I recently realized I had a few blogs saved as drafts here on the ol’ WordPress so I went through them and decided to publish a couple. This one is from September, 2018. Enjoy!
I hate going to the dentist. Hate it.
I remember liking it when I was a little boy. I have memories of having a laughing gas mask lowered down onto my tiny, innocent head. I remember staring up at the dentist’s face and swearing it was changing before my very eyes. I had a feeling of being lifted from the chair and at one point could see myself reclined, almost as if I had been released from my body and was hovering near the ceiling while the dentist and his assistant poked and prodded around in my mouth.
And that’s it. Come to think of it, there was merely one day when I liked being at the dentist and I was literally as high as a kite while I was there.
Over the years I’d get teeth pulled, braces put on, cavities filled, root canals performed and teeth crowned. I have a permanent retainer attached to my bottom teeth and have been chewed out (pardon the pun) for not flossing about as often as you could imagine.
When I became a teenager, the idea of going to the dentist really became a hassle. I hated it. I hated going all the way out into the country where my dentist was just to have my gums bloodied up and have that one hygienist tell me how she remembered me being a little boy while speaking to me like I still was one. This dentist gave me my first of two crowns early on — this one applied to my right central incisor.
I’d later go on to have a very problematic time with a crown on my right lateral incisor. The temporary crown fell out five or six times, mostly due to me grinding my teeth while sleeping. This went on for years until 2009 when it broke off days before a big job interview shortly after I moved to Oak Ridge.
I had just moved to the area and I don’t think I’d gotten all my health insurance benefits squared away so I probably picked my dentist in a hurry. They picked a cement out that was some of the strongest on the market (they said) and they fixed me up in time for my interview. I was thankful.
To prevent this from ever happening again, I started wearing a mouthguard while I slept and for nearly a decade I didn’t have anymore problems with the trouble-making lateral incisor.
During this same period of time, I’d go back to the same dentist twice a year for regular check-ups and cleanings. I hated it. In addition to my existing dental anxiety, it seemed like nearly everyone in the office had beef with me. The receptionist was never very warm on the phone and was hardly welcoming when you’d come into the office. You’d sit down in the waiting room listening to either soft rock or country radio while watching a TV that had been put on mute and was broadcasting an infomercial for some kind of anti-aging medication. I don’t know what anti-aging has to do with dentistry but this guy is all about it. Two display cases lined the entrance wall: one filled with toothbrushes and propaganda that made dental hygiene “fun” for children, the second was lined with more anti-aging medication and pamphlets as well as a few books on miracle diets.
Near the wall of wild anti-aging stuff there was a bookshelf with children’s books including the illustrated Bible so commonly found in waiting rooms across the south and a book called Busy Beavers that I’m sure has no connection to the film I saw in high school with the same name. On an end table stood a framed photo of the dentist standing beside some kind of Christian superhero — not Bibleman and not the Illuminator and not Biblegirl and not Captain Salvation and not Mr. Christian and not Armor Bearer and not the Faith Walker and JESUS H. THERE ARE MORE OF THESE THAN I EVER REALIZED.
Also, the bathroom door doesn’t lock. There’s a sign in the bathroom that makes it painfully clear that people flushing feminine hygiene products and paper towels is a common problem at the office. Apparently people barging in on strangers sitting on the pot is not.
When I’d get called back, my hygienist usually invited me into the x-ray room where she’d ask me to remove my tongue ring — a piece of jewelry I’ve never owned and will never own. I’d tell her this every time but she’d always forget. I’m assuming she was put off by my exterior — potentially the same reason she’d always check me for oral cancers and encourage me to not drink or smoke so much, even though I rarely do the former and never do the latter. Every time I’d see her she would ask me what “that girl’s” name was that I had tattooed on my left forearm. I’d tell her that it is Amy Winehouse and she’d remind me that she was an alcoholic and abused drugs. Just like me, I guess.
On visits when I’d have to see the dentist, I’d get moved to an exam room after my cleaning where I’d sit for a few minutes gazing up at a canvas-printed photo of him riding a horse in the woods while it snowed around him. He’s wearing a cowboy hat and smiling. The dentist was always a decent enough guy with me but I couldn’t quite pin him down. In the photo, he’s depicted as a cowboy who loves riding in the snow and having photos printed on canvas at Walgreens. In person, he seemed more like a hippy in that he has stringy, gray hair pulled back into a ponytail that reflects his scraggly gray goatee. He often wore shirts with loud patterns under his lab coat. Despite his hippy-esque aesthetic, he was often very short with his staff and never made an attempt to do it out of earshot of his patients. His staff also made no effort to hide their griping to us about how mean he often was to them.
One time I missed an appointment and was told by his receptionist that if I ever missed another one that not only would I have to pay a fine but I’d also have to write an essay describing why I missed it and why it’s important to keep my dental appointments. I said “Yeah, that’s not happening” and it never did.
Fast forward to this past Saturday night.
Dinner date at my place. I have a date over at my townhouse. Music was playing in the background and I was putting the finishing touches on my “Viking Fajitas” which are just normal fajitas eaten by me. I had seared up a few NY Strip steaks and sautéed some bell peppers and vidalia onions. I’d warmed up some low-carb flour tortillas and whipped up a batch of homemade guacamole that we were munching on with blue corn tortilla chips. Honestly, they were the best-tasting steak fajitas I’d ever made and I was super happy with them.
And then, with my second bite, it happened.
I felt nothing and had only bitten into a tortilla filled with peppers, onions and guac — nothing that should’ve crunched. I quickly spit out my food and realized that I was missing a tooth but not just any tooth — my central incisor that hasn’t given me any trouble in nearly 20 years. I panicked, went through about 15 minutes of pure embarrassment, then calmed down and finished eating (with a fork, of course). I wasn’t in any pain. The only thing that hurt was my pride. And it hurt BADLY.
I called my freaky dentist’s emergency hotline and was taken to voicemail. He called the next day while I was teaching class and asked me to call on Monday. By the time I got scheduled and rolled into the dentist’s office at 3:30pm, I’d been toothless for about 43 hours and was feeling pretty sorry for myself. But my bad luck had only just begun.
I sat down in the waiting room and immediately noticed that there was a new book on the entry wall. It seemed to have some kind of post-apocalyptic imagery on the cover so I immediately assumed it had something to do with the Rapture, therefore I was intrigued. While I couldn’t get my hands on a physical copy of the book — it was behind glass like a museum relic — there were several printed reviews of the book stapled together and on the same table as the photo of him with Christian superhero guy. I read on.
The abstract for the paperback tells of how many scientists have developed solid, often proven theories about the evolution of our planet and how the Earth both affects and is affected by the many different forces in the cosmos. The doctor — my dentist — however, will be the first to tie these theories together in a string of eye-opening findings that definitively describe how we coexist in our universe with extraterrestrial life.
Does that sound clear?
You’d have to be an angry hippy riding a horse in the snowy forest before any of that makes any sense, but you do you, doc.
Over the course of the next hour I’d learn that my crown was completely broken, I’d need a new one made, this dentist doesn’t do full-porcelain crowns like I had, I’d have to have part of my gums cut out and that my insurance was now out-of-network and therefore everything would run me $1,000 out of pocket.
“What do you want us to do?” they asked and I politely said (paraphrased, but just barely), “Fuck off.”
I intended to break up with this dentist after he reattached my tooth anyway but I was expecting to at least have said reattached tooth before telling him to stick his Cosmic-Cowboy schtick up his ass. Sometimes things don’t work out how we’d planned.
Later that day I found a dentist that took my insurance and was one of the highest-rated in the city of Knoxville. They apparently specialize in easing the minds of people with dental anxiety and as soon as I walked into their office on Tuesday morning I was overwhelmed with the feeling that everyone working there genuinely loved their job and who they were working for.
Within an hour I had been treated to a parafin wax hand dip treatment, had a hot towel wrapped around my neck, had a wonderful conversation with a lovely dental hygienist about baking and learned what makes this dentist office the best. There was no pain involved, nothing to feel tense or nervous about and I heard both Sum 41 and Queens of the Stone Age playing through the speakers while I waited. We discussed boxing and my weekend dinner reservations I’d made at what promised to be the classiest restaurant in town.
Also, I got my broken-ass crown reattached. It isn’t permanent, of course — that’ll come later — but I have my face back. And my co-pay was $8.
Suck it, Dr. Johns. It was not nice knowing you.
Also, good luck selling that freaky book.