Thursday, November 29, 2007

Oral Fixation

I have previously mentioned my love of public transportation. Next to walking, it is my favorite way to commute, and I use the term commuting generously, as I live three and a half miles from my office. Mostly, I like the anonymity of it, and because there is a great cross section of the community, albeit a far cry from those seen in NYC, SF or Chicago. I love the crazies, the nutties, the suits and the students.

Yesterday, as I was reading the Bourdain book, something rolling down the aisle, unmolested by any of the passengers, caught my eye:

A dirty, filthy electric toothbrush. That is what we city folks call colorful.


Today, perhaps inspired by the toothbrush on the bus, I went to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned. I am informed that there are two big extremes where teeth (and the pH of your saliva) are concerned. At one extreme is the concentration most likely to produce cavities, and at the other is the one where you are prone to building plaque or calculus. I am in the latter camp, as I have never had a cavity, but it takes a good hour to rid my teeth of the built up calculus. On the plus side, it comes off relatively easy, but there is quantity, to be sure.

I have a thing with teeth. Big time. I never say never, but it would be difficult for me to be attracted to someone without healthy, attractive teeth. My maternal grandfather had a thing with teeth and I thought it was weird, but I somehow developed it over my lifetime. I can ignore almost anything but bad teeth.

I should also add here that I have the weirdest teeth phobia. I get the dreams of my teeth falling out en masse on a fairly regular basis and I cannot abide any imagery (visual, text or otherwise) of teeth being knocked out or hurt. I attribute this to a freak diving accident when I was a teenager. I was a gymnast, and I used to practice my dismounts off the balance beam on the diving board, and, much like my devotion to perfection in gymnastics, I would repeat a dismount (dive) on the diving board hundreds of times. One night, while practicing a dismount thatin diving is considered a gainer, I pushed myself too long and ended up hitting the diving board on the way into the water. I was knocked unconscious and had to be pulled out of the pool. When I came to, the very first thing I noticed was the unfamiliar rush of air between my front two teeth.

My tongue immediately went to the source and felt the jagged edge of a badly chipped tooth. I freaked the fuck out. I thrashed and spazzed and had to be restrained. My fists were clenched and, when I calmed down, I brought my hand to my face and unclenched my hand. There, in my palm, was the half of a tooth that I had knocked out on my way into the pool. I had caught the half a tooth that I knocked out. Needless to say, that caused a whole new round of seizure-like freakouts and, if memory serves, I had to be sedated for the capping of the tooth.

This was in Saudi, circa 1985, and although the level of medical talent there was through the roof (no pun intended), over the years, the cap, and particularly the point of adhesion, had grown discolored. Grey. Gross. I was very self-conscious of it and most photographs of me during that period were a calculated smile to hide it.

B and I eventually became friends with Anthony, who is a very prominent Seattle dentist. After a few years of friendship, B routinely went to A for cleanings, but I was too self-conscious. Eventually, of course, I went, and Anthony told me he could fix my front tooth. I confess that the very idea of him taking off that grody crown skeeved me out more than I could ever express, but ultimately, I agreed. I cannot even begin to recount what a terrible patient I was when he did it, as even drugged and on laughing gas, I was very nearly in a fetal position. He finally got it off, put a temporary on, and I was so desperate to get out of the chair that I told him it felt fine and I was ready to go.

That night was one of the worst of my life. It didn't fit, I couldn't close my mouth, and I was terrified that I would clamp down in the middle of the night and shatter the temporary tooth. One night, and yet I remember every moment, as I couldn't sleep for fear of waking up with a mouth full of broken tooth. Even typing that skeeves me out. I slept with wet napkins in my mouth and went into Anthony's at 6am the next morning.

He was, of course, horrified. He is a perfectionist and I had assured him all was well the day before. With the drugs worn off and the swelling down, it was clear the temporary tooth was too big. As he attempted to get the temporary off, it shattered, and just like that, my worst nightmare came true - a mouth full of broken tooth. I was an uncharacteristic mess - thrashing, fetal position, sobbing - unlike anything my friend Anthony had ever seen from me. He had to drug me and pump me full of laughing gas, but eventually, he gave me a perfect crown. To this day, I have had several other dentists remark on my lone piece of dental work, as it is difficult even for the trained eye to realize I have a crown.

So huge set up for a non-story. I have to get my teeth cleaned twice a year, and that process includes scraping (egad) the plaque off my teeth. As I mentioned, this is a more arduous process for me, as I don't get cavities, just plaque. Every time I go, they numb my gums and give me a shot of laughing gas or some other drug. Today, because I had so much work to do, I declined. When she first took to my teeth, I jumped out of the chair in a mild freak out. However, I did a 'mind over matter' thing and talked myself back in the chair and tried to visualize what she had to do. I watched her grab her little tools and kept my eyes open for about five minutes. Once I could visualize and intellectualize the whole process, I was fine. I asked her, just once, if she had ever pulled a tooth when she was scraping teeth. She tried to stifle a laugh and said "K, I couldn't pull your teeth with these tools if I tried. You get plaque on the teeth, not the gumline, and you have really strong teeth anyway. Just let me know if I hit a sensitive area."

Not five minutes later, I was asleep. I fell asleep in the dentist chair and slept through an hour of plaque removal. And I should be said - I don't nap - ever. I slept nine hours the night before and the appointment was this morning. I woke up about fifteen minutes before she was done, and only because I heard laughter from another patient. Anthony came in the room and said he couldn't believe I fell asleep with someone's hands in my mouth. He checked my xrays and my crown and looked me straight in the eyes and said "you are different now, K."

And, perhaps for the first time, I agreed. Better living through dentistry, I guess.


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