Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"If I Need Ya, Mom, I'll Call Ya!"

I still remember that title on a poster of a scared little boy about to close the door and submit himself to the dentist, a piece of artwork that hung in the Mouth of Hell, also known as the waiting room of my childhood dentist in Newark, Delaware.

My sister and I still share horror stories about Dr. Collins. He made us fear the dentist so much that I went seven years without a checkup when I became an adult. (When I finally screwed up the courage to go to another dentist in N.C., that doc had to prescribe me Valium for all my visits.)

This was the man who filled my many cavities (my mom distrusted flouride treatments); pulled my incisors to give me braces (yes, I literally gave my eye teeth to this character); inserted painful spacers between my teeth; cemented on braces and then cranked them every few months; extracted my wisdom teeth; and did it all with a poor chairside manner and some foul breath.

Oh, and whenever I cried, he slapped me. Let me tell you, those lame little plastic spiders and whatnot he gave from the prize basket when you left were not worth it.

It didn't help that I had a wicked, unrequited grade-school crush on his nephew. Love -- and dentistry -- hurts.

My current S.F. dentist, who I adore, believes that the roots on my two front bottom teeth are dead because of the force with which Dr. C. "corrected" my overbite. Then again, I do like my smile, so I guess Dr. C. wasn't totally evil. Maybe he had some goodwill hiding in his pinky fingernail.

Anyhow, visiting the dentist for my six-month cleaning yesterday made me wonder: Why do I care so much about pleasing the dentist? I mean, every other doctor you go to, you go because something's wrong. My pee looks funny, I have a temperature, I can't stop coughing and, oh, what's this odd rash on my stomach? But no, at the dentist, you're supposed to show up perfect: brushed, flossed, rinsed. And if you're not, there's the interrogation: "How often do you floss? What kind of toothbrush do you use? Do you smoke? Hmmm."

Hey! I'm paying you! Only my personal trainer gets my money for giving me grief.

But because I seek to please everyone, regardless of whether I hate them, or pay them, or don't even know them, or even if they're dead, mind you, for the past six months, I've been using my Sonicare toothbrush (a gift from my brother for my 40th birthday, don't ask); flossing; and rinsing. I was ready.

For the first time in my life, I could report truthfully that yes, in fact, I do floss daily. And something I've been doing has had some results: my gums have gotten healthier.

Though satisfying, the visit was strangely anticlimactic. Deep down, I think I was expecting a little plastic token of appreciation from the prize basket.

If I need ya, Dr. C., I'll call ya!


Anonymous said...

This is so funny, because I'm the same as you when it comes to the dentist! I was so pleased last time when my gums had improved. This time, though, was not so good (though not awful) and I have accepted my punishment of using a foul-tasting mouthwash for 2-3 weeks as deserved.
As for dental horror, I had a dentist who tried to somehow remove my flouride stains (your mom was wise to distrust that crap) with excessive abrasive polishing on my teeth, to the extent that to this day, even a sonic toothbrush is minor torture. Ugh. Will I never outgrow my childhood?


Bob Schaper said...

I've always believed that most dentists and veterinarians are half-shysters. They're experts at laying down guilt trips ("If it were MY teeth," they say, or, "If it were MY dog..."), which are all designed to make you spend money.

The worst is when the two practices meet: the vet says your dog needs a teeth-cleaning. Jesus! You know you're in an ethics-free zone then.