|Dentist, n.”A Prestidigitator who, putting metal in one’s mouth, pulls coins out of one’s pockets.” –Ambrose Bierce|
When I was 11, I got braces. Everyone else I knew went to an orthodontist named Dr. Lash. However, I went to Dr. Ash. This was consistent with the way my parents raised us on knock-offs and off-brands. We had Lock Blocks instead of Legos and Gobots instead of Transformers. So naturally, I had a knock off orthodontist.
Dr. Ash was a slight man whose hands smelled of soap (thankfully) and whose walls were filled with photos he personally took of his world travels. You know, the ones my braces paid for. I also recall he was kind of a dick.
Just as I was about to leave the chair after he finished putting on my braces, he said, “I have a surprise for you, look in the mirror.” So I made my way to the mirror hanging on the wood paneled wall. I opened my mouth and was shocked by the smile that greeted me. My teeth were covered with little off-white colored pearls. Dr. Ash came up next to me and announced that he had put new porcelain braces on me.
“They don’t stain, they’re made out of the same material as kitchen counters” he exclaimed. “Aren’t they great?”
Any half-caring adolescent female will tell you that if you’re going to mess with her appearance in any way, especially HER FACE, you best give her an option or at least a warning that you’re about to put a kitchen counter in her mouth (seems like you could just sponge them clean instead of taking the time to brush, right?) 11 is not the age in which a kid wants to stand out for being different. 11 is the age in which a kid wants to look like all the other kids at school.
Did I mention that he was a dick?
Sidebar: My mom packed me a bagel and cream cheese for lunch. I had to eat during a later lunch period because of my appointment, so I sat by myself with my white braces taking small bites to ensure the cream cheese got nice and stuck around each bracket.
It’s likely I lost all trust in adults that day.
Fast forward to some easy-to-ignore comment my current dentist mentions (and by ‘mentions’ I mean says very clearly and is accompanied by a referral slip) that I have “gum recession that is worse than anyone I’ve seen your age.” I think the year on the referral slip was 2011.
Last month at my most recent appointment, she asks me if I’d seen the periodontist she referred me to. While I’m typically way on top of visiting doctors and addressing almost every ache and pain with a trip to the acupuncturist, the chiropractor or my Dianetics counselor, I’m not too keen on running out to have someone fondle my gums. Years ago, I had to have a periodontist remove gum that had grown over the tops of my two bottom wisdom teeth (which I still have in some twisted universe where it just felt too late to get them removed since I couldn’t enjoy doing it in the care of my parents). So yeah, this wasn’t a trip I was keen on making. But since it’s my Befortieth year and all and I’m getting more serious about my health, I decided to follow up.
As soon as I sat in the chair in the periodontist’s office, an assistant takes a picture of my mouth and projects it onto a 30” monitor hanging right in front of me. The image dangles there for 20 minutes because the doctor was running late. Just me looking at me. Not my best angle.
The doctor arrives and asks what brings me here. I tell him what my dentist says about my recession and my age and I find comfort in the fact that he finds it equally as ridiculous as I do and we have a good chuckle. Of course he’s on my side because he’s close to my age.
He puts on his mask, leans me back and starts poking my teeth with his little metal hook while solemnly assigning a number to each tooth as the assistant records his report. 1, 2, 4, 2, 2, 1…whatever, I was never good with numbers.
After going through each tooth he brings me up to a 90 degree angle, pulls down his mask, looks at the monitor, looks back at me and says, “Well, this picture doesn’t accurately indicate the clinical severity that actually exists in your mouth.”
Suddenly, my ally is my adversary. I’m thinking, “What’d you just say, kid?” But I’m saying, “What do you mean exactly, sir?”
He then launches into an explanation of what’s wrong in my mouth and a whole bunch of numbers, the fact that I need a gum graft and blah blah blah and all I can do is stare my 30” mouth in front of me and see it saying to me, “YOUARESOFUCKINGOLD.”
This is why people bring care partners with them to medical appointments. You don’t remember anything.
Whatever, I’m not a baby. I can handle this. I’ve got this. But amidst the “blah blah blah” I hear some key phrases.
“…so then we’ll take the donor tissue and sandwich it between your gums and your…”
“I’m sorry…WHA?!! Wait, did someone say sandwich?”
“Um, when you say, donor, do you mean living or decea…”
Barf in my mouth. Gag. Anger. Hot face. Pit in my stomach. Sweaty palms.
This might also be a good time to mention that I totally get that this isn’t a big deal. I’m devoting a blog to a minor dental procedure and people have real problems, real health problems, real life problems.
But this is my mouth and it’s where food enters and where words exit and we’re talking about my three front teeth. The ones everyone sees. So to me, it’s a thing. I never had a cavity until I moved to Portland, one of a small handful of US cities that doesn’t put fluoride in its water, so my teeth have long been a source of pride. But I get it’s not a real problem, so keep any inkling of respect you had for me in tact and just stick with me here.
So the deceased donor tissue in my mouth stirs up about a thousand questions, including “Will I have the donor’s smile?” and “What if my body rejects the donor tissue?” And in the forefront of my brain I recall my friend Jenny overzealously advocating for me to see the periodontist because she had a gum graft once and felt very strongly about the importance of them. She said it wasn’t too bad because technology had advanced enough to where you could use tissue from the roof of your mouth.
But that wasn’t what this guy was saying. He wants to put dead gums in my mouth.
Remembering Jenny’s experience I ask, “Well can’t you just take tissue from the roof of my mouth?” As if this guy needs my suggestion to guide his surgical plan.
“Oh no, that’s only for small grafts. We’d need the entire roof of your mouth for an area this large.”
Crickets. More barfing. Seething. Tooth gnashing (until I realize that may have been an inadvertent cause).
“What caused this?”
“Well, we don’t really know, but did you ever have braces? It’s likely that was the culprit.”
Motherf*ing Dr. Asho*e and the countertops he put in my mouth for god-knows-how-much-money to pay for his trips to Monaco and all I’m left with is the threat of losing my three front teeth or putting dead gums in my mouth.
I know this has never happened to any of Dr. Lash’s patients.