Diapers and Dragons

Thursday, April 22, 2010

To Tell the Tooth

Today is Earth Day. Happy Earth Day. Go recycle a bottle or plant a tree. Woot.

Now that I got that out of the way, let's talk Dentists.

I don't know anyone who loves going to the dentist, but I have had a particular horror of them rooting (hehe) from some horrific childhood experiences. It may come as a surprise to you, but there aren't too many qualified dentists hanging out in West Africa. Mostly people chew on sticks and, when their teeth fall out in their older age, gum down on some nice soft foutou.

When I was a child, however, there was one American dentist with a practice in central Ivory Coast. As our water lacked flouride and I wasn't particularly conscientious about brushing my teeth, he had a good bit of work available to him courtesy of my cavities.

I hated him.

He was short-tempered, horrible with kids, completely unsympathetic, and heavy-handed. When I had to have a crown placed on one of my molars, he refused to allow my mother to stay in the room with me, despite my obvious terror. He then proceeded to talk to his assistant in French the entire time, only addressing me to bark out the occasional order. As he drilled into my tooth, so deeply that the Novocaine became moot, he shouted at me not to flinch or cry. When I, inevitably, did so, he pounded his fist down on my shoulder so hard that it left a bruise.

Oh yes.

I was so frightened of him, in fact, that I didn't even have the courage to tell my parents WHY. They knew he wasn't great with kids, but they didn't know for years that he had actually hurt me in non-dental ways.

I'm pretty sure there was a good reason he was working in Ivory Coast rather than the U.S. of A.

So I am less than happy about visiting the dentist. Nevertheless, because as fond as I am of foutou banane and cream of wheat and split pea soup, I would rather be able to eat a good steak now and then in my old age, I faithfully go and sit in the chair of torture every six months.

Yesterday was one of those days.

Don't get me wrong. I shopped carefully for a dentist when I came into the area and found one who is so dang gentle I sometimes wonder if he's even anywhere near my mouth. My hygienist is awesome too. So it's more the lingering trauma that gets me each time than the reality.

So yesterday I sat in the chair, opened my mouth, and submitted to my hygienist's loving attention. Ann, marvelous as she is with my teeth, is An Odd Duck. The woman loves teeth. I do mean this. She is passionate about teeth, gums, and jaw bones. She can speak on the merits of flossing for half an hour. She has story after story about her clients--or rather, her clients' teeth. Because here's the thing: she'll remember every detail about your teeth for decades, but damn if she can remember much about you!

I get the same questions every time. She finally remembered after about three years that I'm a teacher, and after another year or two she started remembering where I teach, but she's still working on my area of expertise. Our conversation is much the same every time:

You have nice teeth. I like working on your teeth, she says. Some of my clients just don't take care of their teeth. I knew this one man who said he only brushed his teeth every ten days. I had to wonder, how does he know when it's the tenth day? But you have nice teeth.

Ankhh ooo, I respond. Sort of.

What is it you teach again? she asks.

Eeenhgicscssh, I gargle.

Oh right! Which grades?

Enh, eyeyench, and telchhh.

Oh right. Do you ever run on the track up at [school]?

Onh. I hanh eecaush uh y eees.

I like to run up there sometimes, she goes on, because my response and explanation about my bum knees is not actually essential to her train of thought, because I think it's always safer. I mean, unless you have a dog or something to take on your walk or run, who knows who might come after you? But I don't like to go up there when there are lots of kids around. It feels like they're all watching.

At this point I stop responding other than the occasional grunt to let her know I'm aware of her ongoing patter. I try to ignore the whine of the waterpick and let my mind drift to an image of her running awkwardly along the sidewalk. What would make someone attack her? Would they see the flash of her perfectly flossed teeth and be so jealous of their loveliness that they wouldn't be able to resist trying to obliterate them?

Violence and dentistry are meshed in my twisted mind.

She told me a story yesterday that had me thinking that perhaps I need to pick up some more of those flossers, though. She knows an older woman who has now had every single tooth removed from her mouth due to (OMG major) dental problems. Rather than going the dentures route (which, according to Ann, can cause bone thinning because the bones are not being used) (see what one can learn while sitting in the dentist's chair?) (or reading a blog?) this woman had false teeth implanted in her jaw.

And here's the shocker: this ended up costing a total of EIGHTY THOUSAND DOLLARS.

She remortgaged her house in order to have teeth. I KID YOU NOT.

I'm thinking the occasional $5 pack of flossers and a few minutes of dental discomfort might be worthwhile.

That or learning how to make foutou.

8 bits of love:

LoriM said...

Ha! This is hilarious! I hate dentists too. Finally figured out which of the hygienists is the best at my dentist's office and learned to Ask For Her. I hate all that scraping and picking. I always try to Think Thankful Thoughts and - like you - remember those in other countries without access to good dental care.

(I'm wondering who your African dentist was - not a missionary, I hope! Sounds awful.)

Anonymous said...

Pregnant women can't get their teeth cleaned, right? ...
- SoccerSister

momZombie said...

I, too, had a rough and unsympathetic dentist in my childhood. I called him Dr. Mengele. He always told me I was brave and didn't need nitrous oxide or novocaine for my procedures. Not until adulthood, after a particularly harrowing experience, did I learn that not all dentists are like this. I have a wonderful dentist now.

Draft Queen said...

I hate the dentist. But um, $80,000 for implants? Yikes! Maybe I will go back to re-try that filling... maybe they can sedate me.

Tell your sister that pregnant women are supposed to be seen at least once during pregnancy- just no xrays.

And my hygenist hates the flosser things. She says use regular floss.

I grumbled at her. Because who has 20 minutes to devote to their teeth? The rest of my ENTIRE body doesn't get that much attention.

And I'll Raise You 5 said...

OK, I'm convinced. I'm going to CVS right now.

mom said...

Congrats for making us laugh at something we don't ordinarily think of as a laughing matter. (Have I ever told you about my experiences in various dental chairs back in the Dark Ages in Africa???) And you may think I didn't know what that mean dentist did to you, but I actually saw part of it -- and if you remember, we NEVER went back. Sigh. Never could figure him out.
Yes. Floss!!! (I just asked SoccerSister to send me some more: I can't even buy it out here!)

Stone Fox said...

imagine how much fun it is to go to the hospital and have all your teeth pulled, all at one time - top and bottom - because you don't take care of them.

my mother insisted on watching us brush our teeth when we were kids. i asked her why once and she told me it was because when she was a kid she hardly ever brushed her teeth. she would go into the bathroom, wet her toothbrush, and just stand there for a few minutes. when she was in her early 30's (!!) she had to get all her teeth yanked because of decay. YIKES!!

kanishk said...

Thankful Thoughts and - like you - remember those in other countries without access to good dental care.
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