Sunday Scribblings - Teeth - 2/17/08

When the prompt of teeth came up it made me consider writing about something that has been bothering me for some time. My dentist is old. He bridges the gap between the time barbers performed dentistry (I am sure glad they broke those two professions out) and today’s modern procedures.

I am sure there are requirements for ongoing education for a dentist to keep up with modern technology, but I am in South Carolina. I am not certain there even exists state requirements for dentists to attend dental school in the first place.

My dentist does have a framed degree on the wall, which makes me feel a bit more confident in his qualifications. But I am not certain that just because he attended Colgate University, I should assume he received dental education. That could easily be a professional joke among dentists. Maybe this accounts for that one out of five dentists that doesn't recommend Crest. He is a Colgate alum.

I still miraculously have most of my own teeth, though I have some constant issues, having survived 20 years of military dentistry, where a temporary filling often lasts a lifetime. And due to funding, they sometimes share equipment with the motor pool.

Back to my dentist. I sometimes wonder as he or his assistant is rooting around inside my mouth with something sharp, if there is some young high-tech dental whiz kid that can just aim some kind of phaser in the direction of my mouth and all my dental problems are zapped away. Plaque – gone. Tartar – gone. Gingivitis – gone. Calculus – gone. Painless and quick.

It seems he uses the same procedures that dentists used when I was a kid. Brush and floss. Through the years they have changed brushing procedures many times. Around and round, back and forth, up and down, hard, soft. I wonder where they are at now with respect to my dentist’s instruction. Has the main stream gone to some newfangled super-effective move and he still has me brushing in circles?

And what is with the arsenal of metal probes that he still uses to scrape and probe?

And the huge syringe. Junkies and diabetics have small needles, why not my dentist? Do those tools need to be on display on that tray right in front of me. Couldn't he keep them hidden until he absolutely has to use them? The assistant makes a complete Broadway Show out of lining them all up like I am a POW awaiting interrogation. Then they always leave me alone for a while to study them and make sure my anxiety and blood pressure are both spiking. My heart is beating so fast that should he draw blood, I will bleed out in minutes.

And everything he puts in my mouth tastes horrible. The polish they use after a cleaning. Holy crap, is that foul? And whatever that is that he rubs on my gums that he claims to numb them a bit before he injects me: xylocaine, novacaine, lidocaine, procaine, septocaine, or marcaine. It sure isn’t sugar cane. And since it hurts like hell anyway, why the added discomfort of that nasty stuff? They can make bubblegum taste like fresh watermelon, can’t they do something to knock some of the funk off of that stuff.

And if you have ever had to have an impression. Not only is the unknown viscous liquid material that they use in the tray cold and disgusting, but as it hardens it grows and crawls down my throat. The dentist always calls for the largest tray every produced and has the assistant mix up a batch and a half of the goo. I think the plan is to give me enough that I will gag. They probably have some sort of lunch bet on how much I can take before I actually choke.

Another concern of mine, due to his advanced age, is what if he has an attack of dementia while knuckle-deep in my mouth? Does his assistant have instructions to relieve him if he suddenly forgets he is a dentist and thinks he is carving a pumpkin or gutting a trout?

Of course if your own dentist has twenty-first century knowledge and procedures, you probably don’t know what the hell I am talking about. Except those of you in England, where I believe the barber is still performing oral surgery. Hey, if the Prince of Wales or Hugh Grant can’t be provided a decent set of teeth, the general public has no chance.