Sherry the hygienist scraped along my gumline. “I did this funhouse for Halloween last year,” she said. “They had me dressed up as the little kid in that Freddy Kreuger song.” She hummed a few notes of the movie’s eerie minor-key version of the old “one, two, buckle my shoe” rhyme.

“That’s freaky.” I didn’t use any consonants, because she had a gloved hand and a dental pick jammed in my mouth, but she understood me anyway. In the background, the dentist’s drill whined as he filled another patient’s cavity.

“I know. It completely flipped this one woman out. She like ran back to the entrance.” Sherry giggled and adjusted the sunglasses protecting me from the bright light shining in my mouth. Then, she suctioned out my extra spit. She had no idea how badly I wanted to run back to the entrance right now, how tightly I was bracing for the machine at her left elbow.

My mouth was temporarily free of instruments, so instead of fleeing, I asked, “Where was it?”

“Out in Wetumpka. You’d love it.”

“I bet.” Yes, please. Give me Freddy and Jason over dental hygiene.

“Hey, Marcy,” she called to another passing hygienist. “Is the network up yet? I want to drop her X-Rays.”

“No,” Marcy replied. “We’re still in blanksville.”

Sherry resumed the plaque removal and the distant drill’s whine ceased. In the silence, I heard the sound system. “This is Faith Radio 89.1 WLBF Montgomery.” I tried not to listen to God’s word of the day, but I couldn’t miss that it was from the book of James. Too bad the radio hadn’t gone down with the computers.

“You have another one this year?” I asked, again without consonants.

“Yeah, and we do a pumpkin ride during the day for the little kids.”  She wiggled her pick between two teeth. “Hang on a sec. That one’s wanting to bleed.” She dabbed my jaw and suctioned it, then resumed the assault on my gums.

We talked like that, horror movies and haunted houses, most of my sentences emerging in a string of vowels, until she was through stabbing me. Then, she started in with the electric toothbrush, and I tried not to moan. She could have poked me with those plaque scrapers all day, and I would have jabbered through the pain. But that toothbrush motor whined just exactly like the drill, and it rattled my head, especially when she bumped my teeth with the handle. I imagined I could smell my own teeth burning, just like I can when I have to get a filling.

Sherry finished at about the same time that the electronics recovered.  I laid back and tried to unclench while I waited. The monitor to my right awoke with pictures of every tooth in my head, labeled with all of my fillings. “You say you take Wellbutrin?” Doctor Hudson’s smile appeared above my head. He stuffed a pick in my mouth.


“That explains the thick saliva I’m seeing. Sherry, send her home with a sample of the biotene. Just replace your toothpaste and mouthwash with that.” He probed a tooth. “Put a watch on four and five.” Sherry wrote on the chart and the dentist took the obstruction out of my mouth to spin around and bring up the actual X-ray images.

I said, “You’ve been putting watches on four and five for the last three years.” Don’t talk about that. Watches lead to fillings, and fillings are worse than cleanings. Far, far worse. 

He turned back to my mouth from the machine. “I’m going to tap this one and listen really closely. Remind me who diagnosed it ankylosed.” He took the pick out of my mouth so I could talk.

“I don’t know. My dentist when I was 13 or 19 or something.” I didn’t tell him that the dentists all run together in my mind, back to the guy who didn’t believe in giving kids novacaine, that when I wasn’t sitting in his office, his face joined that parade of nameless men and women who shook my skull until my teeth bled and made my gums hurt for days.

“Huh. Well.” He tapped the tooth. It did not hurt. “Yup. Sounds ankylosed to me. Got a really distinct tinny ring. If you don’t brush any other tooth in your head, brush that one. Other than that, it all looks good. Are you due for a panoramic?”

Sherry broke in. “We couldn’t do that one because of the computers.”

“OK, well, make sure to get her on the way out the door. I want to make sure the jaw around that ankylosed tooth isn’t growing anything unusual.”

“What do you mean unusual?” He didn’t have anything in my mouth, so I could ask with perfect clarity.

“It’s got a funny shape.”

“That’s because I’ve had two teeth pulled around the ankylosed one.” I didn’t add my favorite refrain. I’d rather have a tooth pulled than filled any day.

“Yeah, but sometimes those backfill funny. I just want to make sure it’s normal.”

I started to say something, but realized that I wasn’t concerned. The cleaning was over. No fillings in my future. I was free to leave the office.

As I walked away, the dentist seemed to be floating along with the Christian rock and the singer who was promising to follow, follow, follow his lord. It didn’t matter to me. I couldn’t get my final X-Ray and get out the door fast enough. I handed over my co-pay to the sounds of the DJ, who was promising all of us eternal life, but who had nothing to offer on the topic of healthy teeth.

About jesterqueen:
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.


Teeth — 36 Comments

  1. Oh the joys of dentistry. I don’t know if I’d rather have a tooth pulled (they’re preferring extracted these days, maybe it’s less suggestive of pain) than filled, I just rather no injections! And I didn’t realise it was the consonants that I was missing when I insist on keeping up a running conversation with a mouth full of hands and instruments of torture. No wonder they never understand me! I like the parallels with Halloween and faith. 🙂
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    • Oh the doctor hates it when I say ‘pulled’. I don’t mind the injections honestly. He cannot understand why I refuse to have a {shudder} crown done.

  2. OK, this totally gave me the creeps!! I hate going to the dentist and I know exactly what you mean about a cleaning hurting for days. I have watches on a few teeth too because my dentist won’t fill unless he has too since he knows how much I despise fillings! Well told!
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    • The dentist is a good guy. This one is. He was afraid of dentists when HE was a kid, only where I developed a lifelong paranoia, he decided to figure out how he could do it better. Which is cool. But I’m still queen freakout.

  3. My hubby had a dental appointment last week and totally feels the same way about it. Poor guy hates having his teeth cleaned so much that he insists on eating mushy for the rest of the day after an appointment. He also wore braces and actually lost weight as a teen while wearing them because he refused to eat.
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  4. As someone who sat in the dental chair yesterday, this is painfully familiar. Like you, I deplore the dentist. Going to the dentist. Thinking about the dentist. Driving by the dentist’s office on the way to someplace else. All of it. Very, very well written. It conjured my feelings perfectly.
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    • Ugh, yes, and the fucking office is RIGHT on the way to my kids’ school. I ran into the poor man at the movies. I’ve had some class A meltdowns on him before, so he totally recognized me. But he had to tell me who he was halfway through the conversation.

  5. You know, I never mind the dentist but my husband, who also had no novocaine as a child HATES it. I’d say there’s a correlation. Glad you got through it ok, although I felt tortured right along with you!
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    • I send the kids to the dentist with my husband and brush them obsessively. My objective is that

      1) They should not have childhood cavities and
      2) That they should go with their nonparanoid parent and pick up only on the happy enthusiasm that the staff projects.

  6. What is it with these sadists who traumatize children with their refusal to use Novocaine? I had the same experience as a little girl. My dentist actually scolded me for crying. What a jerk!

    Great story! Did you remember all those details or have to recreate them? I’m thinking I would have been so freaked out that I couldn’t have recalled all the “dentist speak.”

    • My dentist said that some shallow cavities only need a filling that doesn’t penetrate the first layer of enamel. In theory, this means that the drill won’t cut any of the tooth that actually experiences sensations. But (as they are increasingly realizing) most people can FEEL THINGS THERE ANYWAY because the nerve ending is so close (or something like that). So more and more dentists are just giving the fucking novacaine which is very good.

  7. What is it with dentists putting watches on teeth? I have had a watch on three of mine for years too. This was a great post, made me completely dread the dentist appointment that I have coming up. You made me so feel your pain.
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    • It’s probably the secret course you have to pass to get your certificate. If we turn the certificate over and take it out of the frame, we probably see their understands-all-vowel-words grade.

  8. This is a lot like my own memories of the dentist’s office. When I had insurance, it was one of my least favorite places to be. I hated it. Now that I don’t, I’d go there and suffer in a heartbeat if I could. Why hasn’t the health care industry invented any of those painless devices Dr. McCoy used in Star Trek? Why didn’t those come before ebooks? Sigh.
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    • I know what you mean. It’s kind of a luxury to complain. I’ll confess, though, that I was without insurance for a couple of years and it still took me three years AFTER to give in and start going back. Fillings. Toothbrushes. Shudder.

  9. Ok. I don’t mind the dentist at all for cleanings or fillings. I’ve had some serious root canals…hate those!!! When I’m in there though, it feels like hours. My dentist is my cousin so we spend the time letting him catch me up with him because, of course, I can’t talk with his hands in my mouth. Why do they ask you questions when they certainly know we can’t answer?
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    • My husband is cool with it. My kids are cool with it. My PARENTS are cool with it. (And holy hell Dad has had some serious WORK done on his mouth). Me? I cower.

  10. I hate the dentist and all the people who work there and everything they do. Scares me and costs a fortune to boot. I have a horrible attitude about the dentist. He’s always scaring me. This piece was awesome. Very original.

    • This is the first dentist who hasn’t belittled my fears. He actually shares some of them, which is oddly comforting. He gets that irrational or not, they are VERY real. Which is why I put up with the sound system in addition to the other horrors of visiting the dentist.

  11. I have to be honest…I had a really hard time reading this one. Not because it wasn’t good, but because it was. Tooth stuff, you understand. Dental situations. I’ve been putting off one of my own, and every single paragraph made me think I NEED TO FLOSS I NEED TO BRUSH I’M GOING TO GET YELLED AT BY MY DENTIST THEN LOOSE MY TEETH. So…seriously, awesome work. You made me fight skimming this post, and that is to your credit.
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    • That’s an awesome compliment. I have read posts like that, where the issue hits so close to home that reading is agony, and yet the pain comes because the author got it so right. Thank you.

  12. I would have foot swept the dentist for being so nonchalant about all of this. Can’t he feel your angst? He should have totally played it up to get you freaked out, then broke the good news. Think of how much more receptive to the lord you would be if you had been listening to the song and then found out you didn’t have to get the 7 fillings you were expecting. They would’ve chalked one up for the Romney. 🙂
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