Is It Still Safe?




Szell (Laurence Olivier) performs dental torture on Babe (Dustin Hoffman) to determine if it is safe. From the movie Marathon Man.

I may have mentioned that visiting the dentist is not my favourite thing to do. In fact, I can think of quite a few things that I’d rather do; pay a parking ticket, receive a quick kick to the shins, or clean dog poo off my lawn. [And this in spite of the fact that I don’t own a dog. Clean up after your own pets, people!]

Still, it’s not the worst thing that can happen.

I’ve had a series of interesting experiences with dentists. One of the earliest I can remember was when I was about … hmmm … I guess I can’t remember. Early on, anyway.

My dentist, who was about 6′ 6″ tall and about 400-500 lbs*, came in to have a look. “Mmmm. Uh huh. Oh.” And on and on like that. Finally, after spending about 7 hours in the chair (me, not him), he says “We are going to need to do an extraction.”

This, by the way, was back in the day when they still did extractions.

I said “Sure. But what – exactly – is an extraction?” Except that it came out more like “Saaah. Baa whaaa – aaaaly – ss aaa traaactor”, because he had most of his fist in my mouth.

I learned what an extraction was. And I didn’t like it.

So, my early emotional and physical scarring may have something to do with the fact that I now view dentists with some skepticism. That and the fact that I think they’ve got a bit of a scam going.

And by a bit of a scam, I mean a scam. Come on – $150+ to get your teeth cleaned? Yes, I know that your Water Pic is really fancy, but still.

Anyway, there was a period in my earlier life where my teeth required a lot of TLC. I’m not sure why. Maybe genetics. Maybe diet. Who knows. I can’t think of any behaviour that I was regularly partaking in that would cause dental problems. Risk of blindness, sure. But not dental problems.

Anyway, my more recent dental escapades have been chronicled elsewhere. Suffice to say that not all things have gone well.

A couple of months ago, an old filling was loose. And by old, I actually mean less than a year old. More accurately, I could have said a new filling was loose.

Apparently something hadn’t been sealed properly, and decay had set in under the filling. And the decay irritated the root. Which became infected. Or impacted. Or abscessed.  Whatever you call it, it hurt.

I decided to find a new dentist.

I made an emergency appointment with a dentist at a nearby clinic. When I was introduced, I was not thrilled. You see, she was young, intelligent, and attractive.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have nothing against young, intelligent, and attractive women. Or old, intelligent, attractive women. In fact, you could say I have a “thing” for intelligent, attractive women.

So much so that I married one.

Anyway, my previous experiences with attractive dentists have not gone well, and this one didn’t start off any better. “Mr Schellenberg, you seem to have some issues going on in here.”

I would have said “No sh*t, Sherlock”, but her hand was in my mouth.

She then proceeded to lecture me on dental hygiene, the dangers of not having regular dental checkups, and the sorry state of Canada’s foreign policy.

Now, I don’t now – nor have I ever – enjoy being lectured. In fact, because of my past dental escapades, I am pretty good in the oral hygiene department. I brush regularly, use a dentist approved toothpaste, and floss bi-annually. Or bi-ennially. I always get those two mixed up. I also have my teeth checked daily by a professional.

I may have gotten something mixed up, there.

My righteous indignation, which I righteously keep just below the surface, righteously bubbled up. I was about to explain how my hygiene – oral and otherwise – was pretty good, that I do have regular checkups, and that Canada’s foreign policies have been in the crapper since the days of Lester B Pearson.

I got control of myself, however, and kept my mouth shut. Or, in this case, open.

“You are going to need either a root canal or an extraction. I would strongly recommend a root canal, as there is hardly any money in extractions.” She may have worded that differently, but that’s what I heard.

Refer to my previous post for my thoughts on root canals.

“I can’t help you today, but, if you can come in early on Monday morning (this was Friday), I’ll come in early and help you out.” As they had squeezed me in in an emergency situation, I thought this was a pretty good deal. She gave me a prescription for penicillin and sent me on my way.

Monday morning came, and, as I hadn’t slept much anyway, I was at the dentist’s office early. “So, what have we decided?” she asked. I’m not sure what we decided, but I had decided on an extraction.

“OK,” she said. Cheerfully. “Let’s get to it.”

She hauled out a needle, jabbed it into my gums – and down into the bottom of my jaw, I think – and let it “freeze” for a bit.

“Feeling numb?” she asked.

I assumed she was talking about my mouth. “No,” I replied. In fact, I didn’t feel any numbness, tingling, or even shortness of breath.

“Hmmm. You must be resistant to the medication.” This is not surprising, as I have had, at one time or another, nearly every medication known to humanity shot into my veins.

For medical reasons only, of course.

She gave me another shot. Nothing. Cheerfully, she got out Big Bertha (my term, not hers) and had another go. This was a much larger needle, with a trigger on it. Like a trigger on a gun. Or, in this case, a cannon.

Thankfully, at least my gums were numb, because I could feel that the needle was so large it was punching holes into my gums. And maybe even into the ozone layer. Although I’m not a scientist, so don’t quote me on that.

A few minutes later, I couldn’t feel a thing. In any part of my body, actually.

And so the ordeal began. And by ordeal, I mean about 15-20 minutes. A little wiggling here, a little cranking there, and finally some pulling and … out it came.

This in sharp contrast to the last tooth I had had extracted. Which took two dentists – one being a cute blonde and the other being a good looking man with forearms the size of Popeye’s – over an hour to extract.

With plenty of “pressure” for yours truly.

It is rare, in this new dawning of the Age of Aquarius, to meet someone who truly loves her work. My new dentist is such a person. As she was trying to get the last root out, she was laughing delightedly. So was the assistant.

“Ron (it was Ron, now, not Mr Schellenberg), you’d be laughing too, if you could see how this root keeps dancing out of the way.” I took her word for it.

It was as painless a procedure as I could expect. Since then, I have had more work done, and all has gone well. In spite of the fact that this is all to fix fillings that were done in very recent memory.

By a dental office which shall remain nameless.

I’m not passing any judgements, just yet. I figure I’ll have to give it a year, and see how it goes. My insurance is already burned through, and there’s still some more to do, but … so far so good.

I don’t know why people want to be dentists. Sure, I guess the money is good. And by guess, I mean the money is good. But you have to look at some disgusting stuff, smell bad breath all day, and use devices that have been banned as instruments of torture since medieval times.

And you have to be bathed in that ugly, yellow light. Let’s face it, that’s not the most flattering shade. Plus, it can’t be great at a cocktail party. [Do they still have cocktail parties? If so, do you just stand around and drink cocktails?]

“And what do you do?” the lecherous older man asks the young, intelligent, and attractive woman.

“I’m a dentist,” she says. “How often do you floss?”

“Oh. Um. Yes. Well. I say, isn’t that Lester B Pearson over there?” (The sound of footsteps running.)

Still, I’m glad there are people who do it. It would just be nice if they were all … you know … good at what they did. Let’s just say that I am cautiously optimistic about my new relationship … with a young, intelligent, and attractive young woman.

Just don’t let my wife find out.


*I mention his size simply to give you a visual of how imposing he was. And by imposing, I mean scary. Which, if you are a dentist, is probably a good thing. “And here, Mr Schellenberg, is the bill.” I gasp and fall to floor in the fetal position. The dentist looms over me. “If you know what’s good for yous, yous’ll keep your trap shut and fork over the loot.”

Because, for some reason, my dentist now works for the New York mafia.

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