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Musings: Of dental care and careless dentists

My mother meant well by taking me and my siblings to a dentist, getting us dental care that her family had been too poor to afford during the Depression and afterwards; she had to have dentures before she was twenty years old. However, the dentist she chose in our hometown was not gentle or good. When at age eight I fell onto my face, due to a bully pushing my bicycle over on gravel, one of my front teeth was badly chipped--half of the bottom section gone. The dentist told me in an ominous tone that to fix it he would have to grind the tooth off and then cap it. I was terrified of him and at the thought of him grinding my tooth off and refused to allow him to do it. Throughout my childhood I hated going to him, hated the sound and feel of the drill and having my mouth forced open as I struggled, panicked. He was rough and he was rude. Once I asked him, worried, about something that was hurting my gum behind my last molar and he looked, and then laughed in a sneering way, saying it was only a popcorn hull. He made me feel ashamed.

Well, ten years after my front tooth was chipped I went to university. I needed to have my teeth cleaned but dreaded going to a dentist. I sure wasn't going to ever go to the hometown one again. I chose a dentist with a last name similar to mine and made an appointment. What a difference in dentists! He was wonderful! He had headphones playing cool music and posters on the ceiling to look at and he was so friendly! After the cleaning he came in to check my teeth and immediately noted the huge chip in the front one. He asked if it bothered me to have that chip and, of course, I said that it did but that I did not want my tooth ground off to fix it. He stared in surprise for a few seconds and then said that it didn't have to be ground off at all, that he could just cap it!

I was relieved but still fearful of having it done. He realized that I had been traumatized by my previous dentist and wanted to help me. And he did. He had a gentle technique for anesthesia. Seeing how tense I was he gave me nitrous oxide to relax me as I lay back in the comfortable chair. Every once in a while he would pop in and say, with a grin, "Are you high yet?" I was allowed to relax and get "high" for a long time before he returned to cap my tooth. It was painless. And I cried when I saw how I looked with two normal front teeth. All those years of being self-conscious about my tooth and not smiling, trying to talk with showing my teeth, going through grade school, junior high, and high school with the broken front tooth, could have been avoided if my old dentist had been a good one. That cap has lasted now for nearly 48 years.

Several years later, after I began to trust dentists again, I was once again living in my hometown. This time I chose badly when I started going to a dentist I thought would be good because he was an environmentalist. Hah! He dislocated my jaw by shoving a hard rubbery spacer into my mouth so that he could do a root canal. It hurt so badly that I cried and hit the arms of the chair to make him stop and take the thing out of my mouth. He referred me to an endodontist out of town, who was the most wonderful man and dentist I could have hoped to encounter after such a trauma. He was a cute little Irishman who said that he spent his days correcting the mistakes of regular dentists. He was charming and soothing, assuring me that he was painless and that he would finish the root canal and make things all better. He did finish it painlessly and I was so grateful to him. I still suffered from with my jaw pain and was treated for TMJ (temporomandibular joint syndrome) and had a mouth guard-like appliance made to wear at night, which did not help at all. It wasn't until I mentioned my jaw pain to a chiropractor that I got relief. He held my face in his hands and told me my jaw was dislocated and then quickly moved his hands with a little jerk. I felt my jaw move and, joy of joys!, the pain was gone!

Any time I have to see a dentist the old fears come back and I tense up. I always tell him or her right away that I have had a lot of bad experiences that make me a fearful, tense patient. My Canadian dentist is okay.  No music or nitrous oxide or posters on the ceiling. He hasn't hurt me much yet, but is a bit rough when picking at my teeth after the hygienist cleans them. I love my hygienist; she was horrified when I told him about the spacer shoved into my mouth, dislocating my jaw. The dentist is normally a bit aloof, though has a friendly smile, but last visit he was quite friendly when I asked him why he thought I never got any wisdom teeth. He stood and talked for a few minutes after his exam and my question, in a good mood. He talked about evolution and how our jaws used to be bigger and held more teeth; as the jaw evolved to became smaller those end molars (wisdom teeth) became crammed and caused problems with neighboring teeth. He said that his wife wouldn't agree with him about evolution, but that evolution would eventually result in the loss of those offending molars. I laughed and said that I must be more evolved then; he laughed and agreed, again repeating that his wife would not agree.

I love having my teeth cleaned. In the states I used to go twice a year since my insurance paid most of the cost for two cleanings per year. Here in Canada I have no dental insurance and so I go once a year. I wish that I could afford to go more often because my gums feels so much better after each cleaning.

Today I was a bit alarmed to finally rouse enough to consider myself awake only to learn that it was 3:30pm! After staying up quite late reading, and being cold all during the night, I had been dozing and dreaming all morning and afternoon. I had even gotten up at least once to pee after dreaming of hunting for a toilet, but lay back down and was immediately out again. So when I awoke and looked out the west window and saw the sun over halfway down I jumped up, a bit panicked--rested, but worried because I needed to pick up Toad's new blister packs (dosettes) of medicine today else he would have no medicine in the morning. The pharmacy is only open from 9 to noon on Saturdays, and is closed on Sundays, and with my record of sleeping late I couldn't afford to risk Toad being out of his meds until Monday. So I dressed hurriedly, had Toad get ready, and we took off.

What a beautiful day it was. The sun was shining, the roads were clear and dry, and my mood was hopeful. We first checked the mailbox, as I am expecting some important documents. Not there yet. Then I drove us to the pharmacy and picked up his meds, along with a few other items, including Udderly Smooth Foot Cream, that I bought using my earned points and therefore were free. I was very hungry, and have been craving Vietnamese soup from a local Chinese restaurant owned by a South Vietnamese couple, so I drove there and ordered for us. Toad opted to stay in the car each time we went anywhere. While the food was being prepared, a twenty-minute wait, I had the gas tank filled ($33) since the gauge showed 3/8 of a tank and got the free cup of French Vanilla Cappuccino that Toad and I share each time. I went back and picked up the takeout order of soup and two dinners (#4), and then drove us home to eat. The food tasted so good! We rarely eat out, or get takeout, and it has been ages since we have had Chinese food. Foxy loved the rib bones.

Speaking of Chinese food, the only Chinese food I had until I went to university was a very occasional can of La Choy that my mother bought. I can still hear the jingle in my head: "La Choy makes Chinese food...swing American!"  Awful stuff.

This evening, after eating and taking my own meds, I had a Skype visit from my brother during my French practice (Duolingo, 3 review lessons), fed the cats twice, and then settled down to read some news and blog posts. And here I am, my memories of dentists bad and good triggered by something I read. I hope that I don't dream of drills and root canals tonight.

Photo/Capture of the Day:

My hero, the endodontist who finished my traumatic root canal in the '80's

This post first appeared on Essence Of Wild Ginger, please read the originial post: here

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Musings: Of dental care and careless dentists


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