Saturday, March 19, 2011

Only one of ten die in the dentist's chair


I come from a family of dentally challenged. I was the one with the perfect teeth as a kid. But every time another member of the family came home from the dentist there seemed to be a new horror story. I was threatened with braces when I was 11 and was so terrified that I chewed gum to develop my lower jaw and read books with my head leaning down against the heel of my palm to push my upper teeth back.

I was ecstatic when family circumstances sidelined my dental checkups until 16. Then I had four cavities which the dentist filled all at once on the same day without word one of explanation or preamble. I only had my father's joke of only one of ten die in the dentist's chair for company during the ordeal. I managed to tap dance around dental health issues until my late twenties and a couple more cavities and a root canal.

The root canal was done by Igor in a office that looked like Frankenstein's laboratory without a word of preamble or explanation. I fainted. I had a huge infection which was into the sinus cavity and inner ear upsetting my balance. I got absolutely no sympathy or rest because my significant other at the time had a knee injury. I had to fetch and carry for him and work days. I remember thinking death would be easier as I waited for the infection to clear so the huge hole in my tooth could be filled.

The dentist that sent me for the root canal was thrilled when that day arrived because now we could "attend" to the impacted wisdom tooth. That is a horror tale for another day but it is when I discovered that when I am under I am never quite under and my memories of having my tonsils out were memories and not dreams as my parents insisted. I can repeat every single word ever said in an operating theater where I am the main course.

I am at constant war with myself over the need for regular dental checkups to insure dental health and my total animal brain need to run for hills. And ever present is that memory of Dad saying, "Don't worry, only one of ten die in the dentist's chair. Yesterday sitting in the plush examining room of a man that makes his living pulling teeth I read through the release from I had to sign which included the list of all things that could go wrong. I stopped at number 12: Broken jaw. The extraordinarily sunny disposition hygienist assured me that would not happen to me. And I smiled while thinking: They lie to you all the time.

All that said the oral surgeon knew his business. The tooth was out in three minutes. Numbing me up took longer. He explained every step before he began it but not so far beyond I could escape. He probably earned about $100 a minute for his time but I walked out. I was not one of the ten.

I am totally broke till payday but out of pain, and find myself wondering about dental costs, why they are not covered by medicare, and why there is not an affordable dental insurance option out there for us Yanks. Anyone know?