(Author’s note: I want to write this post just as much as I want to go back to the dentist next month for a filling. But alas, on both accounts, I must.)
I hate the dentist. Not my dentist, Dr. Neumeister. I like him. I especially like how his brain works—like when he shakes his head in wonder that I’ve stopped grinding my teeth. “I’ve never seen that,” he says. “It must be all the yoga.”
I like my hygienist too. That’s imperative for me. I can’t have just anybody sticking her hands in my mouth with her face up against mine for an entire hour if I don’t hold some fondness for her.
Luckily at Dental Health, there is a selection of hygienists so that when your favorite has to move south because her husband gets transferred just when she finally got pregnant, right after her mom dies just before yours does–you can shop around until you find another fit.
After a couple of years of playing the field, I’ve settled in with Emiko, who is from Japan, so at the very least I get a taste of foreign culture every six months, which is a precious thing in this homogeneous state of Vermont. I really like Emiko.
And yet, I’m suspect. Until they tell me that there are no cavities and no need for caps, they’re not truly my friends.
While I await the verdict, I try yoga—yogic breathing that is. I breathe contentment down to my toes and back, and I think how fortunate I am to have two professionals caring for my teeth. I think about all the people who are missing teeth or who can’t afford this care.
But I don’t fool myself. I still don’t want to be here. And when Dr. Neumeister tells me that I have a cavity between my molars, I silently curse my great Nana Mildred who had all her teeth—without any dental work—until the day she died at age 94. (“I inherited your diminutive stature. Why didn’t I get your teeth!”)
My therapist loves going to the dentist, she tells me. “It’s right next door to a chocolate shop, and I always treat myself to something afterward.” This makes me want to use foul language with her, especially since there’s only a 7’Eleven next to my dental office. Maybe I should change to hers.
For me, getting a cavity is like getting a bad report card. It’s a big fat “F.” I never got an “F” at school, and now I feel punished because I skipped my last appointment with the bravado of someone with “good teeth.”
Actually, they stopped telling me that I had such “good teeth” a few years back. Maybe that’s because they got tired of hearing me counter with–My great-grandmother never needed any dental work–not a filling, or a crown or root canal. They probably recorded that tirade in their automated system where they jot down personal conversational notes like: “Talk to Kelly about yoga, not her teeth.”
I did have pretty “good teeth” until I became a parent—and then I was faced with needing a cap, and needing a “good dentist.” That’s how I found Dr. Neumeister, and right away I was impressed with the professionalism of his office.
The dentist of my teen years used to eat donuts while he worked on my mouth, and then with his own mouth full, he’d ask me an impossibly open-ended question while all of his equipment was inside my mouth.
My next dentist did none of that, but he did anesthesisize my mouth so much that my my chin tingled with numbness for years afterward.
Which is why I was so relieved to find Dr. Neumeister at Dental Health where the entire staff seems empowered as stakeholders in the practice. That kind of inclusion and training impresses me—even if they do try and sell me on whitening my teeth or varnishing my potential cavities with prescription-grade fluoride.
Marketing aside, is it me or has the dental field remained in the Dark Ages?
What about those large pieces of cardboard and metal they stick in your mouth to take an X-ray?
What about that sharp pick they use to scrape your teeth?
Am I supposed to be spitting out pieces of bloody tissue afterward?
And how about the simple loss of dignity as you choke on your own saliva while there are a pair of someone’s hands in your mouth?
And what about your inability to bite down exactly the way they explain it to you—even after trying three times. Or how you simply can’t tell if the filed down cap feels any better than it did when they first cemented it in?
What about the seventies music piped in above the chair?
This all gives me nightmares or makes me want to run or to at least eat food within the thirty-minute restricted period after fluoride is applied.
“I’ll show them,” I think to myself. “I’m going to eat some candy from 7’Eleven right when I walk out this door.”
In spite of myself, I have to face the truth that there may be some unresolved dental trauma in my past, that my therapist missed when she shared about her fondness for chocolate.
As I drive home from the dentist, without candy and without drinking the tempting water that sits beside me, I let my mind drift back to the Hudson River to my earliest memory of the dentist’s chair.
I’m ten, maybe eleven. Is it possible that this was my first time at the dentist? Did kids not go every six months in the early seventies? And why are we driving over the mountain to get to the dentist? Wasn’t there one on the base where we lived?
Nevertheless, we are winding home from the dentist, and it must be summer because I am hanging my head out the window so that the drool will drop onto the road.
My sister had to be slapped—by the dentist himself—to calm her down enough for the Novicane. To get her into the chair. And into the room.
It doesn’t help that this cliff-hanging road over the mountain is one off of which others have plummeted into the river below.
I feel at once fear and shame and humiliation and SHOCK. (What the F@*% just happened to me!)
Though I can’t remember his face, I hate that dentist. All I can see is his hand–the one that grabbed my sister from the hallway when she tried to escape.
Maybe this memory is a compilation of more than one visit or maybe my mother neglected our teeth until this time. I can’t ask her, she’s dead. But she hated the dentist too. She never had “good teeth” or maybe 8 children were to blame.
My mother’s sister, my Aunt Kass, told me that the problem with my visit was that I got Novicane and that I should try it without it. So the next time, I do. And it sucked. Just in a completely different way.
So there I am at ten years old, slobbering on myself all the way home; and I feel ashamed and assaulted and in pain.
As I drain that trauma out of my body with yogic breaths, I hope that my next filling finds me with greater peace.
And then, I curse my Nana, again.