Wednesday, 26 March 2014

A Real Pretty Mouth...

Hello Friends.

My dentist is younger than I am. I really can’t believe it. I guess older people have to deal with this phenomenon all the time, medical personnel being younger than they are, but a recent appointment with a new dentist (closer to work) put me face to open, gaping face with a practicing dentist that I could have babysat on Saturday nights. Having a younger person in charge of my health won’t always weird me out. I hope when I’m 80, my physician isn’t 90, but it feels weird entrusting my mouth to someone who wasn’t born as I began teething initially.

Dr. Baby is perfectly pleasant and he and his baby staff have a really nice practice with comfortable chairs and top of the line spit-suckers, but a visit to the dentist is still one that I’d rather avoid. Not that I’ve been unlucky with mouth stuff, quite the opposite. I haven’t had cavities, or braces, or a root canal or anything beyond a couple of teeth that needed pulling when I was a youngster. Through my 20s, I watched aghast my contemporaries had their faces swell up like pumpkins and often had to stay home for a week as a result of a wisdom tooth extraction. I counted the days until my 30th birthday, laboring under the false apprehension that if I made it to 30 without wisdom tooth issues, I could sail through the rest of my life unaffected. I’ve recently come to find that is not so.

Dr. Baby is concerned that a wisdom tooth that has come in sideways, while giving me no discomfort now, will present a huge problem later. He says the tooth will continue to grow and cause me great pain. I’m not inclined to believe him, because it’s not as if my straight up and down teeth will keep growing, suddenly meeting in the middle rendering me unable to close my lips ever again. Dr. Baby is, in fact, so concerned that he is outsourcing the job of removing this troublemaker to an oral surgeon. “I don’t think I can do it myself,” he confessed at my last appointment, presumably before going down for his nap. So now I’m really worried that my good dental karma has at last run out, and there will suddenly be a great deal of trauma behind every smile, unless I can change things around in time.

Dream: Revolutionize the field of dentistry.

Goal: Achievable. I may not know anything about medicine or oral health, but I am (or rather Jon’s and my combined benefits are) about to put a great deal of money where my mouth is. As a paying customer, I should have a say in how I am treated, no?

Plan: Make suggestions as to how to improve the current state of the profession. For instance:

Complete sedation of every patient for every procedure. People hate going to the dentist, they’d rather every tooth fall out of their head than see a professional, because it is so exceedingly uncomfortable. Regular procedures like checkups and cleanings aren’t painful, exactly, but they’re the most cringe-inducing experiences one can have (next to asking a woman when her baby is due as you simultaneously realize she is not pregnant). I worked with a woman once who had a mild form of autism, probably somewhere on the spectrum like Asperger’s Syndrome, and she was high-functioning, pleasant if a touch awkward, and good at the menial aspects of her job, and she had the worst teeth I’d ever seen. I’m not being mean, and I certainly don’t have the pearliest of whites, but I can state objectively that she was in terrible dental disrepair. I never asked her about it (because how does one broach the “What’s up with your disgusting teeth” conversation?), but I wonder now if an absence of dental care didn’t somehow relate to her autism. Twice yearly is almost too much for me to endure the suction, the scraping, the poking, can you imagine what it must be like for someone prone to sensory overload? If you don’t like to be touched, I can’t imagine you love being orally excavated. Therefore, let’s just put everyone to sleep as soon as they sit in the chair, even if it’s just for a cleaning. Then dentist could stop with stupid tricks like a massage pad on the dentist chair or a TV screen overhead to distract the patient. Not only that, but patients would stop flinching and jerking around. I know that I would look guiltily forward to my drugged-up biannual visits like they were trips to a spa.

Alternatively, if patients must be kept awake, let’s have dentists treat them like children. Stick with me here. I went to a dentist one time who was predominantly a children’s dentist, but took on a few adult patients. She treated me like a five year old and it was delightful! She would say, “Okay, Mr. James, I’m going to have you open big big big!” and I would do so and she’d go, “Good joooob!” Then she’d say, “Okay, Mr. James, time to spit!” and I would do so and she’d go, “Good jooob!” But the best part (and I swear this is true), is when she had to take an x-ray and gave me sunglasses to wear. She said, “Look at you! Mr. Cool!” And I was. I was Mr. Cool. The real reason why her treatment was welcome instead of intolerable is because she explained everything she was doing as she did it, thus making the whole process less foreign.

Enough with the x-rays. I understand why they need to be taken for the benefit of the dentist and hygienist, but why do they always have to show them to me? “And these are your teeth!” “Oh my god, you’ve really captured them. Can I keep this? I can’t wait to show this to my butt, he’ll be thrilled.” What do I care what my mouth bones look like? If anything, it’s unnerving to see oneself as a skeleton. You know what I want to see, though? That machine you have to go through in airport security now. The one that, if you are randomly selected for further screening, somehow takes a picture of the naked body beneath your clothes. You can choose it in lieu of a pat-down, and why wouldn’t you? If they don’t find a bomb strapped to my back or a grenade behind my scrote, why can’t I see the picture? It’s like having x-ray vision and they can’t share what they’re getting an eyeful of? No fair.

Let’s make the dentist work a little harder. Did you know dentists have the highest suicide rate of any profession? I guess it makes sense, insofar as nobody is ever happy to see you, and you have to undergo all the training of a doctor but don’t get the prestige or reputation. And nobody ever says, “Thank you, Dentist, for making me mouthbleed all over the place.” But darn it if those hygienists don’t have it harder. Looking in people’s gross mouths all day, relegated to doing all the annoying cleaning and scraping and lecturing. When a hygienist adopts that holier-than-thou tone to lecture me about my poor flossing ability, I just want to bite her hand off. But it’s not her fault, that’s the bulk of her job! Maybe on a hygienist’s birthday, he or she gets to come in, spend a few minutes chatting vaguely about your mouth problems and scheduling subsequent appointments, but then the dentist has to come in and do the grunt work. It’s only fair.

Finally, let’s be sure our Canadian coverage is extensive and comprehensive enough to lord it over other nations. When I was working a couple of part time jobs, and therefore exempt from any benefits, I just didn’t go. I’m lucky that nothing plagued me beyond plaque in those times between appointments. But I have a friend with a similar wisdom tooth malady who intends to wait until it becomes too painful to deal with, then get emergency care. That’s a rather unpleasant ticking clock. So I guess the next time I lean back and open wide for Dr. Baby’s soft touch, I ought to be grateful. Instead of sharing copious opinions about everything wrong with oral care, I should do my best, in spite of the circumstances, to keep my mouth shut.    

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