Yesterday I finally succumbed to the adventure of having my teeth scaled after about a year. (Miniature mountaineers climbed up each tooth in an intrepid display of plaque-defying machismo.) Since I’m a slouch about flossing, the dentist practically had to use a machete to get them clean.
I was going to go to my usual dentist, who speaks English well, even though she also has a human skull sitting on the table in front of the patient’s chair. The skull must be really old as it’s stained brown from long exposure to the soil. The teeth are brownish too. Maybe the dentist should go over the whole thing with a toothbrush and some whitening toothpaste, unless it’s there to serve as a warning: “Don’t brush, floss, or gargle regularly, and this will happen to you.” (Wait long enough and it will happen to you anyway, but that’s another story.) That would also explain why several of the teeth were missing. Perhaps it’s the skull of a patient who couldn’t afford the dentist’s fee and wound up getting his (or her) ass kicked.
So I guess it must have been fear for my life that led me to see the new dentist. Actually, my wife recommended the clinic to me since it’s closer to the other one and you don’t need to make an appointment more than an hour in advance (as it turned out). On our way there, she said one of her church friends said a different one about half a mile away would have been better, but I figured a scaling job was a routine enough procedure and they wouldn’t be able to mess it up too badly.
Last fall while Jina and I were visiting my folks back in the US, she talked me out of buying my favorite brand of dental floss, coaxing me into getting the generic version instead. The only problem was the cheaper stuff is slippery so you have to wind it around your fingers about fifty times each to prevent it from sliding out of your grip. If you can avoid losing blood flow to the digits with your makeshift tourniquets, the floss slips away and you end up having to push it up into the gaps between your teeth with your fingertips, an ineffectual gesture at best.
The floss I’m describing is coated with wax. If I use the kind without it, I end up carving bleeding notches into my gums.
(It’s like that old joke in which the dentist says to the patient: “Your teeth are fine, but the gums will have to go.”)
My dentist in the states said I should gargle with Listerine three times a day and also floss three times a day. She also said I should spend about five minutes brushing after every meal. First of all, I’m queasy about making a product plug but I have to say that Listerine is the only mouthwash I’ve used that seems to have any medicinal impact on your gob. The only problem is you can’t find the original type in Korea–they all contain artificial flavors enhanced with saccharine. As I recall, it causes cancer, but only if you’re a laboratory mouse who’s got to eat the stuff for a living.
While dispatching the bacteria that invade and colonize your teeth like little soldiers from you-know-where, Listerine also kills the good bacteria that assuage your digestion. This is irresponsible of Listerine. Listerine, you’ve got to listen to me: you owe us an apology. What did you say? My breath still stinks? Whose fault is that?
There’s likewise no way in hell I’m going to floss three times a day–a year, maybe, but a day? Fuggedaboutit.
And brushing your teeth for five minutes at a time requires an enormous amount of patience and creative maneuvers of the wrists. Meanwhile, someone in your family is urgently knocking on the bathroom door with a natural emergency in progress.
So the dentist started out by covering my face with a white piece of paper with a hole in it for my mouth after her nurse put the curved air-suction tube in, getting it ready. I thought maybe the paper was so they wouldn’t have to look at my face, or maybe they were afraid I’d leer at them while they were chiseling away at the fossilized garbage that had formed on my beleaguered teeth. Even if I’d wanted to, I couldn’t have, as my eyesight’s next door to darkness. I usually keep my eyes closed anyway so I can try to pretend I’m not having the surfaces of my teeth drilled and imagine I’m watching a movie like Marathon Man, in which Dustin Hoffman’s character is tortured by a Nazi dentist played by Laurence Olivier–wait, that’s no good.
What makes going to the dentist irksome is not so much the pain–a scaling job doesn’t hurt that much (it doesn’t hurt at all if you take good care of your teeth). It’s the noise. The sound of the fine-needled drill squeaking across the enamel sounds like a mosquito shrieking into a microphone at a kara oke bar. If you bring earplugs, you’ll be fine.
The problem is that while the teeth in my upper row are straight, the bottom row is crowded and uneven, as if the teeth were all clustered together in an elevator. In order to floss, I have to go into contortions.
After the preliminary once-over, the dentist removed the paper cover from my face and used a different tool to tackle the tartar that had gathered in the gaps. The whole procedure was relatively painless. The nurse had instructed me to raise my arm if the agony became unbearable, but apart from a bit of wincing I made it through without becoming a blubbering mass, confessing all my sins, and pleading for mercy.
“Did you feel any pain in that filling?” the dentist asked me after they’d finished, indicating a molar on the lower right side of my dental horseshoe.
“No,” I said. “It’s mercury. I’ve had it for over forty years.” (Alzheimer’s, here I come!)
“But,” she continued, “you really ought to have a crown put on the one on the other side.” A year ago I had a filling removed from the tooth she was describing. Luckily it’s not in a more prominent place, as it’s an eyesore unless I’m surrounded by zombies, who are less offended by the spectacle of physical decay. (Come to think of it, I am surrounded by zombies, but they’re uncharacteristically self-conscious about their looks–zombies who take selfies.)
I praised her on her good work then spent the rest of the day spitting up blood. When I finally looked in the mirror at the source of the wound, I noticed a dark red outline around one of my lower teeth. I wanted to buy some Listerine to disinfect it, but since my wife is a cheapskate she told me to use the inferior Korean equivalent instead. I’d taken an ibuprofen for a different pain earlier in the day, but as the drug was wearing off, I popped two naproxen sodiums so I’d be able to sleep.
(The familiar brand of naproxen in the US is known as Aleve, but I wouldn’t recommend using it as a mantra unless you’re into Satanism. Try saying it several times in a row and you’ll see what I mean.)
I may go back to the dentist this afternoon to complain (even though I have to admit it was my own fault for letting so much build up), assuming I haven’t lost enough blood to preclude the option of walking.