Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bob 3, Billy 3

I'm offically declaring this "Keep Up With Billy Month."

If you're not as old as I am (approaching 56), then you have no idea how far dentistry has come since the 60's.  Believe me, there's nothing here for me to brag about.  If you missed it, be glad.  Maybe.  I still have few issues with modern dentistry, even as I sing its praises.

Nowadays, the whole dental staff is worried about nothing more than your well-being, your comfort.  Every aspect of a procedure is fully explained to you and they check on you all the time, just to make sure that you are cool with it.  And you never have to lean over to spit anything out.  The nurse stands over you with a suction and whisks away whatever kind of stuff is either coming out of you or being shoved into your new opening.  They offer you special glasses so that you don't get sprayed with whatever on your real glasses.

Nowadays, if you are told that you "might feel a pinch," you do feel only a pinch.  Your dentist has worked very carefully with some kind of numbing gel to ensure that you will feel nothing more.

And they can drill and fill two teeth in about 45 minutes, sending you out the door with a multi-hundred dollar receipt for potential reimbursement and a face that feels like it has been punched and is swelling in response.

Of course, these days, they also numb the shit out of you.  I mean, my God, my freakin' ear was numb  in preparation for the filling of a cavity on a lower tooth, not even a back tooth.  On the other side, my dentist warned me, "You may feel some numbness up to your lower eye."  Whereas that pinch you might feel was a real pinch back in the day, a transfix-your-stare-on-the-Norman-Rockwell-print-pinned-to-the-ceiling-and-try-to-get-to-a-different-place kind of pinch.  Except that there was no Norman Rockwell on the ceiling for you to stare at.  Just the patterns in the ceiling paint.

When I first started going to the dentist as a child, there was no such thing even as a dental hygienist.  The position hadn't even been invented.  Your family dentist was jack of all trades, master of .....right.  He cleaned them (it was a he), he fixed them, he straightened them, he built new ones for you in his little dental lab.  He was a one stop shop.

He also wasn't afraid of imposing a little guilt.  If you had a cavity, there was no doubt that it was your fault.  Before you got any kind of treatment, you got a lecture.  About brushing.  Or about what you were eating.  And your mother might get called in and get a lecture of her own.  About your habits, in general.  Dentistry was about as cause-and-effect as it gets.  

And, if you had let the world down like that, there was perfect justification to teach you a lesson you would never forget.  Both my wife and I, separated by South and North, by country and city, had experiences where we were drilled upon without any Novacaine at all.  Not for a big cavity, mind you, but certainly for a small one.  And we were expected to take it.  Novacaine cost extra and it was such a little cavity and there was a decent probability that Mr. Dentist wasn't going to hit a nerve, execpt that every cavity in the world seems to have some kind of direct connection to a nerve, without any kind of protection.

Today's dental patients are pussies.  We all know that, even those of us who are willing to man up (or woman up) and take the pain.  The whole system has changed to where we are protected by/doomed by a standard of care that seeks to take all and every pain out the experience of metal machines working their ways into our various tissues.

And that is probably a good thing.  Except that those of us who went through it, confused by both the sadism and masochism of ancient dentistry, see some value in that pain.  Maybe it's perverse.  Maybe it's just that we think we have the training to sit in a chair with everything beyond our control, not wallowing in excessive numbness, but waiting for an all-encompassing pain that might or might not come.  At least, as we have worked our way through our many years, we are kind of ready for it.


Kathleen said...

You're totally right! When I had my cavities drilled Dr. B made me feel guilty for FEELING GUILTY about them. Very bizarre.

troutking said...

I hope your dentist is better than Jerry Seinfeld's Dr. Whately who not only converted to Judaism just for the jokes, he also regifted a label maker and invited Elaine to the super bowl in order just to get her in a hotel room. He also may or may not have been engaged in a love tryst while Jerry was under the gas: "When I came to, my shirt was untucked. I think I was tucked!!!"