I have a dentist appointment in the morning.
Going to the dentist didn’t use to bother me that much. I mean, it’s hard for me to imagine that there are people who truly enjoy the dentist, though there are those blessed with perfectly straight, cavity-resistant teeth who they probably regard a trip to the dentist like they regard an afternoon detailing their car: not fun, exactly, but necessary from time to time and worth it in the end when you run your tongue over your pearly whites — or your squeaky dashboard, if you’re into that sort of thing.
But after I got sick and began my journey into the world of hospitals, procedures, surgeries, and check-ups that involve, you know, scopes and needles and stuff, I began to really freak out at the prospect of laying back in the dentist’s chair. Though few of us like a novocain shot, I really, really hate being approached by a person with a needle. I’ve just got some baggage, is all.
And I’m a pretty good little brusher and even enjoy flossing (though I don’t do it every day) but I come from a stock of people with deep palates and big teeth with, I was informed once, “topography.” The teeth in my head, in other words, have ridges and bumps and all kinds of lovely nooks and crannies that just love to hang onto that which will give me a cavity no matter how gallant I am about keeping the suckers clean. I’ve gotten A+ report cards at the dentist but it’s more often that I get bad news: a small cavity in a molar on my upper right, a small crack in the lower left M4 or however they number these things. And there’s always blood on the floss when I get a cleaning, always the taste of iron in my mouth.
The other trouble is that I am extraordinarily sensitive to pain. (Cough, cough, Claus. Cough.) If Patient A gets numb with one shot of novocain, I need four. Really. My sisters are the same. We all suffered as kids at the dentist in Winterset (a kind, imminently capable man whose daughters remain dear friends of mine) because we didn’t know we could ask for another shot. When I was in the chair, tears would roll down my cheeks and pool into my ears while he and his assistant filled a cavity, the zings and zaps of the drill making me wince and want to pass out until it was over.
Tomorrow is my first visit to a new dentist and this is big. My former dentist took care of my dental needs for over a decade, but for a number of reasons, it’s time to make a change. My sister Rebecca (of movie renovation fame) claims she has the best dentist in the city. Here, now, is an excerpt from the conversation we had on this subject:
ME: Seriously, there’s no pain?
REBECCA: No pain.
ME: Like, none.
ME: Okay, because, seriously.
REBECCA: Just tell him you’re super sensitive. He knows me, too, and I’m the same. You’re fine.
ME: No pain.
REBECCA. Zero. And his receptionist is the best. Her voice sounds like she smokes fifty cigars a day, all raspy and Chicaaaaago. She’s great. I love it there. Tell them I sent you, maybe they’ll give me a discount.
So tomorrow I go for a cleaning and an assessment at Rebecca’s dentist. I’m excited to meet the receptionist, obviously, and I’m encouraged by my no-nonsense sister’s promise of a pain-free experience. But if you have any advice for the dentist-afeared, do let me know; there comes a moment when all the worrying and the putting off comes to an end and there you are in the chair and the gal says, from behind her mask, “Okay, open wide for me?” and you gotta say: