Dentistry takes a high-tech step back toward the middle ages.

November 14, 2006

I went to the dentist on a couple of weeks ago. I went as I always do — a bit more than once a year, a bit less than every six months. The six months thing feels like Jiffy Lube’s “every 3000 miles” mantra when in reality there is no need for that frequency — but I digress.

The dentist is a strange place when a person goes in for a checkup. The dentist’s role is so minor, that there is really no reason for them to be there. All of the x-rays, scaling, cleaning and flossing is done by a person, who, in my experience, is able to tell the dentist all of the problem areas before the dentist even looks.

I’m not a dentist, and well, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to hang out with a dentist. So I won’t presume to know if they belong in the room during a check-up or not.

Back to what we’re here for. Pain.

The following definition is from and comes up entirely short of the mark of what I felt at my last cleaning:

pain [peyn] n.

1. physical suffering or distress, as due to injury, illness, etc.

2. a distressing sensation in a particular part of the body: a back pain.

3. mental or emotional suffering or torment: I am sorry my news causes you such pain.

Words such as ‘anguish’, ‘torment’, and ‘shock’ come to mind, but still miss the immediacy and lack the ability to express the “distressing sensation,” the “physical, mental and emotional suffering” inflicted upon me.

I have good teeth. I’ve never really had too many issues, so going to the dentist is often a nice relaxing “lie-down” for me. Do I floss enough? No, but I’m trying. The late Mitch Hedberg had a great line about flossing, “People who smoke say you don’t know how hard it is to stop smoking. Yes I do. It’s as hard as it is to start flossing.” He was right.

I’m having a hard time getting to this, but it was such an experience. OK. Here we go…

So they have these new devices that replace the standard “de-scaler” (or is it “scaler”?) — it uses sound to chip the plaque off your teeth. I never had a problem with the old method. A bit of a dull ache when it was done, but nothing a couple of Tylenol couldn’t handle. This new “tool”, and the woman wielding it, took me to a place that I’ve never been. I’m suddenly an interested advocate in bringing an end to all torture around the globe.


It starts out innocently enough. A quick burst of misery. My eye twitches.

“What the hell was that?” I think to myself.

It continues. A moment later it happens again and I lose the ability to communicate in any meaningful way. My whole body is an exposed nerve. I can’t tell her to stop. I can’t remember my name.


Another one. I think I am dying. Part of me wishes for it. I’m completely unable to move — to protect myself. I’ve never felt so helpless. During the course of the next twenty or so minutes it strikes at about the moment I think it’s not going to happen again — maybe 30 times. I have no idea why I’m not passing out, except for the fact that the pain is so quick, each incident is over almost as fast as it starts. If it’d last a half second or more I’ll probably lose control of bowels.

That might have put an end to the session.

I slowly come back to reality, but am probably not fully myself until I arrive home after a 25-minute rush-hour drive I don’t remember apart from calling my wife and telling her I am in shock.

My next appointment is set up for April 25th.

4 Responses to “Dentistry takes a high-tech step back toward the middle ages.”

  1. badr0bot Says:

    I have also had experience with that tool of instant misery. It was prefaced quite innocently with the simple statement; “OK our Hygienist will just give you a little cleaning before the dentist sees you”
    Did you forget about the part where you left imprints of each one of your fingers in the armrest of the chair?

  2. scottj Says:

    That’s just insane! How can they do that without warning you first? That just doesn’t seem right.

  3. colbycockrell Says:

    Hi there – As a dental student and future dentist I have to at least say something regarding this:
    If you’re anxious about visiting the dentist, ask him/her to prescribe you some anti-anxiety medication for your visit. Nitrous is also an option. Anxious/fearful patients tend to respond very well to either or both of these options.
    If you’re having pain and/or sensitivity when you’re having your scaling, by all means, SAY SOMETHING! Despite what many may think, we’re not in the business of inflicting pain. If you’re having problems, you can be numbed so that you don’t feel it.

    Believe me. If I could have I would have. I’ve never had any anxiety over the dentist until this experience.
    Good luck with your studies!

  4. Pj Germain Says:

    In a word – OUCH! Whew, what a nightmare. Nitrous is the way to go!

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