Unfortunately, many people my age and older have tales of horror from trips to the dentist when they were young.
It was a time of frightening apparatus, uncomfortable chairs and shots of Novocaine meant to spare you future pain by first making you feel plenty of it in the present.
It was as if Steve Martin’s Orin Scrivello, DDS, from the 1986 “Little Shop of Horror” movie had come to life: “I am your dentist, and I enjoy the career that I picked,” he sang. “I’m your dentist, and I get off on the pain I inflict.”
Adding to the experience were the ever-present “Mr. Suckee” stuck to the inside of your cheek and a tiny sink you were supposed to spit into while your mouth was numb.
Thankfully things have changed. Advancements in oral health care have improved our teeth, reducing cavities and the amount of drilling needed for repairs. Improved pain control means even more serious courses of treatment can be done with no more discomfort than a normal morning shave. And at some point the spit sink went away and Mr. Suckee evolved into a less intrusive guest in your mouth.
However, that doesn’t mean everything is always rosy when the dentist is involved, such as the episode I experienced last Friday.
I won’t go into all the details, but my scheduled procedure was expected to take up to 2½ hours, so I already was prepared to spend a good bit of time in the chair while the dentist had his hands in my mouth.
However, a few small problems arose along the way, and my time staring the ceiling with my head below my feet stretched well past the expected period. Despite the absence of physical pain, it began to feel like I was being worked over by CIA operatives.
By the time we passed hour three with seemingly no end in sight, I was ready to confess to long-ago indiscretions: “I admit it, I stole a candy bar from Thifty Drug when I was 8 years old!” (my first entry into the criminal world); “Yes, I was one of the guys tossing biscuits off the bridge that night!” (a truly stupid act by a truly stupid group of miscreant high-schoolers); “Throw the book at me! I received cable channels I didn’t pay for!” (not sure how sorry I really am about that one).
But time dragged on; I swear my skull started to expand, and I waited for hallucinations to begin. I was nearing the point where I would say anything — admit to any wrong-doing that anyone, anywhere had committed in my lifetime — if they would just get me back on my feet: “ ‘The Sopranos’ ending? My idea!” “It’s my fault! I told Ben Affleck ‘Gigli’ was the perfect career move!”; “OK, OK, it was me; I called Barbara Schumacher ‘tinsel teeth’ in the sixth grade, not John Adaska!”
Then, suddenly, it was over. Everything was removed from my mouth. The dentist apologized for the length of my stay and thanked me for being so patient, and he really sounded like he meant it. “No big deal,” I tried to mumble. His assistant returned the chair to level, and I sat up, waiting for my balance to return. Then I half-stumbled to the front office, eager to return to the sunlight, if the outside world really still existed.
As I prepared to check out, however, I was hit with a greeting that chased the cobwebs from my brain: “So, how are we paying for today?”
Actually, I was happy to hand over my wallet and settle up after being uncomfortable and half-delirious for four hours of my morning if it meant walking through the front door and embracing sweet freedom.
Then, as I turned to leave, the most unkindest cut of all:
“See you next Friday for your follow-up.”