Psychological Warfare: A Tale of Dental Duress

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The Tools of Terror

I abhor having to go to the dentist. I always have. When I was a kid, I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the dental office for a routine cleaning. The orthodontist was even worse. I get chills thinking about his big, fat, rubber-scented hand in my mouth, tightening my braces while he flirted with his dental assistant. She and I were both disgusted with his obnoxious behavior. One time, I even hid in a tree to avoid having to go. My mother wasn’t amused, nor were the cops when I emerged an hour later, safely past the point of being able to make the appointment. Apparently, the police were not trained to look up in the 1980s. It wasn’t my best moment.

My teeth have always been in good shape. Even though I sometimes grind them at night, they have served their purpose quite well for nearly four decades. They chew when I ask them to. On the off chance I smile, they represent me nicely. They clatter rhythmically when I am cold. In short, they do what teeth are designed to do. I reward them by brushing them and occasionally flossing. We have a mutual understanding.

It’s been over a year since I’ve gone in for a routine cleaning. I’m not proud of that, but I just can’t bring myself to go. Each time, it’s a battle of psychological warfare between the hygienist and me. Eventually, though, I decided, much to my own consternation, that I should be a role model for my kids. So, I went in for a cleaning the other day.

The receptionist addressed me before I could close the door behind me. “Hi! Would you like to schedule your next appointment for July?”

“Uh, can I get my teeth cleaned today, in January, before I make an appointment for the next one?” My sarcasm was already at level five and climbing.

“Sure, I guess that’s fine,” she said.

I got the earliest appointment possible. That didn’t stop them from taking me twenty-two minutes late. How does that even happen? As I was escorted to my torture chair, a pervasive thought ran through my head. What if I were able to get so worked up at the notion of having my teeth cleaned that my blood pressure got too high for the hygienist to clean them? Legend has it that a man with such a strong dislike for the dentist was able to execute this to perfection many decades ago. He’s a legend in the antidentistry folklore. Unfortunately, the thought occurred to me too late to execute, so I took my seat.

My blood pressure was 100/57. “Perfect,” the hygienist said with a sly smile, almost as if she knew she was thwarting my late-evolving master plan. She began with a visual inspection, took a few X-rays, and then proceeded to scrape my teeth with that circular Persian saber saw from the Mughal Empire. With her hand fully inserted in my mouth, she began chatting away. “How are the kids?”

“Arrgggghh, brrghhh, fwpppp,” I said.

“They grow up so fast, don’t they?”

I looked up at her, puzzled. It went on like this for ten minutes. Then, she dumped enough water in my mouth for me to empathize with waterboarding victims.

As I lay in the supine position, I looked up toward the bland ceiling. Why don’t dentists invest more money into improving the look of their ceilings? Patients spend so much time looking there that perhaps some sort of visual stimulation might belay the fear they feel. My thoughts began to wander as the hygienist released all her pent-up frustrations on my gumline. I closed my eyes and pretended I was on a hike in solitude somewhere far off the grid. However, I was sucked back into reality when she waterboarded me again.

The dentist came in, exchanged pleasantries, and then peered in my mouth. He told me I was doing a good job but that I needed to floss more. Then, he left. Maybe I should be a dentist. All I have to do is go around to people who are lying on their backs, vulnerable, and scared from what they just experienced and critique them with obvious statements.

The hygienist resumed our psychological war. “What flavor of fluoride would you like? We have lemon, cherry, or mint.”

“Do you have anything in a Cabernet?” I asked.

She laughed as if she had never heard that before. But I had said the exact same thing last year, and she didn’t laugh then. Also, I was being serious. Anyway, I chose cherry. I don’t like anything mint flavored, and lemon fluoride seems wrong.

“Now, don’t go drinking any hot coffee for three hours,” the hygienist said after she applied the application. Upon hearing these words, I knew what my revenge would be. I would drink hot coffee while walking past their office windows, mocking them with every sip. They would see the steam from the coffee and be powerless to do anything to stop it.

I paid the $200 for the routine cleaning, despite there being nothing routine about it. I immediately walked across the street to the coffee shop, ready to order a steaming-hot java. However, adulthood and its stupid ability to rationalize and heed advice prevented me from doing so. Ordering hot coffee and potentially ruining the work I spent $200 on wouldn’t punish the hygienist; it would punish me. So, I ordered a large iced mocha, walked meekly to my car, and drove off, vowing that the next time—if there were to be one—would be different.

11 thoughts on “Psychological Warfare: A Tale of Dental Duress”

  1. I can definitely relate. I’ve hated going to the dentist since I was a child. True story – when I was 5 yrs. old, i was at the dentist with my brother, who was getting a cavity filled. The dentist said I could be his “little helper” and handed me the syringe full of novocaine. Unbelievable, right? Who gives a 5 yr. old a loaded syringe? Well I did what any 5 yr. old would do … I stabbed him in the hand with it. His hand quickly became numb and he couldn’t fill my brother’s tooth or doing any work for a couple of hours. The dentist HATED me after that. He was so mean to me. I was the only kid who was never allowed to get a prize from the treasure chest for having no cavities. And don’t even get me started on my orthodontist. To this day, I still dread going to the dentist.

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    1. Kate, I know that is not to be meant as funny, but it really is. I can imagine you (or any 5 y.o.) doing that. I realize it wasn’t revenge, but it was funny. I am truly sorry though that you didn’t get any toys. I forgot about the treasure drawer until you mentioned it. That is NOT funny.

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      1. Actually I do think it’s kinda funny. My mom still teases me about it … and worse, she told my kids and they make fun of me too! Fortunately, the dentist we go to now is very nice (no treasure chest, though).

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  2. If you didn’t live so far away, I’d refer you to my dentist. She uses an ultrasound cleaner for those whose teeth can tolerate cold water. (Mine can’t, so I have them cleaned the old-fashioned way.)

    I sympathize, though. We had the Dentist from Hell when I was growing up. He never wanted to give me novocaine because it slowed him down. Without it, he could fill three cavities in a half hour. It was better once I learned to curse (silently).

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    1. OMG…I thought I had the only dentist that didn’t use novocaine. I told my mother that and of course, she didn’t believe me and took the side of the dentist who could have subbed for the one in Marathon Man. By the way, I think dentists have a high suicide rate and I don’t doubt it considering the pain they cause….

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  3. I am so afraid of the dentist that I have to see a special sedation dentist to get even a check up done. A few Halcyon pills first is the only way I’ll let them near my mouth with those sharp dental tools. Without those pills, in my mind it is just like the scary dentist torture scene from Alias a long while ago on TV.

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  4. AoS, just visiting your blog, which is quite amusing — aside from the reference to waterboarding, which you know is never funny.
    Just fyi, I’m not the same Kate who commented above. However, I share her — and your — dislike for dentistry and orthodontics!
    Now, I need to reschedule the dentist appointment that I cancelled in January. Sigh.

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