Sunday, May 30, 2010

Considering the Dentist

I usually don't think of dentists. They are not even near the top of the list when I stop to contemplate the wonders of the world. But I came across Dr. Suzy and she seemed to be so nice, so intelligent, so thoughtful that I almost forgot her dreaded profession.

You see, I have a healthy respect for dentists. (I also have a healthy respect for rabid dogs and armed gunmen.) My dentist is a mid-thirtyish guy with a modern office and has a calm and pleasant personality. There is one thing that he gets wrong though. When he pulls out that needle and approaches my mouth gaping in terror he always says, "You will feel a little pinch", and then plunges that gigantic spear into the epidermis, dermis, endodermis, and way-down-deep-under-my dermis of my delicate gum. Little pinch hell?

That is why, when the Dental Aide summons me from the waiting room with that cutesy smile, I rise slowly and start taking small steps. As I progress I slowly begin to chant, first softly and then growing in panic and volume, as I approach the dreaded destination.

"I need gas. Lots of gas. Get the gas ready. Nitrous Oxide. A whole lot of gas. Set that sucker at 185%!"

They know me there. They know that I will always offer to reschedule if they are too booked or if some kind of emergency surgery crops up or if they are just too tired. I'll even offer to reschedule just for the sake of rescheduling. They call me by my first name and are friendly, but inside they are thinking, 'Aha! We got him again.'

Why do they call it Laughing Gas? I never laugh. When they put me in that chair, lean it back and turn on the vibrating thing which is a silly attempt at faking a massage chair, the Aide puts a mask over my nose. The doctor stops in to say hi then usually nods to the Aide and always says something like, "79%" and I will respond with 200%. He will then pat me on the shoulder and tell me to relax and that he will be back in a few minutes and I tell him to take his time. Then everyone disappears.

My job then is to get drunk on the gas. I breathe deep over and over sucking that stuff into my system as fast as I can. I want my body saturated. After a couple of minutes I will begin to feel my toes tingle. This is an important step because it means that the gas has gone all the way from my head through the zillion miles of blood canals to my toes. I then know that I will soon feel the tingling crawl down my feet and up my legs then consume my body. I find that I can stop thinking about the dreaded needle. I relax and drift.

One time we went through this whole procedure and I patiently waited for the tingling toes. Nothing tingled. A few minutes later the doctor came in and I immediately became agitated and blurted,

"Stop! Don't do anything. The gas isn't working!"

He smiled and said, "Jerry, we haven't turned it on yet." 

There is a set protocol and if it changes it throws everything off.

Gas absorption produces two effects. It takes the edge off and it messes up memory recall. So when the doctor says, "You will feel a little pinch" it still hurts but it doesn't bother me as much. But more importantly I immediately forget that it hurt and think, 'That wasn't so bad'. And it continues throughout the procedure. When the dentist crawls into my mouth with strange invasive tools and gouges and digs and plunders, it is bothersome but immediately replaced with, 'That wasn't so bad'.

In the past year and a half I have had four wisdom teeth pulled. Everyone in the world except me had their wisdom teeth pulled at a young vibrant age. I didn't and I never thought about it until the smiling dentist said, "You need to think about getting those pulled someday". I thought that was an absurd notion and told him that if my precious wisdom teeth had made it this far I figured I was home free. He mention something about they will start hurting at some point and I should consider it before I retired while I had insurance. Then he finished with, "If they start hurting, come on in". 

He knew something that I didn't because within three months one of them started bothering me. Then later more started hurting. A whole lot of gas came into play.

It had to be the power of suggestion and I thought that was really sneaky of him.

Now I know Dr. Suzy has a successful dental business. But I can give her some advice to help her business grow even more. She needs an advertising edge. 

If I approached two dental offices and one displayed flashing neon lights that said, 


I know which I would choose. Just a thought, doc.


A serious note for this holiday. Please read Memorial Day.

Entre Nous explains things that need to be explained to us.


  1. I'd still choose to walk on by! Just thinking about going to the dentist makes me nervous. This entire post scared me, thanks Jerry.

  2. Great post Jerry! I remember that before I got my wisdom teeth pulled out they hurt soooo BAD! It made me totally understand that scene in "Castaway" where Tom Hanks knocked his tooth out with an ice skate. I'd have done the same thing... gas or no gas.

  3. A story well told, which I can relate to 185%. My fear of dentists began when I was a boy. Dr. H. Lector was his name, and he didn't believe in wasting good Novocaine on a child . . .

  4. I've never had that gas, but I'm willing to give it a try! I still have my wisdom teeth too. The roots of one are wrapped firmly around my jawbone, so taking them out would actually require a surgical procedure. I was told to still get them out or I'd regret it in about ten years. That was 15 years ago. I think your dentist cursed you.


  5. I had the one-in-the-same dentist Charlie had. "Oh, its just a little surface cavity, won't need any novacaine for that..." Thank You Dr. S. for my never faltering, nor ending fear of the - dum-de-dum-dum- dental chair.

    This post is simple perfection. I just wish I could try the gas thing. The thought of that bothers me more than the needles. And thats a lot.

    Which reminds me of the dental appt. I think I have successfully avoided for a few years now. What is it about encroaching age that makes fear seem even more, well, scary?

  6. I have one wisdom tooth left and am seriously thinking of calling Dr Susie on that one :)

    Good Post Jerry you touched on a lot of fears a lot of us have, I have noticed a big difference in the fear factor depending on the Dentist and how they handle themselves.

  7. Gas! Give me Gas! I totally get it!!!

  8. Okay Jerry I have lots to say here...LOL. You have entered the 'danger" zone where I must verbally expunge at all costs.
    You make me laugh when you say we come at you with the dreaded needle and say "you will feel a pinch." I must admit I say this same thing. I am wondering now if this was some kind of code phrase we were taught in dental school. I must reconsider now my introduction to the needle now as you have shown me I am simply not original. I do though have a sneaky way of hiding the needle below the patient's head and swooping around and into their moth with slight of hand. It is a trick I have mastered.
    I have to say...I am have a rep for the "painless" injection. About 80% of the time the patinests tell me they don't feel a thing. That is because I take a loooong time to inject. The slower the less is that simple.

    As far as nitrous..I am afraid I only use that on my most scared, biggest chickens...etc. I find that even with the nitrous it isn't enough. Through
    the groggy haze they keep yelling 'I need more...I need more..." It never seems enough. But I am glad it works for you.
    I suppose there is something truly invasive about dental work. We are entering your body and invading and assaulting your personal space in a very unnatural way. I spend inordinate amounts of time trying to bend over backward to make sure that my patients don't feel a drop of pain.

    I guess the most important thing in all this is that you go to the dentist
    at all. Bravo for you that you are not one of those patients who do not value the importance of taking care of your teeth. Sometimes I think people forget that your mouth is attached to the rest of your body.

    Anyhow, I wish you could read one of my first post back in January about what is involved in being a is a great compliment to your post above on what it is like being a patient. You have given me an idea..I must write a blog about myself as a patient...I think you would get a kick out of the fact that I am as scared of the dentist as you are!!!!!

  9. Dear Carol -- I understand the option to simply bypass all dentists. But in all honesty that is an option to disaster. There are some really good dental people out there who understand and cater to the timid and fearful (and terrified, like me). Don't hesitate the visit the dentist -- and talk to them and tell him or her your fears. They need to know this so they can work to make the visit as pleasant as possible.

    Kingcoyote - Yeah, after every wisdom tooth extraction I ended up with what they call 'dry socket'. I don't know what it was but it hurt like hell...until they gave me some kind of jell to fix it up.

    Charlie -- My fear of dentists really took hold in the Navy a lot of years ago. He needed to pull a tooth with the root wrapped about a bone or it ended up being a horrible chiseling exercise....and after every thirty minutes they would stop and give me a shot of whiskey. I had nightmares of the experience for years.

    Technology has changed though. I had the same problem with one of my wisdom teeth and the dentist didn't even bat an eye and used all kinds of fancy tools and had it taken care of in fifteen minutes.

  10. Spot -- Sometimes I too accept the logic of 'Forget it and it will go away'. I usually regret it though. Read my comment to Charlie. I had the same problem with screwy roots twice. The last time I wouldn't have even known it if the dentist hadn't mentioned it. It was kind of a "no big deal" deal.

    Read Dr. Suzy's blog. It will give you a better feeling. You can't help but adore her even in spite of her dental persuasion.

    Entre Nous - Without Novocaine? I shudder at the notion. I certainly don't think you will see that these days. Does this mean we are a nation of wimps? It seems that these days, at least with the non-old codgers like me, really emphasis comfort and work pretty hard to give their patients and enjoyable experience.

    I will be back to read you. I can't just flip through your posts as if in a hurry to read them all. You require me to lean back, ponder, and reflect.

    Jimmie -- You are exactly right. And if the option were available to me I would certainly seek out Dr. Suzie.

  11. Bossy Betty -- You and I are on the same wave link. I could envision getting gas as soon as I walk through the door. Just sitting there knowing what is coming deserves gas.

    DrSoosie - I was exaggerating a bit (but not too much) to make a point. Dentists hit upon a universal fear. I do have to admit though, that dentists today seem to go through hoops trying to erase that fear. My dentist, and his Dental Hygienists too, are very aware of how I am reacting to the procedure -- whether it be simply the need to swallow or if I start twitching -- and will immediately stop to allow me to get realigned with stuff. In fact, the code is that if I raise my hand, they stop immediately. That makes me feel like I have some control about the whole thing and is appreciated.

    I will certainly read your first post to see what it is like on the other side of the needle.

    Thanks for taking this post in the good humor that it was meant to be.

  12. "I have LOTS OF GAS?" (Snickers) Seriously??

    Dentists are right up there with IRS guys...and maybe that guy that gives those prostate exams. I always assume they're the ones no-one wants to talk to at parties. Do you think they make up another profession when they're out drinking? I bet they really let loose when they're socializing.

    Ask him that for me the next time you see him. Okay?

  13. I've never had gas, dentally speaking. I can handle a lot if they don't ask questions, because I'm probably going to have an audio book going into my ears.

    Also, I learned the hard way. . . beware the dentist with fat fingers.

  14. I have fainted only twice in my life, BOTH times have been in the dental chair. I've never had the pleasure of Nitrous Oxide, the dentists I've gone to apparently believe it is a gateway drug to Heroin so I have to tough it out. I dread the needle as well, but prefer it over the alternative. When the dentist asks me how much novocaine I need I tell him I want to be walking out of their office with a limp.

  15. Jerry--
    I have always thought there must be something wrong with people who freely choose to spend their working lives putting their hands in other people's mouths.
    That said, I have been on the receiving end of good and bad dentistry. The worst figured about fifty-five years ago when I was thirteen. I still remember how skeptical I was on that first visit when the new dentist canted me back in the chair and introduced me to a new technology. It was a mini sand blaster he would use instead of a drill. "Would you like to go get a comic book?" he asked. "You won't feel a thing." Already a doubting Thomas, I shook my head, signalling for him to get on with it. He did, and he'd told the truth: his new gismo was painless, and on subsequent visits I did sit in the chair with a comic book as he blasted out the decay.
    What a breakthrough! Except only a couple years later, the fillings he'd done all fell out. It had something to do with too smooth a surface where he'd sand-blasted. So it was back to Old School sadists, with my own hands, no longer free for reading, gripping the chair arms.

  16. "Young and vibrant age," ha! As if that would insulate one from the agony of wisdom-teeth pulling. Did you know I had LOCAL anesthesia for that procedure? At the age of 14, when all the rest of my friends told pleasant tales of being knocked out, asleep, I was AWAKE?

    I knew I was in for a rough time when the dental assistant came in and started scrubbing up two gigantic foot-long silvery metal syringes. She looked sideways at me and asked "Are you strong?"
    "I won't scream, if that's what you mean," I answered.
    (I am not making this up, I swear.)
    Then the doc comes in, sticks both those monsters into my gums and leaves 'em there. LEAVES THEM. For, like, I don't know, three minutes. Fortunately, if I held my head still, it didn't sting so badly. Then my mouth went numb and I lay back and WATCHED as the dentist practically braced his feet on my shoulders to yank my wisdom teeth out of my head. First he had to cut into my gums and go get 'em, of course. They hadn't come in yet. Then he had to extract 'em. I got to watch as he pulled the pliers out of my mouth, unspeakable detritus clinging to them.

    Excellent story of yours, I must say. I understand completely about the gas issue. Crank it up, I say, crank it up, let me have it. I'm not floating yet.

    You always know how to take the everyday happenstance and spin it into a hilarious, relevant, easy-to-relate-to story. I truly enjoy reading here.

    I'm off to check out what Entre Nous has to say.

  17. oh Jerry, your post put panic into my heart, but I hoped you would give me more tips and tricks on avoiding the dentist. my last trip to the dentist was one year ago, and I refused to allow him to do ANYTHING other than xrays to tell me how bad my mouth was and how much it would cost to knock me out and fix it.

    his fatal flaw ...

    the words, "it's not that bad" sung to the tune of $7000.00

    my second biggest issue (dental visits being my first), is spending insane amounts of money on PAIN. I am glad the gas works for you ... I think someone would need to gas me at my front door.

  18. Kathryn -- I would have almost agreed with you -- then came across DrSoosie above. She is pretty cook, at least when she doesn't have a needle in her hand.

    Marylee - Now that is an option I never considered. An audio book. Now if I get an audio book and gas...who knows.

    Robert -- You are a brave man armed with only a dab of novocaine.

  19. Barry -- Sandblasting. Since it is so painless, they must have stopped researching it's potential dental uses. Now I hear things about lasers. If it is painless, we might as well forget it.

    My friend, the Postman - I never could quite understand the logic of pulling perfectly good wisdom teeth. It's all based on the presumption that it will 'cause problems later'. I think I would want to hear the odds on whether or not it causes problems.

    Diane -- I wish I had some sage advice for you. The problem is that they have you over a barrel. Pay now or pay more later because 'all of your teeth will fall out'. My suggestion -- shop around. Find a young, handsome dentist that understands gasology. He needs to be handsome because then you will want to make a good impression and sit up straight and will want to be cool and act as if nothing bothers you. He will be your second you really, really need all that work done. If yes, start talking about your 'destitute lifestyle' and how you have to 'support fourteen kids on $200 a week' and ask if he could cut that price way down and help you work out a payment plan. If that doesn't work, offer to marry him so you can get on his insurance plan.

    Like I said, I really have no sage advice.

  20. I'm an avid TB follower (Year 31) and noticed your blog on her blog roll and decided to check it out. It's great! (not that I had any doubt to start)

    Anyways, I too have dabbled in the laughing gas at the dentist's office. However, for some reason it makes me REALLY paranoid (well, and tingly). I documented one of my visits on my blog if you are interested in reading it:

    Anyways, just thought I'd let you know you have a new follower. :)

  21. I seriously hate going to the dentist and my teeth are proof of that. Sadly to say. I did have a dentist I went to for about 12 years, but only when I could afford it. He died 7 years ago and I have been to three other dentists since then, only once per dentist. They are just soo expensive and insurance (when I had it) only paid a small portion. Anyway, I only have half of my teeth left and those are probably ready to go too.

    The dentists come at me and I instantly tense up and my blood pressure sky rockets. I'm the type to only go when I just can't stand it any longer. As soon as the tooth starts to hurt, I start trying to save money for it.

    I have only had one dentist actually put a numbing gel on the area before the shot of novicane. I have never even been offered gas!

    erm, well that's my educated input to this post...

  23. You awoke in me some hideous memories... the whole dental freakout thing! I could feel those injections! I knew the non effectiveness of the gas..
    My 'wisdom teeth' passed when I had not wisdom.. but I loved the drugs they gave me. They gave me 'the answer to the Universe' which I still wish I could recapture!!

  24. That's awesome! I was smiling when I was reading your post. I remember my son who is afraid of dentists. When we visited one of the best Hilton Head dentists, he asked for laughing gas! Well, the dentist really nodded at his request.

  25. Regardless of what may be the cause, good oral hygiene is essential. Brush twice a day and clean between your teeth daily with floss or interdental cleaners. Brush your tongue, too. If you wear dentures, be sure to remove them at night and clean them thoroughly before replacing them the next morning.

  26. You should visit your dentist at least twice a year for your oral prophylaxis. This will get your teeth plaque and cavity free.