The trouble with going to a new dentist is that you can never be quite sure what you’re dealing with until she’s already elbows-deep inside your mouth, and by then it’s too late.
If you read the first installment of my dental trilogy, you know that I tried my best to lay on a thick layer of compliments after my initial visit, during which I learned that I’d soon be coming back to have a dental crown removed.
Up until today, I’d only been subjected to a cursory examination by my new dentist, after which she delivered the soul-crushing news of tooth decay beneath a crown placed years ago in the tenderest region of my upper-left jaw.
This would be the first true test of my new dentist, because today she’d be coming in with her tools ablazin’.
After being chatted up again by Sue at the front desk, I was ushered to the Dental Dungeon by Debbie, the Dental Dungeon Assistant who’s a veteran of the previous regime and already well-acquainted with my specific quirks.
Once I was seated, she told me she was taking an informal poll of all the patients.
“If we offered nitrous oxide — laughing gas — is that something you’d be interested in having for future visits?”
“Are you kidding? Hell yes I’ll take it, and anything else you’ve got. Gas, booze, heroin, whatever you’ve got, I want it.”
“Okay, we’re just checking with various suppliers now, so we’ll see.”
Of course none of that was going to help me this time, and I was really beginning to get jacked up about what was coming. I decided I’d better ask Debbie about the procedure before the new dentist got into the room.
“So this crown’s gotta come off, huh? It’s glued on there pretty good, so how’s she going to get it off, with a jackhammer?”
Honestly, I was expecting a chuckle at this, but was surprised when she confirmed my worst fear.
“Well, first she’s going to drill, but then we do have a tool that’s kind of like a jackhammer, and she’ll probably use that to take it off. They actually have a sort of pneumatic jackhammer, but we just use a manual one.”
At that point I was ready to make tracks, but Debbie had effectively blocked my escape route with a light, a tray, goggles and some headphone wires. I think that’s what they teach them to do at Dental Assistant School, and she must have made an A+ on that lesson, because just as I was untangling my legs from the headphone wires, Dr. Thompson entered the room and my last hope for a fast getaway was dashed.
As an ice-breaker, I asked the doctor how this procedure ranked from 1-10 on the Agony Scale.
“There won’t be any agony,” she said.
I still had some doubts.
After numbing my gum with a Q-tip dipped in something that tasted like a nasty blend of scotch and turpentine, Dr. T was cleared in hot with the needle. She grabbed my cheek in one hand and started shaking it like a rag doll. I remembered that my old dentist had done the same trick, and I think it’s like a shell game to make you focus on WTF is she doing with my cheek while she’s giving the business to your gum with a needle that’s about the size of a turkey baster.
Meanwhile, my eyelashes were windshield-wipering the inside of my safety goggles with tears, and by the time she was finished I needed to turn on the defrosters. The pair of them — Debbie and Dr. T — then left the room for awhile so I could grow numb while trying to recover whatever pride I had left.
Soon rest time was over and it was again time to party. Dr. T broke out the drill.
No doubt you’ve heard the screech that the drill makes when it’s drilling a tooth, but you haven’t heard anything until you’ve heard it drilling a crown. I’m not sure what these things are made of, gold and titanium perhaps, but when the drill hits that stuff it sounds like 10,000 cats in heat are having an orgy inside your mouth.
Don Henley and the Eagles were singing about “checking out anytime you like, but you can never leave,” but I could barely make it out over the racket from the drill, and I dared not make a sudden move for the volume control out of fear that the drill could slip and go right through the back of my head.
Dr. T was right about one thing: there was no agony.
Now, have you ever been in the hold of a cargo ship in subzero weather, then had one of those big wharf rats saunter over and gnaw off your toes while you slept, but you couldn’t feel it because your entire foot was numb from frostbite? Well neither have I, but I imagine drilling on my crown was something like that.
After what seemed like four or five hours, the drilling was done and it was time for the jackhammering to begin. After 8-10 brain-jarring taps, it was clear the thing was still stuck.
“Thneedh a thbigger thammer?” I drooled out the corner of my mouth, which at that time, in addition to my tongue, also housed at least eight fingers, a vacuum cleaner, a mirror, a crowbar, a cotton ball, a drill and a couple of cold chisels.
Finally, after two more shattering thumps, my crown came off, and now it was time to drill out the decay underneath.
Two quick pulses from the drill and suddenly I felt something — not exactly pain — start floating toward me from a distance. It was like hearing the faint screams of a tortured fiend on some faraway planet of the damned.
Whatever it was, Debbie noticed a sudden change in my demeanor and ordered a halt to the proceedings. I required a booster shot of Novocain, and was then left alone again to ponder my fate.
The rest wasn’t too bad. I counted four different kinds of caulking guns, ray guns, and some kind of dental adobe that was pumped into my throbbing socket, but soon Dr. Thompson was raising me up and trying to pry away my fingers, which were digging holes into the armrests on her chair. This party was finally over, and Dr. T had been right. While it hadn’t exactly been pleasant, there had been zero agony!
While I was still dazed, Sue presented me with the bill and promised to see me again next month when my permanent crown will be ready.
I’m already looking forward to going back, because Stanhope Family Dentistry really is the best dentist’s office in the galaxy, and I forgot to tell Dr. T that I really love her earrings!
Now about that laughing gas …