Being a dentist is one of those occupations that I’m glad other people like to do so that I don’t have to. I can’t imagine making a career out of putting my fingers into other peoples’ mouths, especially those adults who haven’t brushed their teeth since they were kids. And as for the bad breath that dentists have to deal with, why do you think they wear masks? Dentistry is not as bad as proctology, another occupation I’m glad I wasn’t destined for. My mask of choice for that job would be a welder’s helmet.
Nobody likes going to the dentist. It’s easy to see why. Do the math:
Dentist = pain + suffering
But it’s not just the pain and suffering. It’s the sound of that drill. You can hear it right now, can’t you? Once that high-speed whine enters your brain you can’t erase it. It’s a mental tattoo like that haunting sound from “Psycho” right before Norman Bates kills somebody. It stays with you. Nothing else on Earth makes a sound like a dentist’s drill. It’s like nails on a blackboard (for those of you who actually remember blackboards before they became green boards and then white boards that just give out a pitiful squeak when you write on them).
My uncle was our family dentist when I was a kid. The waiting room was maybe twelve feet from “the chair,” a phrase, btw, that not only strikes fear in the hearts of the most hardened criminal, but in kids sitting in a dentist’s waiting room as well, for only slightly different reasons. And if you’re a kid who happens to be on Death Row, this would have to rank as the second worse day of your life. Few things are scarier to a kid than hearing the sound of teeth being drilled. My brother and I would sit in our uncle’s waiting room terrified because we could hear the drilling of every patient ahead of us. If only we could’ve had some orange-flavored, animal-shaped children’s Xanax.
Now that I’m an adult other things scare me about going to the dentist. When I had my semi-annual dental check-up last week (or is it bi-annual? I always get those two mixed up), the verdict came back that I have one cracked filling for which I have to return next week. I’m underjoyed. I also need a new set of x-rays. X-rays scare me. First of all, the name is frightening. “X-rays.” It’s not like they have a real scientific-sounding name like lasers or gamma rays. X-rays sound like something you’d hear in a crappy 1950s sci-fi movie.
“He’s that pile of goo you just stepped in.”
“Oh, my god! What happened?”
“I knew those darn x-rays were going to be trouble.”
“’Terrible?’ It’s a disaster! I just bought these shoes!”
So here you are going to your doctor because you’re not feeling well. Your doctor’s stumped. He wants you to have x-rays. So you get them. Then you go to your dentist because your teeth are falling out, and what’s the first thing he wants? X-rays. Do these guys ever talk to each other? Do you think they realize that maybe other doctors want you to have x-rays, too? Do they ever stop to realize that maybe, just maybe, all this exposure to x-rays is why you’re not feeling well and why your teeth are falling out? Or maybe this is why you’re spending so much time at their offices? Never mind. I think I just answered my own question.
What adds to my apprehension about having another chance to be blasted by radiation is that doctors don’t take the x-rays anymore. X-ray technicians do. Nothing against the techs, but why don’t doctors do it? They used to. So why not now? What do they know that we and the x-ray technicians don’t? Time was that doctors would stand in the same room with you and push a button. Over and done. No big deal. We felt safe. The doctor was right there with us. Then suddenly they were gone, hiding behind a bank vault-thick wall looking at you through four inches of glass talking to you through a Burger King drive-thru intercom.
When my dentist wanted me to have a new set of “pictures,” the technician made me wear a 50-pound lead vest on my chest which I’m convinced was part body protector and part insurance against my running away. What my dentist failed to consider is that if the x-rays destroy my brain, protecting my torso isn’t going to do me any good.
There’s really only one way to save yourself in a situation like this. Next time you need to get x-rays, bribe the technician to dig into your folder, and give you the last good set of pictures that was taken. Then go home, Photoshop the present date onto the file and put them away. It’s amazing how quickly you’ll feel better.