The Dentist

For the last several days I have experienced a toothache. It was bad enough that I knew I had to go to a dentist. My history of going to a dentist has not always been a good memory for me. The very first dentist that I ever went to was when I was a teenager. I busted one of my front teeth during a diving event and I went to a dentist in the small town of Speedway Indiana. This is back in the 1960s and just getting an x-ray was painful. I can remember the first time I saw the large needle that the dentist used to numb my front teeth. He had to shoot the area five or six times. Each time he stuck the needle into my gum I felt enough pain to make me arch up in the chair and grip the handles of the chair in a sort of death grip. I had to visit the dentist three times. After the first time, I lived in fear of the upcoming dentist appointments. The next dentist I saw was when I was in the U.S. Army. My family history of bad teeth was passed on to me. I saw the Army dentist about six times. Once again the equipment that was being used was probably from the 1940s. It was incredibly painful each time I went to the dentist but I was reminded by the dentist that I should act like a man and not be so fearful. I think I was in my 30s when I went to the dentist again. This time I had to have two root canals. I still remember the dentist sitting up with me in the chair using small files to file away into the root of my teeth. Each time I visited that dentist it brought tears to my eyes. Fortunately, when I was in my 50s I was able to afford a dentist that had all the up-to-date modern devices. I no longer had to suffer the pain of biting down on the steel rod which held a small square piece of that seemed to cut into the interior lining of my mouth for an x-ray. Up until yesterday, the last dentist I saw was in The Woodlands Texas. His offices were clean and neat. The examining room and the chair were new and the x-ray caused me no pain. The dentist was thorough yet quick and he seemed to have a great personality, as did all his staff. Someone in the office staff called me the day after I was at the dentist just to make sure I was doing all right. So I’ve gone from a dentist with antiquated machines to a modern office and a modern dentist. I went from total fear of the dentist to being relaxed when I had to visit the dentist.

Well two days ago I had to contact my insurance company in California and asked about dentist in my local area of Texas that would except my insurance. I found one about 15 miles away and when I called his office I was able to get an appointment the next day. His office was in a small town near where I lived. My appointment was at 1 PM and so I arrived there at about 15 min. early. It seems that in a small town everyone closes shop for the lunch hour. So I walked up and tried to open the door and of course it was locked. So I walked back to my truck and waited for the office to open. Let me give you a visual of the office. It was on a small side street near the county courthouse with one parking spot in front of the house and three more behind. The house looked to have been built in the 1940s, beside the steps that led to the front door there were two ramps on each side. While I was waiting, I noticed another man, who looked about 30 years old who was also waiting for the office open. Soon the door open and a 65-year old looking old man, dressed in scrubs, invited the young man me inside his office area. The office area appeared to be the old living room. There were a lot of certifications and notices on the walls of the waiting area. One of them mentioned that the dentist did not want you to yell at him or be loud and to realize that he was a dentist and deserve the respect and cooperation of his patients. Another sheet of paper stated that there was no standing on the chairs, being aloud or being disruptive in his office. There were other papers on the wall obviously printed by his local computer which gave the same warnings in Spanish. The Dentist introduced himself as the dentist and stated that his office personnel will be there soon. Then he asked both me and the other patient on how we felt about Obama? He also went on to ask what we thought about the different appointments the president had made. Both I and the other patient tried to look busy filling out the forms and I tried to answer his questions without actually answering his questions. I mean this is the dentist. Do I want to piss him off before he works on my teeth? After filling out the forms the Dentist quickly review them as his staff began to take over the duties of signing both of us in. Once he found out that I was a retired police officer, he started lambasting me again with questions like; why do people drive some crazy in Los Angeles. Or that he had heard of a woman on T V who lived in California in federal housing and receiving welfare, who when interviewed thought it was crazy that anybody would work for money when you could use the government. The dentist wanted to know what we thought of that. He would walk back to the examining rooms for couple minutes and then he would turn around and walk back to the waiting room and asked more questions. He looked at me and asked.” where were you in 1967?” I answered that I attending Indiana University and that was the year that I join the Army. Then he abruptly stated, do you know what the SDS is? I replied yes. Then he asked, do know who Patty Hearst is? I answered yes. Then he said she was part of the SDS. I said no and that I thought she was part of the SLA. He turned a huff and said they are the same thing. Then he walked back to the examining rooms again as his assistance continued to have me fill out forms. Then he came walking back to the waiting room again as I was talking to the assistant and said aloud voice. “O’ is that the liberal “(referring to me)? At this point I went back to technique that I used when talking to mentally ill people and just laughed and said “ yeah I am the commie pinko fag. The dentist asked a few more interrogation type questions. I then stated that it has been a long time since I have answered some many question and not been in a court room. It was time for him to go back to the examining room and work on the other patient. During that time I looked at the assistant and the assistant quietly asked me not to answer any more of his questions while he is working on me. She said that the dentist loses focus and doesn’t seem to do such a great job when he is excited. By this time My gut is telling me to just turn around walk out the office. In that instant, the assistant called me back to the x-ray room. In this room was an old dental chair with a little side table connected to it that use to hold some of the air tools and the spittoon used during the Dennis visit. As I looked at that attach table I noticed there were some rust spots on it. I thought to myself, I am hoping that the dentist would not work on me here. A minute later the dentist called me back to his examining room which appeared to have a more updated chair and other devices (no rust). I would guess they were only 20 years old. While talking to me he pointed to a rear room visible from the examining room and asked me if I knew what kind of refrigerator that was in the other room? I did not and he mentioned that that refrigerator was as old as this house, which is built in the 1940s. Luckily all that this dentist did was review my x-rays and tell me that I needed to have that tooth extracted. During the time he was being a dentist he seemed calm.He mentioned that he could do the extraction there and asked me to go to the waiting room so we could discuss my options. While in the waiting room I spoke to the assistant and told her that I’d never had a tooth pulled before. I’ve spoken to others who do not give me such a great story about the extraction. She told me she would let the dentist know of my concerns. The dentist called me back again and showed me the two small x-rays and pointed out the cavity. He explained that the gum line had receded and the root bone was not very dense. Therefore he believed the course of action was an extraction. He also said that his assistant told him about my fears of the extraction. He said it would not bother him if I wanted to go to an oral surgeon where they could use an anesthetic to help me through the process. He then walked me out to the front waiting room and restated that he would be happy to perform the extraction and that would cost a lot less than an oral surgeon and the use of an anesthetic. He told me to go back home and talk to my wife and then call him with my decision. He would be glad to refer me to an oral surgeon.

Once I got home I relayed the story to my wife. Her first response was to get the oral surgeon. She had had tooth extractions before and it was horrible. Then we both laughed as I related the story about the dentist and all his questions. I told my wife that this was the first time any person had called me a liberal. So I contacted my insurance company and ask if I needed that dentist to refer me to an oral surgeon or could I find one on my own? They told me I could find one on my own and so I contacted the insurance company again. I found an oral surgeon in Longview Texas, about an hour for my house, that except in my insurance.  I called his office and was delighted to hear that they had an opening for me to see the oral surgeon at 8: 20 in the morning.

So as I stated before, I got up early and walk out of the house and got into my truck. It took me about an hour to find his office. This time instead of looking at a fairly rundown 1940 office/ converted house, the oral surgeon’s office was in a modern complex and appeared to be just a few years old. When I walked inside the waiting area was large and modern with a few other patients sitting in the room. This was what I was hoping for. A modern clean and what appeared to be efficient office. It was about 10 minute before I was taken back into the examining room. The first stop was at the x-ray machine. There were no metal holders or no little metal pieces to put my mouth that cause pain. I did not even have to sit down. I stood up and they had me put a very soft piece of plastic that front of my mouth while resting my chin on a holder. The x-ray machine circled around me and within seconds and without pain there was a full x-ray of every tooth in my mouth. I was then led back to a very modern examining room where there was a small TV screen that already had the x-ray of all the teeth in my mouth on the screen. The oral surgeon walked in and he appeared to be very professional. He quickly reviewed the x-ray and confirmed that I wanted an extraction. He said this will be an easy operation and should take about 10 min. He informed me about being sedated and made sure that I would have someone come with me to drive me home. I was then led to another office where they totaled up what the cost for the extraction. Although it appeared to be a good amount of money I was happy that it wasn’t more. When I had earlier discussed the visit to the dentist with my wife and two of my sons, they all said it is worth the money to be sedated. Each of them had had an extraction and highly recommended being sedated.

And so on Monday at 3 PM I will have the extraction. I feel comfortable about the oral surgeon and his facility. So in just a couple days I’ve gone through being exposed to the dentist that seem to just step out of the 1950s and was very outspoken about his prejudiced. Then like stepping into a time warp I was talking to an oral surgeon who was modern and his office well-equipped. This eased my fear about the tooth extraction.

I believe there are a lot of people like me who have had some bad experiences with the dentist. My thought is listen to your gut and to look around for a modern Dentist and pay the price.


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