Can't wait to read more!