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Posts Tagged ‘dentist’

  1. Gratitude: The View Ain’t So Bad From Here

    March 31, 2019 by Diane

    Root canal.

    Just hearing those words makes me jumpy.

    Obama jokingly referred to the bank bailout as being as popular as a root canal, which pissed off those who do it, but illustrated perfectly how the rest of us feel about having it done.

    So when my dentist told me I’d need the dreaded procedure, and gave me a referral to an endodontist, my hand shook as I signed the form.

    Who to believe?

    My previous dentist, the hypochondriac, never mentioned root canals.

    No, it was my new dentist who opened the can of worms. I switched to him, because:

    • My previous dentist no longer accepted my cheap insurance.
    • I had a limited pool of dentists from which to choose.
    • The new guy, Dr. A, got rave reviews on Yelp. Well, two. But there were only two.
    • He seemed friendly when we met, although I could have done away with the handshake.
    • He was downright handsome.

    After his initial examination, Dr. A told me, “The good news: your oral hygiene is excellent. The bad news: your crowns need replacing.”

    My previous dentist never mentioned that scenario, either.

    “Good News, Bad News”

    I soon learned, this handsome fellow liked those phrases. He also relished the word “extreme.”

    In my next visit, while I waited for the Novocain to kick in, he scurried across the hall to examine another patient.

    “The good news: there’s no problem with your teeth. The bad news: your gums are receding. It’s extreme.”

    While I waited for the squishy stuff to harden into a mold of my teeth, he scurried next door to consult with a third patient.

    “The good news: your gums are in great shape. The bad news: you have extreme cavities and you’ll probably need to mortgage your home to pay for the dental work.” (I may have misheard that last part, but the subtext was loud and clear.)

    Off with the Crowns!

    Replacing my first crown went without a glitch, although I shivered in the chair, having a deep fear of dentists. Had my dentist also been a clown, I may have been scarred for life.

    After the procedure, Dr. A said, “You might elect to have a root canal,” then shoved his hand out to shake.

    Why would anyone elect to have a root canal?

    Replacing my second crown, Dr. A ran into a snag. During the procedure, the nerve was exposed. It was “extreme.” He didn’t offer good news, just the bad.

    “There’s a ninety-nine-percent chance you’ll need a root canal,” he said, and shoved out his hand.

    Oh, how I hated this man.

    I wondered if he was getting kickbacks from the endodontist.

    I refused to take the bait. Or his hand.

    A second opinion

    The pain began. Heat, cold, chewing…everything hurt. With dread, I visualized enduring a root canal, of something going horribly wrong, of ending up in the hospital.

    I googled “holistic dentists,” called one, and asked her opinion.

    “If the nerve was mechanically-exposed, ozone treatments MIGHT work,” she said, “but I can’t guarantee it. If it was cavity-exposed, you’ll need an extraction or a root canal.”

    What!? I thought those words didn’t exist in the vocabulary of holistic dentistry.

    The lesson begins

    I was in week five of the LIFE XT program, which I began blogging about here.

    The instructions for the week:

    Add Gratitude. Use sitting down to meals as the cue to Notice-Shift-Rewire the habit of Gratitude.

    Since eating involved heat, cold, and chewing, this proved to be a challenge. Still, I told myself I was grateful to have teeth, and to have a credit card to pay for the fixing of those teeth.

    On Sunday, in desperation, I called my dentist on his cell to find out how the nerve was exposed.

    His brother answered.

    His brother didn’t know.

    Dr. A, he told me, was “extremely” ill and in the hospital.

    “I’m so sorry!” I said, metaphorically backing out the door, grateful for my health.

    Root canal? Or no root canal?

    I didn’t need a neon sign to tell me I’d need to deal with the problem tooth. So I scheduled a visit with endo-guy. I convinced myself that after performing whatever tests endodontists perform, he’d straighten and announce, “You don’t need a root canal!”

    I was willing to take the gamble.

    The day came. I had a plan. If I needed the procedure, I’d visualize lying on the beach. I’d visualize Dave waiting for me in the waiting room. I’d remind myself it would be over in an hour. I’d remind myself of the line I’d recently heard on a tv show: no matter what happens, I’ll get through it. I’d count my breaths: two hundred and twelve of them, the length of time, I was told, a root canal would take. (I ‘d worked out the math in the shower when I should have been practicing Awareness.)

    The test

    I’d read the reviews about endo-guy on Yelp.

    • He had a lousy bedside manner.
    • He’d do the work without telling the patient what he was doing, then disappear.

    I considered those good reviews. I prefer not knowing what a dentist is doing. I don’t want to be that involved. My new dentist is far too chatty. He even offers a mirror so I can watch.

    Endo-guy ran through a list of questions, then performed the “ice” test, applying an ice-cold instrument to one of my regular teeth. As soon as I felt the pain, I raised my hand. He tested the crowned tooth. No pain, then, after several long seconds, I raised my hand. He tested a regular tooth. Up went the hand.

    “It took longer for the crowned tooth,” he said, “which could be a problem. Is the pain gone?”

    “Yes.”

    “If it goes away quickly, that’s good. Let’s try again.”

    He applied the ice to the back of the crown and my hand shot up, followed by the rest of me.

    “That’s a good sign,” he said, and straightened. “You don’t need a root canal.”

    Oh, the joy! The relief! I was ready to dance down the hallway.

    “Is the pain still there?” he said.

    “Well, yes,” I admitted.

    “That’s bad. You need a root canal.”

    The sun went behind the clouds. I stared at him.

    “You can think about it,” he said, “decide later.”

    I didn’t want to think about it. My anxiety would shoot through the roof. I’d lose twenty pounds. I’d end up in the hospital, like my dentist.

    “What do you advise?”

    “A root canal.”

    There it was. I could either go home and worry myself sick, or I could suck it up and get it over.

    I sucked it up.

    After all, I had a plan, right?

    The plan goes awry

    Endo-guy sprang into action. I didn’t have a chance to back out. He shoved a rubber dam in my mouth and went to work. Other than the shot he jammed through the roof of my mouth, nothing hurt. But the whole experience was so overwhelming, my ability to visualize anything vanished. I couldn’t remember my reminders. Counting breaths didn’t occur to me. All I could do was clench my toes so my focus would be on my feet instead of my mouth. He barked orders. “Open wider!” “Resist against me!” At one point I reached up to brush something from my cheek and he barked, “Don’t touch anything! There’s a lot of sharp instruments here!”

    It was all a blur. And then, it was over. Faster than I thought it would be.

    And endo-guy disappeared.

    The view ain’t so bad from here

    I was grateful it was behind me.

    I was grateful I’d had the nerve to get through it.

    If the alternative had been an infection that reached my bone, I could even say I was grateful to have the root canal.

    Gratitude shifted my outlook.

    I had a choice. I could be fearful of the bad or grateful for the good. Anxious of what scared me, or thankful for what gave me strength. Leery of the germs on my dentist’s hand, or comforted he was trying to put me at ease.

    By adopting an attitude of gratitude, I saw all that was right in my life.

    Above the dark clouds, the sun was always shining.


  2. Swim with an Overbite, and it’s Happy Hour at the Dentist

    November 27, 2016 by Diane

    The summer before sixth grade, I zipped my lips shut for what I predicted would be the rest of my life. All because of a neighbor’s pool.

    Playing Marco Polo with Chris and Johnny and Robin and Carol, I dove underwater and popped up near the edge of the pool, mouth open in laughter. Due to an unfortunate overbite, I chipped one of my front teeth on the concrete, instantly transforming my once fat pearly-white into a permanent dagger.

    This meant a trip to the dentist. I was terrified of dentists. I avoided them. But there I was, trembling in the chair, as the dentist conferred with his assistant in the hallway. I heard the words “too scared” and “anxious,” and then the dentist returned, unhooked my paper bib, and told me he wanted to leave the tooth as is.

    “I’m saved!” I thought, and then, looking in the mirror again, “I’m doomed!”

    All through sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, I aimed for invisibility. I slunk through the hallways as teachers and classmates said, “Why don’t you smile? Smile, smile!”

    In high school, I mustered the courage to get the thing capped.

    Zoom ahead twenty years.

    I’m flossing after dinner, and—ping!—the cap pops off. In the mirror, I see that scraggly tooth again. I’m back in junior high, slinking along with buttoned lips, hounded by teachers, by classmates, to “smile, smile!”

    I grab the phone. “My tooth fell off!” I tell my friend, whose father is a dentist. “I mean the cap, the cap! What do I do?”

    He gets his father. The dentist-father tells me to buy dental glue from the drugstore, glue it back on, and see him at nine a.m.

    In the morning, I bring my own father for support. He picks up a magazine in the waiting room, and I follow the receptionist down the hallway. The dentist-father is standing by his tools, wearing a white smock. He looks like Ed Sullivan. He invites me to sit in the dental chair.

    Invites me. Like we’re having tea together.

    I grip the arms of the chair. He reclines me slightly.

    “Are you comfortable?” he says.

    Is a cow comfortable before slaughter? 

    He shows me his new gadget, a camera that looks like an oversized thermometer. He inserts it into my mouth. On a large screen, we view my teeth and gums from every nook and cranny. Gone With the Wind was shorter than this viewing.

    Can we just get to it? 

    At intermission, he gets to it.

    He pries off the glued tooth. Shows me his fancy drill, pointing out the features. I’m afraid he’s going to ask me to feel the heft of it.

    “Now, if at any time you feel uncomfortable, raise your left hand. I’ll see it, or Bubbles will see it, or Ramon will see it.” Bubbles the receptionist, also his wife. Ramon his assistant, also People Magazine’s reject for most handsome man in the world. “One of us will see it, and I’ll stop.”

    Zzzzzzz goes the drill. Zzzzz, Zzzzz, Zzzzzz. He leans in and drills that tooth down to a stump. While he’s at it, he shaves the tops off a couple of bottom teeth to make them more even. But not too even. “You want them to be like the columns of the Parthenon,” he says, and gives a long-winded discussion about Greek architecture, holding the drill aloft. Finally, “Would you like to take a break?” he says. “Have a cup of coffee?”

    A cup of coffee? I want out, is what I want. I want to collect my purse and my father and ride home. “Let’s finish this,” I say.

    He glues a temporary cap to the stump, and holds up color samples like an interior decorator, finding the perfect match for my teeth. Bubbles leaves her desk so she can peer into my mouth, along with Ramon and some guy in a leisure suit who pops by to discuss golf scores. They all make appreciative sounds as my eyes dart from one to the other.

    Finally, Happy Hour at the dental office is over. Bubbles, Ramon, and Leisure Suit return to living their lives, and Ed Sullivan backs off, nods, and puts down his toys.

    “We’ll call you when we have the permanent cap,” he says.

    God help me.

    I stagger out to the waiting room.

    My father is staring at a wall. He’s aged ten years.

    At home, I look in the bathroom mirror. I smile. The temporary cap makes me look like Bugs Bunny.

    I zip my lips shut.


  3. True Confessions: I Was Held Hostage by a Hypochondriac Dentist

    May 1, 2016 by Diane

    dentist chair

    Dear Dr. Lu,

    Every six months, after you poke at my gums and scrape and buff my teeth, I entertain the thought of finding another dentist. Not because you recline the chair to such depths that my head is in China, or because you mutter just loud enough for me to hear, “That tooth has twisted even more! It’s ninety degrees now!” The reason, Dr. Lu, is because if we were in a contest to determine who is the greater hypochondriac, you would win.

    I’m reluctant to walk into your lobby where the photos of perfect veneer teeth lining your walls mock me, where the samples of bacon-flavored toothpaste tempt child carnivores. I am reluctant to commit myself to your bright light and sharp implements as you feverishly hunt for something wrong. I am reluctant to be motored upside-down, although the thirty minutes of traction, paid for by my insurance company, is a bonus. I am slightly more reluctant to hear your warnings:

    “If you don’t get a mouth guard, you will grind your teeth down to the nerve!”

    Yes, Dr. Lu, I have heard your alarms. I have suffered your exclamation points. I am aware that if my teeth crack from the pressure, you might not be able to FIX them, a horror I refuse to contemplate—not because my teeth may be splintered, but because you would be the one I would be reaching out to in the middle of the night, a hypochondriac dentist from Hell. I am cognizant that a mouth guard will save my teeth, which is why I agreed to purchase the device.

    “Fine. I’ll get it.”

    “Think about it,” you said, practically purring with delight.

    “I’ll get it.”

    “Let me know, after you’ve thought about it.”

    “I said I’ll get the mouth guard!”

    “It’s five hundred dollars, you know.”

    As if I needed that parting shot. As if I needed to be reminded: well, there goes the retirement nest egg. 

    No, Dr. Lu, it isn’t the capitulation on my part to spend my last dollar on this robber-of-sleep that compels me to once again rethink dentists.

    It’s the hour-long torture I had to endure to make the mold for this five hundred dollar chunk of plastic. It’s the accusation that I moved my head when you held me hostage in the chair with that cold goop pressed between my clenched teeth. It was not I who moved, Dr. Lu. It was you. You, who held the goop in place. Yes, you—reaching for something the minute my teeth clamped down. “Don’t bite me!” you shrieked, and, “Hold still!” And then you reached, jerking my head which I tried desperately to immobilize. Oh, the glare you shot me after prying my jaw open and examining the smeared glob. “We have to do it again!”

    Five times, Dr. Lu. Five times you shoved that goop in my mouth. And every time, you moved.

    “I can’t make any more!” you wailed. “We’ve made fifteen!”

    Five. It was five.

    “I’m sure it’’ll be fine,” I told you, pulling from my Buddha-like self the calm that you lacked.

    But it didn’t end there, did it, Dr. Lu?

    Oh, no.

    When I returned for the final fitting of the completed mouth guard, the suction was so tight you had to brace your diminutive foot against the upside-down chair to pry it off. “That’s a good fit!” you said, your face aglow, as I had visions of calling 911 in the morning to get free of the thing, or roadside assistance, or someone with a crowbar.

    Yes, Dr. Lu, I have entertained the thought of switching dentists many, many times over the past ten years, dragging myself to your office, wondering why I am the only one coming and going. Did you display the bacon toothpaste, which now collects dust on your shelf, to lure a new generation of patients?

    Oh, I’ve tried to find a new dentist. I’ve searched Yelp, reading the reviews. But the only dentist available on my back-alley insurance plan is a man reportedly terrified of blood.

    So you may rest assured, Dr. Lu, I will continue to bare my teeth for you alone. Because a hypochondriac dentist seems like a much better bargain than a dentist who might blanche and keel over, leaving me with a drill spinning madly in my mouth.