Not that going to the dentist has ever, for one second, been not terrible. But, I think, as you mature and adapt to brushing regularly (as opposed to brushing never as a child and using more effort to pretend that you had brushed your teeth than if you had just brushed your teeth … or was that just me?), there should be fewer reasons for dread. The opposite has been true for me.
For one thing, my wife convinced me some years ago to shirk, if not every time, almost every time, the x-rays. Not exposing ourselves to unnecessary radiation has been a modest life goal, call us crazy. And that is exactly what the people at the dentist's office call us.
Because let me tell me you something—the dentist's office does NOT like when you refuse the x-rays. They will say things like, “You know, the amount of radiation is less than two minutes in the sun” or some crap like that, like they’re reading off a portion of their dentist hand guide from the chapter “What To Say When Conspiracy Theory Gen-Xers Refuse X-Rays.” And the nerve, too, because if they manage to convince you otherwise, they’ll put a 50-pound bulletproof vest on you, shove a jaw-cracking device in your head, and then LEAVE THE ROOM. (For some reason, I always close my eyes when they take x-rays, as if closing my eyes will deflect the radiation to the wall.)
I’m telling you, the entire vibe of your visit changes. The pleasant small talk ends, and you become the subject of hallway whispering and the victim of passive aggressive comments like, “Of course we’d know more if we had the x-rays.”
Another reason going to the dentist stinks is because I have periodontal disease, apparently. This was something I was informed of a couple years ago, and the sudden diagnosis was likely retaliation for refusing the x-rays. "WE’LL SHOW HIM (checks off box that reads 'Periodontal disease')." I should solicit a second opinion but that would, you know, require going to another dentist.
While I’m unsure if the nature of periodontal disease was ever explained to me, I do know that it requires me to go to the dentist every four months instead of six—HOLLA ATCHA BOY—and to spend $35 out-of-pocket each visit on a special fluoride mouthwash that requires a) a stopwatch (“do not use for more than one minute, or less than one minute”) and b) avoiding water, even to rinse, at all costs for the ensuing 30 minutes. And the fluoride is actually Plan B, an alternative to some kind of regular laser treatment I refused that contains “less radiation than going through a metal detector.”
What else? They’ve been trying to get me to have my wisdom teeth removed for the past five years, and get this—I have six wisdom teeth. SIX! No joke. I am a case study. The dentist and dental assistants are like, “Everyone, come here! You gotta see this.” I will have them removed, by the way, when they’re sticking through my cheeks, exposed to the world.
(Now seems like a good time to mention that I wear a mouth guard every night as well because I grind my teeth like a mo fo. If I were single and had to place a personal ad based solely on my dental history, I would ... remain single.)
Oh, and I always have cavities. Always. It’s not even the treatment that bothers me that much—at this point I’m accustomed to having a giant needle stuck into my gums and becoming a drooling mess for the next four hours—it’s the condescending reminders of how to brush, as if I am 6. Make sure to brush in gentle, teeny-weeny circles, okay? And don’t forget the back teeth! They’re important, too. Now, for your new toothbrush—do you want Winnie the Pooh or My Little Pony?
I guess what I’m saying is, kids—brush your teeth. You don’t want to end up like me. Also, don’t have six wisdom teeth. And adults—refuse the x-rays. This is a revolution, and you don’t want to be on the wrong side of history. (And dentists—I’m kidding!)
COULDN'T HAVE KNOWN ABOUT THIS WITHOUT THE X-RAY
Note: This column appears in the 7/31 issue of The Glendale Star and the 8/1 issue of the Peoria Times.