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Posts Tagged ‘dentist’

  1. 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.

  2. 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 right 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.

  3. I Need a Dentist Who’s Less Anxious Than Me

    November 22, 2015 by Diane

    funny cartoon tooth

    I had a pain in one of my upper teeth on the left side. Thinking I may have developed a cavity—or worse, dislodged one of my mercury fillings and swallowed it—I phoned my dentist for an appointment.

    “Doctor Lu’s office.”

    I recognized the voice; it was Doctor Lu herself. She never hired a receptionist, so she pretends to be the receptionist.

    “I may have lost a filling,” I said. “I need to make an appointment.”

    “Doctor Lu can see you on Wednesday at two o’clock.”

    Wait a minute. You’re Doctor Lu.

    “Two o’clock will be fine.”

    * * *

    When I arrived, Doctor Lu was waiting behind the reception desk. She shuttled me into the yellow room on the left. She hooked a paper bib around my neck. She asked if I had any new allergies, wanted to know how I was sleeping and if I was taking any new medications, and inquired about my blood pressure. She took two x-rays and blew cold air on my teeth and jabbed at my fillings with a sharp implement and asked me to bite down on a piece of rubber and when nothing revealed itself to be a problem, she searched for one.

    Starting with my neck.

    Her fingers probed under my jawline and along my windpipe and then froze.

    “Uh-oh,” she said. “You need to see a doctor ASAP.”

    She probed some more. Dread flooded my body.

    She motioned to her assistant. “How big is this?”

    “I don’t know,” the assistant said. “The size of a penny?”

    “That’s it! The size of a penny. Write that down.”

    Doctor Lu probed some more, then handed me a mirror. “I want you to see this.” She pointed to a bulge in my neck.

    “Oh, that!” I said. “That’s my carotid artery. I had it examined years ago. It’s just a weird part of my anatomy—“

    “Write that down,” she said to her assistant. “Weird part of anatomy.”

    “It’s nothing,” I babbled on, trying to reassure her. “I’m thinner now, so it’s more noticeable.”

    “Yes. You have lost a lot of weight.”

    “I wouldn’t say a lot—“

    She turned her back and consulted a laptop on the counter. “Look at these x-rays,” she said, waving me over. I peered at the screen. “These fillings are old. See how close they are to the nerve?”


    I knew what was coming. We’d had this discussion many times. Sure enough, “You need a mouth guard,” she said, her voice rising. “You’re grinding your teeth at night. If you lose one of these fillings, I don’t know what I’ll do. I won’t be able to FIX it. They’re too close to the NERVE!”

    “Okay, okay. I’ll get a mouth guard.”



    Total cost: $500 for the mouth guard, $10 for the visit.

    “And see your doctor. Report back to me.”

    I need a dentist who’s less of a hypochondriac than me.

    * * *

    I made an appointment with my doctor. Cost: $30. He felt the lump. He suggested that I get an ultrasound.

    “But I’ve had this thing for ten years,” I said. “It’s never gotten any bigger. Isn’t it possible—isn’t it likely—that it’s fine?”

    “That’s a good way to look at it,” he said. “But I want ENT to make that call. Schedule an appointment with ear-nose-throat. And schedule an ultrasound.”

    I need a doctor who’s less worried than me.

    * * *

    Member services informed me that the ultrasound would cost $371.

    “What’s the extra dollar for?” I wondered aloud.

    I canceled the appointment.

    * * *

    Online, I checked the profile of the ENT doctor I was scheduled to see. He had started as a psychologist, then studied to be a surgeon. He also made time to become a photographer, canoeist, rock climber, wilderness guide, sculptor, sailor, chef, and sword-swallower. Okay, not the last one, but he had an impressive list of activities to his credit, in addition to raising three children, which he claimed was the most challenging activity of all. I felt good about this doctor. Maybe I could squeeze in a free therapy session while he examined my neck.

    As the nurse led me down the hall to an exam room, we passed an open door. A man in a white lab coat sat at his desk wolfing down a sandwich, just shoving it in. God, I hope that’s not him, I thought.

    It was.

    Less than a minute later he strolled into the exam room where I sat perched on a giant leather chair. I wondered how he’d found time to chew.

    He offered his unwashed hand for me to shake.

    “So, you’ve got a lump in your neck,” he said. He placed his unwashed fingers on my throat. Felt the bulge. “That’s your carotid artery, “ he said. “Leave it alone.”

    He pulled up a stool.

    “Want a second opinion?” he asked.


    “Nice glasses.”

    Cost: $30.

    I need a specialist who’s less goofy than me.

    * * *

    I went to the dentist to get my teeth checked. They’re fine. But I’m $570 more in debt. It would have been $941 if I’d gone through with the ultrasound.

    I need a new dentist.