Monday, January 27, 2014

Dental Checkup

It’s about time for my dental checkup. The truth of the matter is, a good deal of the increased life expectancy we have come to enjoy in the last hundred years is due, in large part, to the better dental care available. Really. Without good dental health, good general health isn't possible. However, nothing about a dental visit induces visions of a good time.

First off, there's the little matter of scheduling the visit. A visit to the dentist's office is scheduled easily, but rarely scheduled quickly. 

"Hello, Doctors DeKay, Pullam and Crowne."

"I received a reminder in the mail to have my annual checkup and cleaning. I'd like to schedule an appointment." 

"Okay…” The sound of pages being flipped through are produced for dramatic effect before the receptionist continues. “We have an opening six weeks from tomorrow at ten, or one eight weeks from Wednesday at four. Which would you prefer?"

Dentist waiting room art.

Following weeks of angst, the big day arrives, and you present yourself before the receptionist. This is an intimidating situation. I imagine it roughly on parallel with presenting yourself before St. Peter at the gates. Your name is inscribed in a ledger. A few moments are passed filling out insurance forms. The insurance forms are important. They ensure that, for whatever tragic reason, you don't make it through the ordeal the clinic will still get paid. Then the wait begins.

Roughly a decade passes while examining every pamphlet, picture and piece of art (yes, I consider plastic models of decaying teeth to be art) in the room. Picking up a worn copy of National Geographic is the final desperate act of passing time away. It never fails: just when all your questions about the Costa Rican flying tree frog's mating habits are about to be answered, the dental assistant calls your name. 

The assistant leads the way down the corridor to a room, instructs you sit in a chair, and then adjusts it into a position preventing any possibility of escape. After being assured the dentist will make his appearance “shortly,” you are left alone. There is little to do but examine the room.

All dentists decorate the same: the walls are painted a comforting pastel color, and hanging on the walls are wonderfully relaxing prints. Right next to the prints of idyllic scenes are posters of some poor slob in the last gruesome stages of gum rot. The gum rot pictures are taken with high speed film, mere nanoseconds before the last remaining teeth jump from the poor fellow's mouth. They are always printed in glossy, graphic color.

Of course, your head spins in horrified recoil to escape the dental carnage depicted in the posters, and your sight rests upon the tray located just level with your left shoulder. Eyes bug out in slack-jawed, shock and terror. There - laid out in neat, glistening rows - is an array of stainless steel instruments in every configuration imaginable that could be drawn into a sharp point. 

Ready for action.

Your attention is jerked away from the macabre display by a loud latex snap. The doctor looms overhead ominously, and casually asks how “we” are doing.

Why is it ALL medical people assume by making an unpleasant procedure sound like a fun-filled group effort, they will make the patient more comfortable? In dental procedures involving only two people, one in particular is NOT having fun. 

It is no surprise dentists don't even wait for a reply to their rhetorical question. They just stuff their fingers into your mouth and commence poking, prodding and scraping. This is the point at which I  start whimpering.

The doctor is used to this, of course, and engages in a barrage of questions designed to take the patient's mind off what is going on. The questions are, at best, answered with unintelligible babble. 

"So, you get some fishing in last summer?"

"Uhn-guh. Ooo?" 

"Oh, yeah... Wish the wife enjoyed it more..."

"Ee coo, uk ee ecks ick ihn uh oahk." 

"Yeah, yeah, women seem to get seasick more..."

"Ow!" ("Ow!" is the only word that can be fully understood around a mouthful of fingers.) 

"Oh, gee, did that hurt a little?"

"Uh-uh, ih urh a unch!" 

After slightly more than an eternity, the doctor sets aside the pointy little hooks and things, blasts your raw and bleeding gums with icy water, and drops in a suction line to slurp it all out. It's time for the verdict.

"Everything looks fine. Keep up the good work, and we'll see you next year." 

"Whew! That's great. I always worry about having real problems."

"I'm sorry, I couldn't understand what you said."