A former anti-dentite opens up his mouth and mind
There is a common trope in film and television in which a character who is the child of wealthy parents must go through an embarrassing lunch or dinner where they swallow their pride and ask their rich, stuffy mommy and daddy for money. Usually, the adult child sits underdressed in a fancy restaurant, across from them a solemnly concerned buttoned-up parent with an I told you so look on their face. The meeting signifies a failure in the kid’s ability to carve out their own path in life; they would rather be anywhere but here, but without their parent’s support, they may not survive.
This is how I feel at the dentist.
I avoided going to the dentist for years, until a pain so biblical and undeniable took over my life. It was almost involuntary how I picked up the phone and made an appointment.
The dentist, of course, was the rich parent. He just wanted the best and welcomed me with open arms. I was the trust fund baby, pouting in my personal defeat and using every ounce of my body language to convey, Let’s just get this over with.
So, why do we hate the dentist so much? And why do we treat them like monsters when all they want to do is help? One reason may be because if you have to see one, it’s probably your fault: I just want to sit around, eat sugary foods, forget to brush my teeth, rarely floss, and never think about it—and this dentist guy is a jerk for holding me accountable for all of that. That’s why we resent them. For existing. They are a mirror, specifically round little mirror on a metal stick, and we don’t like what we see in it.
I recently returned to the dentist after “many years.” That’s what I told them when they asked how long it had been since my last visit: “many years.” I’ll admit that I have at times felt the same way about dentistry that flat-earthers feel about globes. I thought it was a racket that bordered on a conspiracy, and often referred to dentists as “mouth chiropractors” amongst friends. I even had some “facts” to back my theories: How could dentistry really be important if the government didn’t even include it in Medicaid? Also, Animals don’t require dentists; why would evolution give us anything less? And finally, Dental Insurance is separate from health insurance, making it less important and not even really medical.
I was quickly humbled when one day a few months back, I bit down into a cheese quesadilla and it felt like I had chomped on a steel ball filled with white-hot electricity. A chunk of a back tooth had come off and apparently exposed some sort of direct line to every pain receptor in my body. Over the next 48 hours, the problem worsened from, Hmm, I wonder if this is serious, to, I may have to go to the ER, pull this out myself or jump off a bridge big enough that it has its own name.
After watching loads of YouTube videos and trying every last home remedy available and still receiving little to no relief, I finally rang up a local dentist. At this point, all my theories had completely failed me and were being replaced by a religious hope that someone would quickly and promptly rip this traitor of a tooth out of my skull.
On the morning of my appointment, I skipped the coffee and gave my teeth one of those “pre dentist deep cleans” where you maniacally floss, brush, and spit Listerine like you’re cramming for some sort of tooth test. As I walked the half-mile to the office, I felt like I was approaching the electric chair. When I opened the door to step inside, I left cold sweat behind on the handle.
Of course, like most things in life, it was nowhere nearly as bad as I thought. In fact, it wasn’t bad at all. Turns out, they just treat you like a grown adult and help you with your problem. There was no scolding, judgment, or even any mention of the fact that I had not been there in “many years.” I felt no pain whatsoever, and any slight discomfort paled in comparison to the torture of the prior few days. These dental people, it turns out, are all right.
Still, dentistry is weird. It’s sort of a mix of being a doctor, being a carpenter, and being an artist. Science and craftsmanship exist side by side. They can prescribe you antibiotics and put you to sleep, but sometimes they can also just put their feet on the armrest and grunt while they use muscles to pull wisdom teeth. They do cosmetic stuff like whitening and straightening teeth, and they also have machines that grind teeth so hard you have to wear glasses to avoid getting tooth shrapnel in your eye.
I’m glad I finally returned. I figured out that you can get dental insurance for around the price of Netflix, so it’s worth the price and comes with fewer bad comedy specials. Ultimately, I had to get a root canal, which was totally painless and took less than an hour (which I can’t say about every comedy special). I’ve been back again to fix a little chip in the front, and I’ve even come to enjoy the friendly staff there. Also, my teeth don’t hurt all the time, which is really the best part.
If you’re like I was, don’t be so distrustful of the dentists out there. Most of them are great and simply want to help. I knew that I had chosen the right dentist when I sat in the chair and directly in front of me was a framed quote that I have heard uttered by own dad (who has a full set of pearly white veneers, by the way) about ten thousand times in my life: “Be true to your teeth today, or they’ll be false to you tomorrow.”