Adventures in Dentistry


Posted Thu, Dec 2, 2010

Call me foolish. Call me irresponsible, but I hate visiting the dentist. I’ll tolerate pain for days, take aspirin like they are M&M’s, and hope that by ignoring the pulsating spasms, they’ll stop. Let’s face it, a trip to the dentist’s office is about as enjoyable as … a trip to the dentist’s office. So, with my latest toothache, I stayed in pain for three days.

            By day four, however, I had to deal with a few facts.

            Fact: The Ostrich Concept wasn’t working.

            Fact: My last wisdom tooth had to come out.

            Fact: My dentist wears a white mask so you can’t tell who he is in real life.

            Fact: He snickers behind that mask.

            I made the appointment. I felt a little guilty because I’d been avoiding him for months, ignoring the postcards he kept sending. The cards pictured Garfield holding a toothbrush saying, “Come on in, it’s time for your cleaning.” Now I’m an educated man, capable of reading between the lines. What it really said was, “Come on in, it’s time for your drilling.”

            I swore the next time I darkened those doors, it would be with a can of spray paint.

            But pain is the great destroyer of ambitions. So I humbled myself and showed up with my hat, not black lacquer #7, in hand.

            As it turned out, the tooth was impacted. The dentist said he couldn’t pull it. I’m off the hook, I thought – until he referred me to an oral surgeon.

            The oral surgeon’s office looked like an advertisement for a glass of milk. Everything was painted white, looked sterile and smelled pasteurized. The dental assistant Ms. Wu, sat behind a large white counter.

            “Are you Mr. Washington?”

            “Yes,” I replied.

            She stepped from behind the counter and led me to a room filled with chairs and a magazine-strewn table. Mounted on a far wall was a television set. Ms. Wu slid a disc into a DVD player.

            “Please watch this short film. I’ll return when it’s over.” Then she walked out and closed the door. I noticed several dental case studies hidden among the magazines on the table. I prayed he wasn’t still studying to become an oral surgeon.

            The movie was a cartoon about why we have those pesky wisdom teeth. It had something to do with prehistoric man having a larger jaw. More room for teeth. That sort of thing. All the teeth in the film had smiles except one; he was going to be extracted.

            “We nothing for you to chew,” said the other teeth. “You’re no use to us anymore. Sorry. It’s been nice knowing you, but there it is.”

            When the film was over, a deep voice from the door said: “No, it won’t hurt.”

            I whirled around to see the doorway filled by a man over six feet tall. He weighed at least 280 pounds. The giant had the sun-baked look of a sportsman (probably from Wednesday golf sessions). He had a wide blunt face, sun-streaked hair and was dressed in white.

            The big man had extended a broad hand with thick fingers and neat, manicured nails. It was less a hand than a tool, I thought as I grasped it.

            “You were wondering if it was painful,” he said matter-of-factly.

            “As a matter of fact, I was.”

            “You won’t feel a thing. I’m gonna sedate you first.”

            Suddenly it hit me. My dentist hadn’t forgotten about all those broken appointments. At his office, all he could torture me with was double-digit billing. This guy was talking four-figure surgery. It was imaginative, brilliant, technically cunning.

            Ms. Wu scurried past, removed the DVD and turned off the TV.

            “And how did you like our little feature?”

            “Oh, thumbs up,” I said. My smile felt a little weak in the corners. All I could remember was the strict convalescent diet of baby food that the patient endured for two weeks.

            The big man directed me to the next room where I crumpled into a big reclining chair. He turned on the overhead lamp, and began examining my tooth.


            “What does that mean?”

            He turned off the light. “Just, Mmmm.”

            Ms. Wu came in carrying the X-rays sent over by my dentist.

            The doctor held them up to the light. “A bit tricky, but aren’t they all,” he mumbled.

            I was given a prescription for penicillin and told to return in a week. As I was being escorted out, Ms. Wu said my insurance would cover everything but $70, and if I didn’t have the cash by next week, the doctor had a payment plan. I was feeling better by the second.

            A week later, I showed up and asked if I could be billed the $70. Predictably enough, Ms. Wu suffered from selective amnesia. Normally I would have argued, but when you’re in pain, your ideals become flexable. I wrote a check and made a mental note to hock the stereo as soon as I got home.

            This eventful tale does have a happy ending. Well, almost. I lost 10 pounds on the baby food diet. I’m still receiving postcards telling me to come in for a checkup, and the oral surgeon gave me a coffee mug that advertises his practice.

            I tell myself it’s worth $70, so I set it down on one of my new Garfield-postcard coasters.

About Laurence Washington

Laurence Washington is an award-winning writer and journalism professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

View all posts by Laurence Washington

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