Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Whole Tooth

A dentist's office is a smartly furnished chamber of horrors ~ Shelley Berman

At the time of writing, I have a dental appointment tomorrow. Believe it or not, I am not fearful of going.

This hasn't always been the case.

Over the years, of which there have been many, I have been to a lot of dentists. Frequently, the amount of time between visits has been, shall we say, extended. Sometimes very extended. There were two reasons for these lengthy gaps. Number one, I am averse to pain. Number two, I am averse to being taken to the cleaners.

As to the first reason, I realize that dentistry is relatively painless compared to the olden days, but I still cringe when the dentist comes at me with that needle. To once again quote Shelley Berman, "Of course, I want Novocaine! But, I'm forgetting the pain of getting the Novocaine." More than once, the worse part of the Novocaine wearing off was the pain associated with the numerous needle holes. But, ultimately, I can suck it up and deal with it, admittedly with a lot of whiperimng and groaning. But I can deal with it.

What I can't deal with it are those endless cries of "Cha-ching!" coming from the dentist.

One of the pastimes of dentists I've had over the years is for them to suggest that most of my old fillings need to go and be replaced with new ones. Why this should be is never clear, but it has resulted in a few teeth having been reduced to metal repositories that may not pass through particularly sensitive metal detectors.

Now, I'm not making accusations, but it is interesting that over the last 50 plus years of going to dentists, I've gone to exactly three that seemed to keep my teeth healthy with a minimum of fuss -- and more importantly a minimum of drilling. These dentists all have certain things in common:

  • They aren't part of clinics, filled with loads of other dentists and specialists.
  • Their offices are rather small.
  • Their staffs are equally small.
My current dental visits generally consist of a thorough cleaning by a chatty, matronly hygienist who seems to remember everything that we discussed during the last three visits. After that, the dentist comes in and counts my teeth. If the number balances with the last count he had, I get to go home.

Is it any wonder that I go every six months?

My only worry is that this guy will retire while I still need to have checkups. Fortunately, he appears to be quite a few years younger than I am, so I expect that he'll be around for a while longer.

I started going to this dentist because I had a broken tooth. Since my previous dentist's attempt to push the envelope of the insurance company's patience and to push my pain tolerance had been so disheartening, it had been seven years since I had set foot in one of those smartly furnished chambers of horror. However, this dentist came highly recommended by a very sensible neighbor. She particularly emphaiszed that he didn't do excess work.

Normally, of course, such recommendations turn out to be bad, but in this case, all has gone swimmingly well.

Prior to this dentist, the last really good one I had was in Virginia. Same deal: simple office, few assistants, no partners. He was a no-nonsense kind of guy who did the cleanings himself (he didn't even have a hygienist) and, if he said something needed doing, it was necessary. His only failing was the insistence on starting involved conversations about where the fish were biting while he had tools in my mouth.

Worse, he didn't divulge his good fishing spots.

So, I'm not worried about my visit tomorrow, although saying this out loud is, of course, tempting fate on a major scale, like referring to a ship as unsinkable. By voicing my confidence like this, I'm seriously increasing the odds of hearing my dentist say, "They're all going to have to come out."

Oh, well, I guess if that were to happen it would simplify future appointments. Instead of going to the dentist, I could just mail my teeth in.

Postscript

I guess the count balanced. I'll have to take the teeth in with the rest of my body next October.