No one believes me when I tell them that I actually enjoy going to the dentist.
No, I don’t have perfect teeth — I spent 11 months in braces and have more fillings than I’d like to admit — and I only floss when I have something stuck between my teeth.
I’m no poster child for dentistry.
But I do enjoy the experience of going to the dentist.
It helps that my dentist — I’ll call him Dr. H — is great. He’s efficient, gentle, quick and calm — important traits in anyone wielding extracting forceps. He doesn’t ask me complicated questions when there’s a suction hose stuck in my mouth. And he always explains what he’s doing before he does it. There’s no mystery.
I haven’t always had great experiences in the dentist chair. When I was younger, I went to a dentist that I swear would fall asleep mid-way through cleaning. When he would numb my gums, I wouldn’t be able to feel my legs. And he wasn’t gentle. I would taste blood for hours.
Still, I’ve always looked forward to regular cleanings. It’s like a spa day for your mouth. Your teeth are scraped, flossed, cleaned and polished, all in less than an hour. You can recline, listen to Shaina Twain, stare out at the Ko‘olau Mountains, in air conditioning, with no access to email or text messages. It’s like a vacation. (Especially when you have a newborn at home.)
And you can even learn something. The other day I discovered that lidocaine replaced Novocain years ago — and both taste awful and you shouldn’t swallow either. Or that gold crowns last longer than porcelain crowns and cost way less.
I learned that last part the other day, when I found out I had to replace an existing crown with a new one.
I really didn’t want to get a gold crown, even though it would be far back in my mouth and out of sight. Just the idea I’d have a gold crown in there, it just didn’t sit right with me. Teeth should be white, not reflective. But I could barely stomach paying the $600 it would cost for a gold crown, let alone three times that for a cosmetic porcelain one.
It had been awhile since I had to go the dentist for more than a routine cleaning. I had forgotten about the thin needle that delivers the lidocaine in my gums, feeling it thread through my flesh. Or that strange bubble gum taste in my mouth from whatever it was Dr. H smeared on them first.
I had forgotten how the drilling felt like a mini table saw in my mouth, like little construction workers were in there building a deck. Or the smell of something burning — maybe my flesh! — not dissimliar to a soldering iron. Or how my tongue, with a mind of its own, always wants to touch one of these tools. Stay back! I cry out in my head. You’ll regret it!
Or the Vaseline in the corner of my mouth keeping my skin there from cracking.
Or the strong desire to swallow, knowing full well you’ll be ingesting particles of bone.
Or the fear you feel when the dentist says, “OK, we didn’t numb this part, so it might hurt a little.”
I started to tense up. I know this because Dr. H said, “Relax your jaw.” And also because I had pressed my thumb nail so deep into my arm I had broken skin.
He talked about his 5-month-old grandson who’s already rolling over and eating solid food. He gave me suggestions on educational baby-friendly videos I could show my 11-week-old son. He chatted about how we use too many antibacterial products and that’s not good.
I stared out the window at the mountains, green from the thunderous rain that came down the other day. My mouth was so dry it felt like the insides would break apart. Somehow, there were four instruments in my mouth at once, including four hands. And the lidocaine was starting to wear off.
And yet, I could still think of worse places I could be.