A Visit to the Dentist
December 12, 2018 | View PDF
Occasionally a few childhood memories remind me that the good old days weren’t necessarily all that good. Dentistry comes to mind here, and how a visit to the dentist has greatly changed for the better over the course of the last fifty years.
As a child, when my mother made a dental appointment for me, this meant a date with doom. The dreaded event would lurk on the horizon and when the dire day arrived, all other activities palled with the thought of the looming meeting with the man holding weapons of torture.
Remember the high-speed drill, the one that tore into one’s decayed tooth with great glee? It sounded like an extremely ill-natured, voracious giant mosquito out to extract every ounce of blood and with the express intent of inflicting great pain in the process. After the furious mosquito had caused as much emotional turmoil and distress as possible, the dentist exchanged that bad boy with the slower drill, this one sounding like an irritated bumblebee that dug into the tooth, shredding nerves and scattering enamel along the way. This drill didn’t hurt quite so much as the high speed one, but it still caused pain, heated up the tooth and produced extreme discomfort for the poor victim sitting in the dentist chair. The combination of the drill, the pain, the stench of a hot tooth, and the noise of the disgruntled bumblebee working away in my mouth did nothing to endear me to the dentist, his work, or how I had to spend that hour.
The dentist of my youth never used Novocain, unless the tooth damage was so great that even the dentist himself (and they were all men in those days) would be considered inhuman if he did not offer that option. I remember the raised eyebrows if I dared squirm in my torture seat or exhibit any other emotion other than stoic acceptance of my fate, and the sneer on his face when he asked if I really thought I needed Novocain. His attitude, and the manner in which he inquired if I needed a shot in the mouth to dull the pain ensured that I always refused his offer and kept as stiff an upper lip as I could manage. That’s a lot to ask of a seven-year-old, in my opinion. Come to think of it, it is a lot to ask of a little old lady.
Of course, the needle he used to insert the Novocain into my gums, on those rare occasions when I actually did get any pain killer, resembled a huge straw in size and diameter. When he inserted the needle, it felt like my fiendish dentist decided to drive a stake into the roof of my mouth. The pain of the needle lasted a lot longer than the pain of the drill, when I think about it.
To say I dreaded visits to the dentist may be a slight understatement. The dislike has continued right up to my older age, even though dentistry has changed dramatically in the last several decades. Modern dentists have learned new tricks, they have a bit more compassion than the dentists of my youth, and the equipment and techniques have greatly improved.
However, those evil tooth demons of my youth still haunt me when the time comes to visit my friendly neighborhood dentist. I haven’t had a cavity in years, but I have required crowns, I have lost fillings, chipped or broken a few teeth, and of course I do my duty and have my teeth cleaned once or twice a year. So, I still need to visit the dentist and submit myself to poking, prying, picking, scraping, and the occasional drill.
I recently visited the dentist for an overdue teeth cleaning. The dentist I entrust with my mouth recently retired, and his daughter has taken over the practice. She wants up-to-date medical information, so when I arrived at the office, the receptionist handed me the new questionnaire to complete.
First question: Are you afraid of the dentist, and if so, why? Hah, what a loaded question to ask me. I circled YES and proceeded to explain that I was a product of the Dark Ages, and when I was a kid, my dentist used a pick and shovel with no Novocain to fix problem teeth. Of course I am leery of dentists.
More routine questions followed, including “Do you have trouble eating?’ I understood what the question meant, but I answered truthfully, that no, unfortunately I have no problems whatsoever in eating, in fact I generally eat just about everything placed in front of me.
Another question asked if I had ever had orthodontal work done. I replied that yes, I had, but again it was back in the age when pterodactyls still roamed the earth.
I handed in the questionnaire, selected a magazine, and settled back to read while waiting for my turn in the chair. A few minutes later I heard a muffled snort from the receptionist’s desk. I peered over my glasses at the young lady sitting behind the desk. She caught me looking at her, and she burst into laughter. Lifting my questionnaire and pointing at it, she said. “You made my day. Some of these answers really made me smile.”
Well good! At least one of us had a good day at the dentist’s so the day wasn’t a total waste. Fifty years ago, you would never catch ANYONE smiling while in a dental office, and laughter would be unheard of.
Incidentally, I received another all clear from my dentist. I even came away with a new toothbrush. I rather enjoyed the visit, to the extent that anyone can enjoy sitting in a dental chair while someone pokes around in his or her mouth. Maybe if I live long enough, in another few decades the memories of early dental visits will go the way of the dodo.