This last Friday, while sitting in the chair wearing a spit bib and a cheap pair of sunglasses which served to protect my sensitive blue eyes from a bright-ass light aimed into the left side of my mouth where a qualified and capable practitioner in the dental arts administered significant doses of Novocain into the fleshy real estate that surrounds my lower molar while his young assistant announced the age of her recently hatched Chihuahua-Dachshund puppies, I had an epiphany.
And then the murders began.
Dentistry practices have changed in the last 35 years.
Whereas that’s not a very exciting epiphany, you’ve got to admit that I grabbed your attention with the second sentence which adorns today’s dispatch of verbal brilliance to the vast collection of servers and networks which bring you here to your favorite place on the worldwide web.
Thank you Mark Laidlaw.
Today, ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to tell you a story about the first time I ever got a cavity filled, and compare it to the most recent time such an act was perpetrated on me. Those of you snowflakes taking Freshman Composition for the first time will do good to pay attention to this one, because you will be assigned with the task to write a comparison / contrast paper before the semester is over.
Mark my words, you’re going to do it wrong either way.
Two dentists will be featured today.
Dr. O with the Irish heritage took care of my grill in the 70’s and 80’s. He was one of the co-conspirators behind the fact that I have fewer teeth than what’s normally expected.
Dr. O with the Hispanic heritage is my current caretaker. He automatically recognized me as a patient of 1980’s orthodontia when he saw my grill for the first time. Teeth were pulled from the four corners of my mouth to make room, and then an elaborate system of braces, wires, rubber bands, winches, and wenches were used to close the gaps.
And then the murders began.
1982 – My first cavity appears on one of my incisors on the top, just near the gum line. This is discovered on a regularly scheduled trip to the orthodontist. The brace on that tooth has to be removed so that the dentist can fill the cavity.
2015 – A cavity appears at the gum line on one of my lower 12 year molars. I have no wisdom teeth, so we’re talking about the one all the way at the back. Dr. O filled it, but the filling liberated itself a few weeks ago while I was brushing. It now has to be refilled.
1982 – As I take a seat in the chair, I let Dr. O know that this is my first cavity and I’m a little nervous. Although he maintains his cheerful attitude, Dr. O conveys to me under no uncertain terms am I going to give him any pain and anguish as he takes care of the cavity.
2017 – One of Dr. O’s young assistants takes me into the x-ray room and sets me up with a 150 pound apron lined with adamantium to protect my junk while they take digital pictures of the newest hole in my tooth.
I am then escorted to another area where the dentist and his assistant review the x-rays, and then physically inspect the previously filled, and now empty cavity. A decision is made to refill it, but not without moving to yet another chair where the nuts and bolts of the dentistry is taking place. At that location, tools are laid out accordingly, the Dr. O wades through his collection of drill bits, paddle bits, router bits, and spackling compound to get the right tools ready for the next 30 minutes of fun and excitement. I’m given a form to initial and sign which acknowledges that I’ve been made aware of the effects of the different processes and procedures which are about to be perpetrated on me. Included is an End User License Agreement which generally parallels the one most people claim to read when adding a new operating system to their smart phone.
1982 – Dr. O first treats my gum with a topical substance of some sort. He then pulls out a metal syringe, loads it up with a Novocain cartridge in the same manner a soldier smacks a magazine into a semi-automatic weapon, peels back my upper lip with his washed and ungloved hands, and aggressively inserts the needle into the gum just above the tooth. He’s in and out of there faster than I can hold him off and talk him out of such a proposition of jamming a needle into my mouth.
Back then, Dr. O had a proven method for knowing enough time had passed for the Novocain to begin taking effect. He would stand just outside of the room in the doorway and smoke a cigarette. When the cigarette was done, I was numb.
There’s a new dental battle cry for you. “Cigarette’s done, patient’s numb”.
2017 – Dr. O places a swab loaded up with a topical numbing agent inside my cheek and holds it there for about a minute. At this point my dear reader, you should understand that I could not see the next step. The only reason I’m able to describe it to you is because I asked Dr. O to show me what in tarnation he was doing when he was numbing me up, sans cigarette.
Once the inside of my mouth was a little numb from the topical, Dr. O used a Novocain injection machine. It still has a big ass needle on it, but I didn’t feel it because of the gaping maw just below my nose has been deadened enough to where the only thing I’m really feeling is the discomfort of hands and instruments working their way into a tight spot to numb it thoroughly.
Once the injection machine had beeped, booped, and squealed enough at Dr. O to let him know how much go-go juice had been introduced into my cheek, he put the needle portion away back into its holster and then proceeded to sit there for a few minutes.
He didn’t break out his smart phone to check his Facebook status.
He didn’t step to the doorway to light up a Marlboro.
He just sat there.
“Dr. O, my puppies are a month and 3 days old today……” announced the assistant. Small talk ensued between the three of us, however one of us began slurring their words a little.
1982 – Dr. O drilled out the cavity, roughed it up a little, and filled it. “Alright, you’re done. Be careful if you eat something. You’re still numb and could bite your tongue. Now get out of that chair you little scamp.”
2017 – Dr. O drilled out the cavity, roughed it up a little, and filled it. “Alright, you’re done. If you should encounter an erection lasting four hours or more, seek out medical attention immediately. Now get out here you old fart.”
1982 – Dr. O steps out into the hallway where there is a small table. He grabs a yellow 5×7 card with my dental history on it and makes some notes on it. He verifies that our billing address is still on Green Meadows Dr. and then sends my ass back to school.
2017 – I’m escorted back to the front desk where I’m given a breakdown of the cost and how much is being billed to my insurance versus the amount I’ll need to pay out of pocket. My credit card gets scanned, I enter the charge in my financial management app on my phone, and then get my ass back to work.
So what have we learned from all of this dental nonsense?
Is it possible that 21st century dental practices are much better than those of the last century?
I’m not sure about that. After all, the filling I got back in 1982 is still there and has never had to have been replaced or reworked.
Sure the Novocain delivery didn’t raise as much anxiety last week that it did 35 years ago. Granted, once I took that first injection all those years ago, I came to realize that I could deal with a slight pinch in favor (or flavor, take your pick) of not feeling the drilling and grinding on my tooth. Besides, I’m 48 now and can deal with it today just as easily as I could back then.
Even more unnerving was the dental assistant discussing her puppies. At that age, that particular breed mixture creates nothing but an image of a litter of rats in my mind. How fun do you think it is to get dental work while the cute young ginger assisting Dr. O is talking about baby rats?
All things being equal, I would suggest to you right here and now that I’d rather see Dr. O step out of the room and light one up.
And then the murders began, indeed.