Monday, December 17, 2012

My Unabridged and Uncensored Thoughts on Dentistry

Well, friends, I've been finished with finals and home from school for just about 48 whole hours, so naturally, it was time this morning for me to be subjected to various medieval tortures disguised as a teeth cleaning.

My mother despises dental medicine more adamantly than any human I have ever met - with the possible exception of her own mother, who, rumor has it, has kicked dentists from the chair on multiple occasions - so I have been taught well to hate dental work in all its forms. If that upbringing weren't enough, I also endured a mouthful of braces for almost 6 years, and I have a pain threshold that has not widened since I was about five years old.

Dentistry, then, is not my friend. So this morning, as I sat/laid in the chair, holding on to the armrests for dear life and trying futilely to shield myself from the 3 types of fluorescent lights shining directly into my eyes, I decided to really think about all the reasons why dentistry is actually the worst.

Let's start with the setup of this whole endeavor. Unlike my second-to-least favorite brand of face-related medicine, optometry, practitioners of dental work feel the need to come at your mouth from above. Just from a gravitational and/or anatomical perspective, this is a weird choice. Things will necessarily get complicated to accomodate this ridiculous need. First, the patient must be placed in an entirely inconvenient adjustable chair. Today, the particular chair I was placed in "kinda moves back and forth pretty fast - sorry about that!" After being thrown around in this chair at 30 mph for a few minutes, though, I finally achieved the proper level of reclining - the point at which the room's overhead light shines down directly into your poor, defenseless eyes. From there, the dentist or hygienist is free to attack your mouth from above and to move that stupid gooseneck light around in a million different ways until it is just angled enough to completely blind you for the next half hour. Once all this is in place, the dumbest part of dentistry begins: small talk. Inevitably, right when the person working on your teeth has both of his/her hands and three or four different instruments of torture in your mouth, he or she will ask you a question. In other cases, perhaps, you'll be offered hygiene tips that sound like clips from a personal health PSA for first-graders. No matter what the person says, though, you will, as a rule, be unable to respond with human words. The range of meaning you can convey through differently-pitched grunts is really tested when you're sitting in the dentist's chair. For me this morning, this unfairly one-sided conversation went something like this:

"So, you're going abroad next semester?"
"That'll be really cool. My daughter did that in college!"
"Your teeth are lookin' pretty good. Still pretty straight after the braces, could be better, but pretty good."
"N-hnh." [Accompanied by the closest I could muster to a -_____- face with four dental implements hanging out of my mouth]
"So remember, you know, brush twice a day and everything."
"Looks good! Have a nice Christmas!"

I must admit, I impressed everyone involved today by actually initiating a conversation through these meaningless "nnn"s at one point. Upon hearing my mother's voice from the hallway - odd, since I am 20 years old, came by myself, and generally like to blindly hold on to the belief that I am somewhat capable of taking care of myself - I said to my hygienist, "....Hnnn?" Apparently, if there's one thing a career in dental hygiene gets you besides the occasional bite mark on your hands, it's an ability to decipher complete nonsense words. After taking no time at all to translate my "Hnnn," she responded, "Oh, yeah, hearing your mom in the hallway?" "N-hnnnh, hh hh." "Sounds like she's talking about your sister, you're good!"

This exchange was the one instance during my time in the chair that I was more impressed by the people working on my mouth than I was repulsed by them. The rest of what they do is pure evil. I swear that dentistry is the only branch of medicine in which you can legally get away with straight-up ignoring dozens of indicators of pain. On some level, this makes sense. When almost every single part of your job inflicts pain on the person you're hovering over, I guess you can't drop everything any time that blood flow to your patient's knuckles completely ceases as a function of their vicegrip on the chair or their eyebrows contort in ways previously confined to silent film actresses tied to the tracks and in the path of an oncoming train.  While I can sort of, almost understand this willful ignorance of human pain, however, there is a simple solution to one of these pain problems - and I don't understand why, in my experience, dental offices never take advantage of it. Chapstick! Sure, there was a tube of chapstick in the goody bag they gave me on my way out the door (goody bags, by the way, being one of the few saving graces of the field; don't think they hand out free earrings at the ENT), but it would do everyone a lot more good if they handed out chapstick before forcing your mouth open and exposing your poor lips to the recycled office air with no chance for moisture for an hour. Just saying, dentists. Think about it.

My final complaint with dentistry is its unwavering ability to completely disorient me in every way. Nothing unusual went on at my appointment today - no numbing substances, no anesthesia of any kind. And yet, somehow, there was almost no point at which I was confident in my assessment of what was going on in my mouth. The twenty different kinds of weird angles involved in a dental checkup just throw me for a loop. When the hygienist was dealing with my front teeth, I could barely tell if she was on the top or bottom of my mouth, let alone whether she was working on the front or back of my teeth. As to where she was in relation to the permanent-retainer wire that spans the back of my bottom front teeth? Forget about it. I kept trying to figure out what she was doing, and I simply could not. I'm choosing to blame it on the lights.

Overall, though, whether disorienting, painful, illogical, or some combination of the three, dentistry is terrible. As it turns out, I have to go back to the dentist at 7:20 tomorrow morning to have some "almost-cavities" filled - so my hatred is going to stay fresh for at least the next couple of days. Fortunately for my dentist, I have just enough of an obsession with the mouth-centered activities of talking and eating to ensure that I will keep coming back and not just become a scary toothless person like the dentist-hater inside of me wants me to do. But I'm not gonna like it.

And to any dentists reading this (since I'm sure there are, like, sooo many)? If you want to avoid creating dentist-haters like me, it's pretty simple - don't keep braces on a kid for six years. Unless you want to ruin their childhoods and give them endless fodder for future memoirs.

Oh, and stop giving college kids appointments at 7 AM. That is the middle of the night.

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