I love my dentist.
No, you misunderstand. I love my dentist. She's personable, and quirky, and has a great, dry, Brooklyn-Jew-in-exile sense of humor.
Yes, I love my dentist. However, I hate going to the dentist. And my dentist, as much as I love her, is, unfortunately, a dentist.
I know lots of folks say they hate the dentist. But seriously. I dread it. I don't fear it - I don't suffer from odontophobia . I dread it. Like biblical dread. Think the Spanish Inquisition. Or spending the holidays with your extended family and your socially awkward, unemployed brother in-law. Or, well, a root canal.
Except I didn't going in for a root canal today. I went in to have my crown fitted.
My dentist's office is right here in my little village, only a couple of miles down the road. It's one of the four businesses in town (not counting the post office). The others being a realtor, our insurance lady (hi, Penny!) and a little general store run by Larry. Who drives a 1956 Chevy pick up truck and for the last four years has been going through the process of reversing the 80 year old dry-town laws. In the 2008 election, Larry managed to take the final step in the process and get a question on the ballot to put the matter to a vote by the town: "Should Carlisle permit and license businesses to sell alcohol such as beer, wine or liquor within town limits."
Businesses. Ha! They meant Larry. The ballot measure could have been re-written: "Who thinks we should let Larry sell beer? Check yes or no," and been equally as valid.
Even though I only go into the dentist once every few months, everybody in the office seems to remember me. They ask about the kids. We talk about that time my Bride brought in her Kindle. The lady at the front desk is a particular sweetheart - she looked at me this morning as I sat my disheveled self down in the waiting room (morning dentist visit == no morning caffeine) and said "I had a dream about you last night, Ken."
Which woke me up just a little, even without the caffeine. Not the sort of thing I hear every day.
The dream, she went on to explain, had something to do with my crown not coming in before my visit. Which, ok, was sort of disappointing. But I had my dread to cling to and distract me from any thought lasting more than a millisecond or two.
I never really knew before what a dental crown was, only that it was something old people got on their teeth shortly just after entering the nursing home, and maybe slightly before Thanksgiving dinners had to be served intravenously. Except a couple of years ago, my very back tooth - the one on the left-hand-top side of my mouth cracked. Right in two. I spat out a chunk of tooth. Which was mildly disconcerting. It didn't hurt, thankfully, but it was the oddest feeling - the gap inside my mouth where my tooth used to be kept drawing my tongue to it, poking & prodding. Try having a conversation while you're wrapping your tongue back on itself to explore the jagged stump of a half-tooth in the back of your mouth.
This tooth was filled with a bit of emergency orthodontia, and mostly back to normal. Except that it never did quite get right - there was a gap, and some oddness, and long story short, a couple of months ago, my dentist announced I needed a crown. To which I responded I already had a couple, but I chose not to wear them in public much since that one incident in a San Francisco bar. She didn't laugh. But I think she called me something in Yiddish.
I learned then that a crown involves grinding your tooth down to a nub, and capping it with a porcelain, tooth-shaped replacement. Huh. Imagine that. What will they think of next?
OK. Er. Sign me up. I can do that, I guess. Um, there will be novocain, right? Sure. No problem. Multiple shots later, and then much grinding ensues.
Enter the dread.
Really. That sound makes me crawl under the chair, through the floor, and pull the rocks back in over me. Having that sound reverberating from your mouth and right through your skull is enough to reduce me to a quivering lump of useless flesh my seven year old daughter would be to ashamed to admit knowing.
And then - it gets worse. They have to send away to a lab to have the crown made. A lab in Georgia. Hell, I'm from Georgia. Most of the labs there these days are run by not particularly clean men named Ernie, have a suspicious amount of knock-off Sudafed going in the back door, and ever-so-occasionally explode.
(Ha! See what you can learn from watching CSI?)
The turn around time on these things is several weeks. But it's ok, don't worry. They gave me a temp. Oh, goody. Can I eat with this thing? Did I mention I'm going to India for a while? What happens if it falls off while I'm there, and all I have to eat my guavas with is my toothy nub? What will I do?
But I like my dentist because she is funny, and Yiddish, and - most importantly - because she is fast. By the time I had a moment to formulate my fear into articulate questions, she was in her office, and her staff was ushering me out the door. Her speed leaves me too little time to allow my dread to manifest beyond a general agita. And sure enough, I survived India, temporary tooth and all.
Today, I went back in for my permanent crown. Which despite my late night appearance in the receptionists dreams, had made it safely from the labs of Georgia and awaited a (I was promised) swift fitting.
Before the dentist popped off the temporary with a sharp, curved metal hook (do you remember that Bill Cosby sketch? You laughed then because every word was true), she told me, "Most people don't need any painkiller for this part, except for some small, particularly frail children and occasional grandmothers with severe heart conditions. But if you want some novocain, just let me know. I won't judge."
OK. I'm reassured.
She stuck the tool in my mouth, and with a swift twist, off came the temporary.
It didn't hurt exactly. It wasn't comfortable, for sure, and my tongue had retreated to the other side of my mouth, and refused to look at the nubby tooth stump for fear of setting the whole thing off. But I was gave the dentist a nod. We were clear to proceed.
She told me she had to clean off the temporary cement, and stuck one of those whirly brushes with gritty paste on it over the nub.
Alright. Yes, the discomfort ratcheted up a notch, but not too bad. If direct contact with gritty, whirly dentist tools weren't killing me, I figured I was going to survive the next few minutes reasonably intact.
And then, she stuck a suction tube in my mouth. Not on the nub itself. Just in the general vicinity. Like someplace near my lips. And something about the cold air circulating in my mouth cavity wrapped a handful of face nerves into the fist of an invisible, large, tattooed ex-con with anger management issues, and gave him the go ahead to pull, until my eyes made squeaking noises.
"Here. It's in. Now bite down on this for five minutes so it sets."
Never mind me. I'm going to crawl under the chair and curl into a fetal position, silently weeping until you tell me I can leave to nurse the place where my face used to be.
All I can say is, thank God we let Larry sell beer now.