Ever see the movie Little Shop of Horrors? If so, just how close did Steve Martin’s portrayal of a dentist come to describing your first visit to Dr. Tooth? No disrespect for my first dentist, he was just a product of his time, but he may have been the basis for Martin’s character. There also may have been a sign outside my first dentist’s office saying Little Office of Horrors.
I had a toothache and my mother told me to stop by Dr. Horrors’ office after school and have him take a look at it. The office was a very sterile and stark room, poorly lighted, a receptionists desk but no receptionist, a few hard wood chairs, and only a portable divider separating the front office from the doctor’s chamber of miseries.
When I walked in a brass bell on the door announced my arrival and this gruff voice from behind the divider said, “Have a seat, I’ll see you in a few minutes.” So, I sat down, immediately notice the lack of any comic books, and began daydreaming about some day in the future when I would have small digital devices called smartphones to pass the time in such occasions. Suddenly I was jerked away from my thoughts by the screams of a young girl in obvious distress and discomfort.
I don’t know what was happening on the other side of that screen but suddenly the good doctor yelled at her to shut up, quit being a sissy, and let him do his job, he was just about finished. Her screams turned into grunts and whimpers and in a few minutes she emerged from behind the screen and fled the building with a hand full of papers for her parents and a wad of gauze for some purpose I was soon to learn about.
Doctor Death entered some notes in a book, turned to me, and said, “You’re next!” I’m not sure what factors kept me from bolting the place but I got up and followed him to, “the chair.” I don’t remember what all happened; whether I was given Novocaine, how many stainless steel thingies were in my oral cavity at any given moment, or how many times he poked and prodded around my gum lines. Suddenly this guy had his knee in my chest and had grabbed a molar with a pair of pliers and was trying to separate my head from my shoulders.
I seriously don’t remember any pain, just the absolute shock of how fast things had evolved and non-comprehension of what was going on. Just as suddenly I sensed what could have been strings or wires breaking in my mouth followed by a sucking sound as my tooth departed my jaw. Then came the sickly taste of blood in my mouth along with the wad of gauze to clamp down on. Now I knew.
For years to come I was on the downward spiraling road to bad dental health because of that experience. I avoided the dentist chair until it became imperative and by middle-age I had a mouth full of gaping voids and shiny amalgam.
In recent years much has changed. I recently changed dentist and after the initial examination was told I needed a couple of fillings and a root canal; the very mention of which sent me into cold shivers. My wife had a couple of root canals in the past and came home with horror stories about sitting in a chair for hours with her mouth gaping wide while a dentist bore holes like he was drilling on the North Slope of Alaska.
The plan was for him to repair the cavities that day and then refer me to a specialist for the root canal. I signed off on that and he began the filling process. Out came the Novocaine needle but his technique was different. He barely stuck me in several places and I didn’t even know anything had happened. He said, “We’ll let that work a few seconds and then I’ll give you more.” Couple of seconds later he gave me the rest of the pain-killer and it was totally pain-free. That simple, just a little to dull the nerves before delivering the full load. Why didn’t someone think of this decades ago?
A week later I was in Cincinnati sitting in the chair of a dude who did nothing but root canals. Asking how long it would take I was told it would only be about half an hour. I knew the assistant was lying so I mentally prepared for hours of hell. The doc entered the room, introduced himself, gave me a brief explanation of what he was about to do and less than half an hour later I was up and headed home. It was absolutely painless and the doc’s explanation was, “When you only do one thing you get damned good at it.”
Bottom line is, I have a new dentist who practices modern dentistry, I have a healthy mouth, and a healthy attitude about going to the dentist. If my first experience back in the late 40s had been like this I might still have a full head of my own teeth and a lot less lead and mercury coursing through my blood supply and mutating my genetics.
And for today’s and tomorrow’s children, there is hope. Hope they will grow up seeing their dentist as their friend, looking forward to the first meeting with an orthodontist in their pre-teens, and a full-life with never knowing the brain rattling vibrations of the dental drill.