I am pretty religious about going to get my teeth cleaned every six months, although each time I go, it is a harrowing experience. The trauma I feel now stems from my childhood.
When I was young we lived in a coop apartment in the borough of Queens, but we schlepped to another borough to go to a dentist. I am sure there were thousands of dentists close by, but the Brooklyn dentist was giving us a deal because of some relationship he had with our family. To get there we had to travel down the curvy Interboro Parkway, perfectly suited for a test driver on an obstacle course, not easily traversed by a mom in a boxy Rambler station wagon. When the parkway ended we drove through some very questionable neighborhoods. You could always tell what type of neighborhood you were in by the hand-painted signs on every corner advertising, "We fix flat tires." I always suspected someone placed nails on the road to drum up business.
When we arrived at the dentist's office it was difficult to find legal on-street parking, so my mother would park at a hydrant and escort us, one at a time to the office. When she took my brother into the dentist's office she would leave me in the car. I was never really sure what she expected me to do at 8 years old -- drive the car away when the policeman came to ticket us?
The dentist's office was next to a live chicken shop. We would walk into the sawdust-laden shop and approach the counter that extended the width of the small shop. My mother would describe the type of chicken she wanted and the shopkeeper would go in the back, choose one, slaughter and clean it and bring us the wrapped pieces. Fresh, but ugh! This just added one more fear that I had to anticipate when we went to the dentist -- terror, pain and death.
The real issue was that the dentist did not use Novocain or any other numbing procedure. Those were the days before NYC put fluoride in the water and I had numerous cavities -- and felt each and every one. The dentist was a sharpshooter and when he drilled, he managed to hit the bull's eye -- each tooth's nerve, every time.
The thought of going to the dentist still paralyzes me. I have frequented the same dental office for the past 17 years. The dental hygienist does the bulk of the routine work, leaving the special effects to the dentist. I went for my six-month visit this week.
I have certainly aged 17 years since I first started going to the office, but I can still brag that I have all my original parts. My dental hygienist looks nothing like the person I met 17 years ago. Nothing is in the same place. She has had lip work, chin work, nose work, eye work, cheek work and various other areas repositioned on her face. When she lowers me down in the client chair, I see her from a unique angle and it is quite scary. My mouth is filled with equipment that prevents me from speaking and I can only grunt in return to her occasional questions. During my last visit, I gagged and choked when she inserted the x-ray films with their holders in my mouth. Her response to my near-death experience was that I could either breath deeply through my nose or she could put salt on my tongue. I chose to breathe.
My dental hygienist has an assortment of torture tools that she keeps on her tray. My eyes bulge as I watch her open each set and remove it from its sanitary container. I know what she is up to. I would love to ask for some Novocain to help me through the cleaning, but I am too chicken to ask. She must have gone to the same training school as my Brooklyn dentist. She scrapes, cleans and sprays and hits every nerve in my mouth. Ouch!
Many of her tools are accompanied by noises that would rival a jackhammer in the street -- the problem is that they are in my mouth. The screeching, grinding, and water torture assault my senses and soak my shirt -- in spite of the bib I am wearing.
At the end of the visit, I am generously given a tiny, pillbox-size cup of water and told I can rinse. I used to get a new toothbrush as a reward for enduring the treatment, but that amenity has disappeared. Now, all I get is a reminder to return in 6 months.
Well, at least I have 6 months to recover. Ouch!