Saturday, July 03, 2004

Dental Science

I recently lost a filling somewhere. I know I lost it because I could feel a hole in my tooth big enough to stash a chicken wing. I’m not sure where the filling went, but I’m guessing it’s probably sitting in the bottom of my stomach with a nickle, some erasers, and a few other indigestible items that have had the misfortune of getting too near my mouth over the years.

After a while the tooth-hole started hurting.  I held out a few weeks but finally made the dreaded call to the dentist.  This is not an easy call to make-- a lot of crazy thoughts go through your head before making a decision of this magnitude.  “Maybe I could duct tape it?”, “That drywall patch stuff is probably not poisonous.”, and “Handfuls of Advil won’t do any lasting damage, right?”  But the pain eventually became severe enough that I had a really crazy thought: “Hey, maybe the dentist is not so bad after all?”

So I went to visit the dentist.  All dentists have a one hour minimum wait strictly enforced by the Dentists of America and Crest.  The wait is a kind of hypnotic pre-anesthesia.  The dim lighting, the antiseptic smell, and the Muzak of the 70’s and 80’s make you very, very sleepy.  I was just entering a trance from staring at the rubber-tree plant, which I’m pretty sure was staring back, when the Hygenist hissed my name. The Hygenist is the evil assistant of the Dentist...you get the feeling if you don’t comply *exactly* with her orders things could get...ugly.

I was escorted down a long door-filled hallway. As I passed each room the patients inside gave me that souless Novacaine stare, blood spattered paper bibs around their necks and mouths stuffed with wads of gauze. Not a pretty sight.

The first bit of Dental Science I noticed upon entering was the chair.  It looks as if it is intended to satisfy multiple markets-- probably also being used by the CIA for confession extraction and mental institutions for electro-shock therapy.  It’s got everything-- the restraints, the interrogation lamp, the mechanical arm for whirring drilling devices, and the tidy bowl to keep bodily juices off the floor.

The Hygenist strapped me firmly down in the chair before bringing out the real weaponry.  Dentists have all the tiny murderous tools ever desired by miniature serial killers: ice picks, needles, curvey pliers, hammers, drills, chain saws, little axes, and chloroform. It kind of fits—isn’t your dentist a slight oddball, not exactly in the medical mainstream and probably a little resentful about it—quirky and dangerous but not aggressive enough to do more than maim teeth, lips, and gums?

But is this primitively inflicted pain all Dental Science has to offer the toothed of Society?  Couldn’t they have made more progress in the last 100 years?  I’d like to see one less space shuttle flight a year...instead put that money into researching ways to teflon-coat my teeth so I never get cavities.  And if I do get a cavity, come up with some painless laser zapper thing to fix it.  Zip-zap your tooth is back.  The eye doctors are kicking butt with Laser Keratotomy, laser this and laser that.  They can have you seeing 20-15 in 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, it takes 10 minutes just for the dentist to show up once you’ve made it to the chair.  And the first thing he says to you?  “Hey, you’ve got a chicken wing in there!”  Good call, killer.