I honestly can’t remember ever making it through the entire six months between dental cleanings without having some reason to go see the dentist. The moment I hit the two-or-three-month mark, my teeth apparently begin to suffer from dentist withdrawal and inevitably will do something sinister like grow an abscess the size of a tomato, crack in half or spew out a filling, just to force me to return to the House of Pain ahead of schedule.
Such was the case one night last week. I was, of all things, flossing (not munching on something like jelly beans or caramels) when I heard a “clunk” in the bathroom sink. It was a filling. Needless to say, as my eyes shot daggers at that filling, lying there and taunting me, all I could think about was it meant I would be forced to eat Ramen noodles for dinner every night for the next year or so, because I have no dental insurance.
The next morning, although it tortured me to do so, I called my dentist’s office and made an appointment.
I hate to admit it, but I actually miss my old dentist, Attila the Driller. Ever since he sold the practice, I haven’t been able to keep track of the dentists who have come and gone. I’m surprised the office doesn’t have revolving doors – or a conveyor belt with dentists sitting on it.
So when I showed up for my appointment a couple days ago, I had no idea which dentist would appear. I was hoping it would be the one I’d had during my last visit because he had inflicted a lower degree of pain on me than most. But as luck would have it, a totally new guy entered the room.
The first thing I thought was, “Great – another one I’ll have to train,” because I have specific things I like and don’t like when I’m in the dental chair. For one thing, I don’t like what I feel are unnecessary x-rays. I mean, one night I sat down and calculated just how many dental x-rays I’ve had over the years. I lost count at 500. I figure that by now, I should be able to get a job standing at the top of a lighthouse and guiding ships at sea in the dark of night…with just the glow from my head.
Anyway, this new dentist took one look at the hole in my tooth (a front bottom tooth) where the filling had fallen out, and the first words out of his mouth were, “Let’s get an x-ray.”
I groaned. “Can’t you just fill it?”
“I want to know what I’m dealing with first,” he said. He then explained he had the latest state-of-the-art digital x-ray equipment that practically was radiation-free.
So, reluctantly I allowed the tooth to be x-rayed. The new fancy equipment allowed me to see the tooth on a screen right before me. My tooth came out looking like the underground tunnel system in one of those ant-farms the toy stores used to sell when I was a kid.
“Hmmm,” the dentist said, which, from experience, I’ve learned is never a good sign. “It appears you had a lot of hidden decay underneath the filling that fell out and it’s now decayed all the way into the pulp of the tooth. In fact, you’re also forming an abscess at the root.”
He then began to list all of the procedures and paraphernalia I would need to salvage the tooth. It sounded like a supply list from “Dental Parts R Us.” The final total was about the equivalent of a down-payment on a brand new Corvette.
“I’m going to do something called the cold-tooth test on your other bottom teeth,” the dentist then said.
I’d never heard of such a test before, but I immediately didn’t like the sound of it.
“It involves putting a freezing-cold substance on one tooth at a time,” he explained. “When you feel the pain in the nerve, I want you to raise your left hand. When the pain ceases, I want you to lower your hand.”
His explanation did nothing to make the test sound any better. I think the words “pain” and “nerve” might have had something to do with it.
Sure enough, he pressed something that felt like an ice cube against the first tooth.
“Arrggh!” I cried and jumped as the nerve in my tooth viciously stabbed me in protest.
“I said to raise your left hand,” he tersely reminded me.
I raised it.
“Now lower it when the pain goes away,” he said, removing the “freeze” from the tooth.
I lowered my hand.
He then did the same thing to the next tooth…and the next. Each time he did, I shouted, “Arrggh!” And each time, he scolded me and reminded me to raise my hand.
By the fifth tooth, I was ready to raise my hand…somewhere directly between his eyeballs.
“Your last name wouldn’t happen to be Grey, would it?” I finally asked him.
The dental assistant burst out laughing.
The dentist, however, just sat there, looking puzzled. “You mean like in Grey’s Anatomy?” he asked.
The assistant laughed even harder.
“No,” I said. “Like in the book, Fifty Shades of Grey, where the main character is a sadist who enjoys torturing women!”
“Oh,” he said, his expression serious. “I guess I may have to read it, then.”
When the cold-tooth torture test finally ended, I asked the dentist when he could do the work on my tooth.
“I don’t do root canals,” he said, shaking his head. “I have an endodontist who does them for me.”
I knew from experience that just saying the word “endodontist” out loud added another $500 to my bill. After all, the guy was a specialist.
“I don’t have dental insurance,” I said. “I can’t afford all of this.”
“Well,” the dentist said, “your only other option is to have the tooth extracted and then get a partial denture."
“And how much is that?” I asked.
“Only about $2,000."
I didn't know which planet he hailed from, but in my world, the word “only” is reserved to be used in front of amounts like $10 or $25, not $2,000.
So I haven’t made the appointment yet to have my tooth repaired.
I jokingly said to one of my friends, “I don’t know how I’m ever going to get the money I need to fix my tooth. I guess I’ll just have to go stand out on some street corner and try to sell my body.”
“Ha!” her husband, who was eavesdropping on our conversation, blurted out. “That wouldn't work! You’d be the one who'd have to pay the guys!”
He doesn’t know just how close he came to also needing dental work.
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