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I went to the dentist today. 

I don’t like going to the dentist, but I’ve been going to this dentist for 27 years, which means he must be tolerable.  Besides, you don’t really see the actual dentist.  You see a hygienist.  The dentist just makes a cameo appearance every other visit.

As a child, we were religious about going to the dentist – more religious than we were about religion, certainly.  Every six months, there we were, in the little three-story red brick building on South Duke Street, just down the road from where Brightleaf Square is now. 

Our dentist was Dr. Kim Griffin, and his trusty hygienist was his maiden (read spinster) sister, Doris.  The office was down one flight of linoleum-tiled stairs and had a particular smell to it that I’ve only smelled once since I left home.  I can’t remember where I caught that familiar whiff, but it took me immediately back in time and space.

Down the stairs, and you were facing the receptionist’s office, with her big glass sliding window and her room full of files.  A few steps to the right and you opened the door to the waiting room, which rang with a sort of chiming, bing-bonging sound.  The waiting room was dark, with floor lamps and wood panelling – it always made me think of a fishing lodge. There were oodles of Reader’s Digest magazines, with a few Highlights thrown in for the kids.  I prefered the Reader’s Digests because they had those true stories about people being eaten by sharks or falling off volcanoes and surviving.

At some point, the receptionist would slide open a little window and call the next victim patient.  I would head in bravely, telling my Mother she didn’t need to come with me, but she always did come with me, which made me glad, although in that stoic way of two people who are acknowledging that their mutual weaknesses are strangely compatible, we never discussed it.

The lighting was dim, almost setting a romantic mood, and the chair was…pink.  A sort of Pepto-Bismol pink which didn’t help if going to the dentist made you queasy, but at least you were sitting in it and not looking at it.  It had one of those eternally running spit sinks next to it.  I LOVED the spit sink.  I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

Doris was ever gentle and patient.  I just loved her.  She always seemed excited to see me and answered my garbled questions about anything.  Dr. Griffin (and we always called him “DOCTOR Griffin” and her just “Doris”) would come in with his soft Southern drawl and say “Well, helloo there, little lady, how are you doin’ today?” and sit down and do his little exam.  Also very gentle.  I never had a cavity.  I did have to have a few teeth pulled, and that was an experience never to be forgotten.  Kelsea can tell you all about it, because, in my typical fashion, when she needed to have a tooth pulled and was worried and asked me what it was like, I told her.  I told her that the needle to numb your mouth was huge and painful and tasted nasty, but then you didn’t feel any pain really – but that the horrible cracking sound when they tore your tooth out of your mouth was really quite disturbing.   Perhaps I should have told her something different, but I’m not inclined to lie.

At the end of every visit, you could go into this little treasure chest at the reception area and pick out something – I think that somewhere I still have my all-time favorite reward – a blue glass diamond solitaire ring – so beautiful.

When I moved away from home and started looking for my own dentist, a hygienist was my top criteria.  Not every dentist had one back in those days; there was a trend for a dentist to do everything himself, or to just have an assistant do cleanings, not a bona fide hygienist.  So when my soon-to-be-brother-in-law told me about his dentist, I gave the practice a try.  And was instantly sold on it.  Do you know why?  Because they had an old-fashioned spit sink.

So, I’m still there, same dentist, different year.  The office has changed sooo radically.  It now has four different bays all facing out to Boulder Creek in floor-to-ceiling-glass windows.  The spit sink is gone, replaced by sucking utensils. 

One of the things I like about the office is that the dentist is always trying different things and training his hygienists on different techniques.  We’ve gone through headphones, massage chairs, sonic washes, different polishers, some weird computerized tooth density tester, and on and on.  But they have blankets with which to cover me, and they give me nitrous oxide for my cleanings.  This is wise for us all because I discovered, after leaving the care of gentle Doris, that I had a tendency to bite hygienists if they were doing things I didn’t like.  I didn’t do it to be mean.  It was a reflex.  And I started warning them as soon as I sat down after the very first time it happened.  Hence, the nitrous.  It helps me relax.  It helps them relax, too.

The hygienist now is special – her name is Diana.  She’s been with me for ten years, since my last hygienist and I had a falling out over religion (yes, you read right.)  Diana and I have seen each other through her daughter’s marriage, the arrival of two grandkids, my divorce, job loss, heartbreak, you name it.  When she asked me this morning how my new year was going, I honestly told her, “Crappy.”  And she knew the rest would be revealed in due time as she had her fingers and utensils in my mouth.  It’s amazing how much she can understand when I’m basically saying, “ya o i bffff mf mf js bgr grstmz, n mu hog etz brgn.”  She is such a positive, helpful woman, and she has a wicked little sense of humor that I love.  She’s the best thing about going to the dentist, and I told her so today.

The dentist did make his cameo appearance today, peeked around in there, and told me there was nothing he had to do.  Then he said “Give my best to T,” T being my former brother-in-law.  Unfortunately, I was already pretty deeply in the nitrous haze and I said, “Oh, T’s gone.”  All the blood drained from his face, and he just stared at me.  My dimly lit brain said, “perhaps you need to explain that statement”.  So I followed up with, “Not gone gone.  I mean not dead gone. Gone like bought a fifth-wheeler and drove away gone.”  The color slowly flowed back into his skin and he said, “Thanks, my heart can beat again now.  We’re at that age where, when someone says that, it usually means dead.”  “Yea, sorry about that,” I smiled, drifting away on  fluffy little nitrous clouds.  I restrained myself from staying, “k, back off from my groove now, man.”

My teeth are sparkling and squeaky clean now, and I’ll go back in four months (while I still have insurance).  Hopefully, they won’t have to gag me with x-ray devices like they did today.  If they do, I think I’ll ask Diana for the nitrous early – a lesson learned for today.

April 2014
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