A Day At The Dentist's
Ray Levasseur (c) September ,2001

"Always look a gift horse in the mouth, then write up treatment and payment schedules"

"Is it safe?" - Marathon Man

Whenever I think of dentists, I'm reminded of the evil Nazi dentist, Christian Szell, played by Laurence Olivier in "Marathon Man", who tormented Dustin Hoffman with the immortal line, "Is it safe?" In the real world the line is, "Do you have insurance?"

High on my list of sources for mental anguish are finding a new job or apartment, doctor visits and almost at the top of the list, visits to the dentist. I grew up during the 50's and remember the documentaries that always had the same male voice doing the commentary.

"The Johnsons are your typical American family, wife June, husband George and their two charming children Mary and Andrew. They know the importance of good oral hygiene and look forward to seeing their dentist, let's watch shall we..."

Mom is in the kitchen, "George, kids, come on we don't want to be late for our appointment with Doctor Szell.

George is sitting in his easy chair puffing on his pipe and reading the paper, "did you hear that kids? the dentist! let's get a move on".

Mary immediately stops doing her homework, running down the stairs, "wow, I can't wait to see the dentist, I'm ready." I love Doctor Szell.

Andy puts his science project aside. He has been eagerly awaiting today's root canal, "keen Mom, Come on Dad, let's go, I can hardly wait."

June looks at George, "and you dear, today you're having that gum surgery that you have been needing."

George blushes, "gosh dear, I know I have not taken as good care of my gums as I should and can't wait for the doctor to correct that pesky gum recession. And June, today you have that root canal that you've been putting off."

The scene fades to the Johnsons piling into the family station wagon, merrily singing along the way, "let's all go to the dentist, let's all go to the dentist, let's all go to the dentist, because it's such a treat!"

Camera pulls back from the Johnson family car as the commentator adds the closing comments, "yes the Johnsons know that perfect teeth mean perfect health. Only people in Godless Communist countries neglect their teeth. Visit your dentist often and follow all of his treatment suggestions. It's the American way." The American flag, flapping in the breeze is superimposed at the end of the public service announcement.

So OK, the little scenario I wove above is not the norm, but dentists would love it if it were. I don't think I was an abnormal kid, and feel this was closer to the norm. When Mom and Dad would call up to my room, "come on, it's time to go to the dentist", I hid in my closet or under the bed. Dad would have to come upstairs with crowbar, whip, and shotgun to coax me out of hiding, "I know you're in here somewhere. Don't make your mother and me wait." I would kick and scream like the death row inmate, walking that final stretch to the electric chair. My dislike of dental visits was fueled by my youth, when drills sounded and felt like rock drills, and I could hear screaming coming from a patient who was in the chair while I sat in the waiting room. My childhood dentist did not believe in giving novocaine for mere drilling out cavities; that was for pussies.

Supposedly dentistry has come a long way since the 50's, but I find it every bit as unpleasant as in my youth, especially the anticipation of one of many unpleasant procedures, and the sound of the newer high speed drills that spin at 100,000 RPM still sends chills down my spine. Cleanings don't bother me a bit; all the scraping, picking and polishing with the floor buffer attachment are fine. It's when the dentist begins poking around, "hmmm, ahhh, take note, a root canal is needed on number 30, gum scraping and suturing on 12,13,14,15. That will do for starters." This translates to, 'that should make about 6 payments on my Porsche'. Hmmm, it seems a bit strange that I always seem to get a gum infection after a cleaning, which almost always requires a repeat visit.

As if just seeing the dentist is bad enough, with the new greed in economy, you can never walk away without "just" a cleaning, without the dentist of their hygienist "strong arming" you into the complete package (Down payment on a Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard Summer home); all fillings replaced with root canals and gold crowns or implants. Restoring gums at 60 to their youthful vitality when you were in your 20's. I went this route twice already and after a few grand, the procedure had very limited success. The one root canal I had, went South less than a year after the dentist insisted, "you really really need to have this done." I wound up losing the tooth anyway

I saw the same old country dentist for 25 years. He was fair, did not price gouge or try intimidating me into unnecessary procedures. Alas he retired and "no one" that I know could suggest a good dentist. The overall response was, "I have not been to a dentist in 10 years, not after my last visits that wound up costing me over $10,000, and I wound up worse off after the procedures, having to repeat the treatment to correct the first time."

Many of the stories I have heard went downhill from there. I asked my doctor for recommendations for a good, reliable, honest dentist. His response was, "when you find one, let me know." Why can't dentists guarantee their work like Midas Muffler, "this root canal is guaranteed for as long as you inhabit your body."

Among my many favorite episodes of the Simpsons is the one where the Nuke plant is offering a beer blast in place of a dental plan. Of course Homer and friends vote for the beer blast.

Lisa needs braces, so Marge takes her to the dentist, a dark foreboding character like Side Show Bob, but without the hair.

Ralph Wiggum is having an exam, the dentist asking if he's taking care of his teeth. Ralph nervously insists he is, the dentist replying, "don't turn this place of healing into a house of lies. To scare Ralph into telling the truth, pulls out the Big Book of British Smiles. Ralphy cries, admitting he lied.

The dentist is telling Lisa she needs braces, showing her a computer simulation of what she'll look like if she doesn't get them. As she gets older her teeth will become more crooked until they begin poking through her cheeks, piercing her eye. Bart's response is "kewwwll! my sister's a freak."

I've read a few articles that state suicide rates for dentists run higher than the national average. Why? supposedly because nobody likes going to the dentist. Then why do people still want to be dentists? probably because it's very lucrative. As my doctor said, "have you ever seen a poor dentist?" My last dentist raised Arabian horses, plus had a stable full of classic cars. He didn't get these through dumb luck, he got them from being a dentist.

Since God hates greed, he should have designed mankind with user replaceable teeth. You could go to your local dental parts store and buy factory replacement teeth for those that go bad. Just push down hard and twist to remove tooth, remove nerve and blood supply connectors, connect new tooth, insert in tooth connector and you're as good as new. This would make dentists obsolete. They could then go on to establish new respectable careers where people love them, such as politicians, telemarketers, televangelists and lawyers.

I got along quite well for many years, just having my semi-annual cleanings and exams, with an occasional filling replacement. During the past couple of years, my teeth and gums have become a money pit. For about $15,000 to $20,000 worth of work, the dentist claims I will be almost as good as new (until my next 6 month cleaning and checkup). I keep telling him to just pull them all and slap some dentures in, which always gets a shocked and appalled response, "but your teeth are meant to last all your life, and what about the image you present in public?" Oh yes my image! It's not like I'm going to be called to be the leading man in some blockbuster starring with Julia Roberts, be Time magazine's "Man of the Year" or a politician. And I certainly don't think I'll live to be 60 or 70, let alone 100.

He suggested I have root canals on every tooth that has a filling, putting nice expensive crowns on every one, "your fillings are all amalgam and leech out mercury into your mouth. You're being slowly poisoned!" Ahhh, so that's why I'm as crazy as the Mad Hatter, mercury poisoning. I was a sun worshipper for 40 years, so I'm long overdue for skin cancer. And what about the 20 plus years I've spent staring into a computer monitor? Now that I have a cell phone, there are probably also brain tumors in my future, unless I wear an aluminum foil hat. I won't even speculate about all the booze and cigarettes I ingested years ago, or all the other stuff my body's been exposed to during my tenure on the planet. After all I am going to die sometime, maybe within the next 120 years, but if I follow my dentist's suggestions, I'll be the corpse with the perfect smile.

My teeth are all still nice and straight, almost pearly white, but my gums are receding like the polar ice cap. I look forward to a long, expensive periodontal Winter.

Cheers, Ray