Friday, May 25, 2007

Setting your teeth on edge

Dentists are sadists - it's the only explanation for them. What sort of person makes polite conversation while he's got three different probes stuck in your mouth, one of them holding down your tongue? Actually, what sort of person thinks having someone lying flat on his back in a chair while you scrape off little bits of his teeth with a drill is a social opportunity? Whiiirrrrr. Whiinnnnnnne. "Spit. Rinse. So where you do you live in the US. Philadelphia? Oh, I have a tau-ji there. Open mouth. Wider please." Whirrrrr.

I don't know what the selection criteria for dentistry are, but I'm sure they involve kicking small puppies and sticking pins into dolls with studied vehemence.

Plus there's the pessimism. I mean okay, so I can see how spending your life staring into other people's mouths might sour your outlook on life. You might turn into an alcoholic, say, or tell your wife there was not point in buying new shoes because the world will end tomorrow (not that this will work), or get your children to do extra chemistry homework. But you'd think that within the narrow confines of the upper and lower jaw you'd be suitably jaded, having seen it all before.

But no - show me a dentist and I'll show you a doomsday prophet in waiting. Look, cavities happen. I'm not proud of them or anything, but I think two cavities in 28 years is not an unreasonable number. To listen to my dentist though what I've got is less a cavity and more a wormhole in the space-time continuum located on my left second molar. If not instantly plugged, this ghastly aperture will bring forth strange monsters from the Lower Dimensions, thus placing the very survival of the Milky Way in jeopardy. Only our hero, armed with the all-powerful ionoresinomercurocomposite (tooth coloured, imported from Germany) can protect us from imminent interstellar collapse. Aren't we lucky I came to him when I did?

Not of course, that this means there's any real hope for my teeth. So what if my teeth have served me unexceptionably so far, stolidly munching their way through substances chewy, frozen or rare. So what if they haven't yet caused anyone to recoil in horror, and have even been praised (admittedly only by short-sighted great aunts) as constituting a 'charming' smile. All this, in the great Vedic tradition, is Maya. The truth is that the condition of my teeth is APPALLING. SIMPLY APPALLING. If I don't instantly have four different types of surgery, all of which have been conveniently invented in the last three years and all of which (it just so happens) our friendly dentist is an expert in, then: "thousands, no millions of little creatures will eat their way right down to the base of your jaw, your gums will droop and fester like decaying lilies, your nerves will get infected and send volcanoes of pain gushing through your skull, eventually your bones will rot like corpses in a charnel, your jaw will sag, invisible worms will run through your root canals and after all your teeth fall out (as they inevitably will) you will be left looking like an old man with a slobbering maw of a mouth and drool dripping from your lips and no one, no one, will ever have sex with you again. MWAHAHAHA!" (Okay, he didn't actually say MWAHAHAHA, but it was implied). Just listening to the average dentist describe what could go wrong with your teeth is like taking anatomy lessons with Jack the Ripper.

But, of course, dentists are also our premier philosophers. They're the originators of a school of thought called dental determinism. According to this ideology, Man is responsible for his own downfall and must endure both overwhelming guilt and excruciating pain for his sins, even though his sins are inevitable and cannot be put off under any circumstances. Take the whole process of tooth cleaning. My dentist tells me I must have my teeth cleaned every six months. This, I am told, is crucial to removing plaque deposits that, if left unchecked will cause "millions of little creatures", etc. etc. These plaque deposits are, unambiguously, MY FAULT. I have allowed them to develop (presumably because I so enjoy spending long hours in a dentists chair having poke-y things scraping against my teeth) by not taking proper care (what this might consist of is rarely specified, though it unfailingly involves spending long hours in communion with your toothbrush and a piece of dental floss, preferably after you give up your job). To drive home this point my obliging dentist actually scrapes together a tiny crumb of deposit and makes me touch it, as though it were an exhibit in a petting zoo, just to prove that he's not making all this up.

Falstaff: "Okay, so does this mean if I do take proper care of my teeth I don't have to go through this cleaning thing every six months?"

Dentist: "No, absolutely not. Cleaning every six months is essential, because plaque deposits always build up."

Falstaff: "What, even if one takes care of one's teeth properly?"

Dentist: "Yes."

Falstaff: "Even if one brushes one's teeth, say, six times a day?"

Dentist: "Yes."

Falstaff: "With sandpaper?"

Dentist: *looking confused* "Cleaning every six months is always necessary."

Falstaff: "So these plaque deposits would have happened no matter what I did?"

Dentist: "Yes."

Falstaff (switching into full Perry Mason mode): "So the fact that I have them doesn't actually prove that I'm not caring for my teeth properly."

Dentist (reluctantly): "No. But it's really important to take good care of your teeth. Because if you don't millions of little creatures..."

Falstaff: "So is there any way one can prevent plaque deposits from accumulating?

Dentist: "Not really. Not if you're going to eat."

He doesn't actually say so, but I get the feeling my dentist would be happier if I gave up eating entirely. Okay, so it would mean I would starve and die a fairly painful and hideous death. But at least my teeth would stay perfectly preserved, which, as everyone knows, is the important thing.

P.S. A previous rant on dentists (which I discovered only after I wrote this piece) here.


Big Wave said...

it's that sound, that sound, that sound.

Anonymous said...

On a completely unrelated note, am surprised you never attempted writing a novel...or did you? :)

Tabula Rasa said...

you should try chinese dentists. mine smiles very sweetly, and when she talks to the assistant i can't understand what they say.

ggop said...

Ugh, I have my cleaning on Tuesday. Yup, pretty much if you eat you get tartar deposits. Worse on the inside of your teeth because the tongue/saliva touches it.

Heh Heh said...

wormholes in the space-time continuum, eh?
you geek.

Chronicus Skepticus said...

But you know what the worst thing is? When you suddenly get horribly conscious of your tongue. And then you're torn between moving it out of harm's way, and worrying about whether or not the involuntary tongue-dance is giving your dentist the wrong idea.

But the excruciating pain of a root-canal can usually take your mind off it.

(sorry for the cassandra-like tone - it is entirely unintended)

Falstaff said...

big wave: Yes, it is, isn't it?

anonymous: Nope. Never did. Don't have the stamina.

tr: see, I'm not sure I'm happy about the can't understand what they say bit. I'd be convinced they were saying something like "get that big ugly drill we borrowed from the stable will you. But be sure to clean off the brain particles from the last patient first"

ggop: Be brave. Be brave.

heh heh: In my defense, I don't actually know what a wormhole in the space-time continuum is. It's just something I seem to have picked up in some book or the other. So I'm not really a geek, just a sci-fi fan. Oh wait.

chronicus: Personally, I tend to go with not moving it - I worry that any sudden movements might cause the dentist to panic. My theory is, if I keep it very, very still maybe he won't notice it at all and will therefore not find a way of harming it.

Kits said...

Man,that was awesome :)

Cheshire Cat said...

"You're a rabid anti-dentite! Oh, it starts with a few jokes and some slurs. "Hey, denty!" Next thing you know you're saying they should have their own schools."

I'm glad there are others who go to India just to have their teeth done...