Like most people, I don’t much like going to the dentist. Not that I don’t like my dentist, mind you; she’s very professional, incredibly nice, and unlike most in her line of work these days, she’s averse to doing anything unnecessary, which is as good for my mental health as it is for my wallet.
Still, small comfort; going to the dentist only gets worse the older I get. In most other areas, I get more comfortable and less fearful with experience, but stepping into that particular office, I regress to age 10. Because all of a sudden, a person you don’t really know – not intimately enough, at any rate, to have any idea what evil thoughts might lurk behind the easy smile – is about to rummage around inside your mouth with lots of very sharp instruments.
(Anyone who has seen Dustin Hoffmann tortured in The Marathon Man, is all too aware of what a dentist could really get up to if they get pissed off)
Now, if you’re really unlucky, you’ll need a root canal or have to get your wisdom teeth out, as I did today. I’ve had two done before. Both times were fine; it was over quickly and there was little bleeding. For a week, it felt felt sore and generally weird, since there was suddenly a lot more undeveloped real estate in my mouth, but overall, not bad. Now my luck has turned, so this time, we had to really dig. Oh, joy.
(Wisdom teeth, by the way, are supposed to come in later, but often can’t quite find the proper way out and end up crashing into other teeth or finding a sensitive nerve end to rub against while they start to rot and fester. Wisdom teeth, in other words, are actually pretty fucking stupid.)
Anyway: The sounds are the worst. Anaesthesia is at worst a prick and a moment of pain as the fluid enters the gum flesh; you never feel the drill unless you’re really unlucky. But the sounds; good God, the sounds! Is there anything worse than the insistent whine of a drill as it reverberates not only off the walls, but inside your very skull? The deepening sound of the same drill as it slows down upon meeting resistance, going further and further in, and that vague, detached sense of your dentist applying yet more pressure?
Of course, you also have the after-effects of the painkillers to contend with; hours of gradually regaining feeling in your gums and your lips (If you get stuff done in the front, wave good-bye to feeling your nose as well.) For about two hours, you walk around with a half-moronic expression, drooling from the corner of your mouth and spilling whatever you’re drinking on yourself because you can’t feel if the cup actually is touching your lips or not. (All you need is a t-shirt saying “Where’s the birth certificate?” to complete the makeover.) After my last appointment with the dentist, I stupidly went for a swim afterwards, and ended up swallowing several pints of pool water (it just sort of…seeped in), which was every bit as pleasant as you would think.
But the worst thing, I think, is that as you get older, you stop getting any sort of credit or reward for toughing it out, which strikes me as most unfair. As a child, you’d get a plastic toy or at least a compliment for being brave! But as an adult, all you get is a potentially traumatic experience that you even have to pay for. I ask you, my friends: Where is the justice? See, the kid in me still wants one of those plastic toys, but so do I, damnit! Because deep down, the adult me suspects that the sum total of those whirring and breaking sounds, the numb teeth, the fatigued jaw and all the rest; all those horrors would largely be ameliorated by having a blue plastic jet fighter in my hand on my way home. Seriously, doc: can’t you just add one to my bill and let me pretend?