In Which I Scare a Dentist

I'm beginning to see why people get their teeth yanked.

It all started last Thursday late in the evening when I cracked a molar eating Oat Squares. Managed to get squeezed in to see my dentist Friday morning and was told it either should be extracted or I needed a root canal and crown. At some point I'll lose the very back tooth behind this particular one because I can't open my mouth wide enough to do any work back there, so I elected root canal and crown to protect some degree of chewing surface. Despite my insurance not covering crowns, but that's what credit cards are for, right?

By the way, do not let this story prevent you from buying Oat Squares. It is a lovely and tasty cereal and not at all hard - if I cracked a tooth eating that, it was going to crack soon anyway.

I spent the weekend twitching with anxiety – it’s amazing how much work you can get done when you’re avoiding thinking of something – but did check out the endodontist’s website. It briefly distracted me from fretting and I was completely charmed by their URL ( I was even more charmed by the fact that you can fill out the patient information form online, thus saving you from stressing out over that before your appointment. I love the Internet.

Monday morning, I arrive at the endodontist’s and enter a quiet, spacious and well appointed waiting room. My mind quietly raises the projected price of the root canal by about $200. When I see that the staff are carrying around those wireless headset things that have become so prevalent in clothing stores so you don't have to yell out someone's name to find them, my mental price goes up by another $150.

A very nice assistant takes me into a spacious treatment room with a nice view. By now, I've forgotten to keep track of the money, instead focusing on the freaking out that's happening within me as the root canal looms closer. We go through my particulars and she sticks the digital x-ray plate in my mouth and braces it against my cheek bone and eye with a yellow circle. This closes my right eye, making me look sort of like Popeye. Then she makes a remark about how surprised she is that anyone can do any work in my mouth because with my difficulty in opening my mouth, the space is so small. This does not help my level of anxiety.

The endodontist - who looks to be about 17 - enters the room and asks me how I am. I say "nervous as hell, how are you?" and am somewhat reassured by him not saying "so am I." He takes a look in my mouth, explains what he's going to do and applies a disgusting artificial cherry tasting numbing gel and then there's freezing and thankfully, there is no rogue nerve at this time. I am numbed into oblivion and very grateful for it.

Next he clamps a contraption that isolates the tooth from the other teeth and holds the blue dental dam in place. This is my first experience with a dental dam and boy, those things are awesome! It keeps all the debris from accumulating in your mouth, your tongue doesn't get in the way and there’s no way that doesn’t improve the experience. There is not a lot of tooth left, so the contraption doesn't have a lot to hold onto and this combined with me not being able to open my mouth much makes the dentist (‘scuse me, endodontist) really nervous. He doesn’t want the contraption to fly off and create an unsterile field and seems generally stressed about his ability to do this. Which seemed only fair. Especially giving the long, slender and very pointy attachment to the drill that shortly after got closer to my mouth and I'm not sure what happened next, because I closed my eyes and went to my happy place.

Much to my surprise, it wasn’t difficult go to my happy place - in fact, I was positively relaxed. Sort of felt as if I was approaching a nap. That is, if it wasn't for the heavy-handed work that was going on in my mouth. It was as if there was only so much nervous to go around in that room and the more nervous the dentist got, the more relaxed I became. I can highly recommend freaking out your dentist. Makes them work faster, too. He finished in what seemed like record time. And then he charged me $1085. For half an hour's work.

I am so in the wrong business.

An hour after entering their office, I was back on the sidewalk in the middle of Yorkville - one of the toniest areas in Toronto - feeling decidedly underdressed. What was nice clothes in my neighborhood - casual but nice - turned out to be destitute level at Bay and Bloor. These people wore shoes that cost as much of my root canal and while I'm at it, that one cost about triple my "difficult extraction" a couple years ago. Not only am I in the wrong business, I'm also beginning to see the point of being a toothless crone.

Of course, it’s too late now. Next week: the crown!