Thursday, August 04, 2005

Cavity Search

For the better part of three decades, my dental life was good. It was, you should pardon the expression, sweet. I would go in twice a year and get my teeth cleaned as the dentist crooned in delight over my teeth and gums.

“Clearly, you floss” he would say triumphantly, and I would gurgle some sort of agreement around a pointed tool.

Yeah, I flossed. Not very often, but what did it matter? I had perfect teeth and gums, and I would always have perfect teeth and gums. I didn’t view it as an outward manifestation of my inner perfection nor I didn’t see it as something that was mine by birthright, I was just lucky. And, considering where my body had let me down in other places (see: allergies, height), I just enjoyed my corner of lucky.

Then I gave birth.

I’m not saying that bringing a child into the world sent me into Dental Distress, although it could very well be one of the weird side effects. However, consider the following facts…

1) My dentist’s office is a forty-five minute drive from the house, with no other errands nearby to give it that “I just wasted the whole morning, but at least I got the vacuum bags!” feeling of satisfaction.

2) Our medical coverage either covers or does not cover dental, depending on which insurance gremlin I get on the phone.

3) I have spent many hours fully occupied preventing my Daughter from (as a toddler) eating cigarette butts she found at the playground or (as a little girl) chatting with the people who drop cigarette butts on the playground.

4) I am a completely responsible adult in nearly every other aspect of my life, which means I had to drop the ball somewhere.

Considering these and other stipulations, the truth is, I … (she mumbles slightly)…didn't get to the dentist for over two years.

OK. Let’s all say it together:

Eww.

I hasten to say I did brush twice daily during that time, I just hadn’t heard anyone say “Now rinse, please” in a professional capacity. I finally realized that having a dentist on the west side of Los Angeles was no more convenient than having a dentist practicing on a giant ice floe in the Beaufort Sea, so I got a referral for a more proximal dentist. It was in this blameless dentist’s chair that I heard something I have never heard in a dentist’s office before -- eight horrible words that rocked me to my very core:

“Hmm. Quinn, do you have a little extra time today?”

I had a cavity. A CAVITY. Or, as I like to think of it, a two-story neon sign that blinked “Slattern” with a damning frequency. A metal-filled reminder of the consequences of two years of having avoided finding a parking space in Beverly Hills. I even squeezed out a tear or two over having recklessly let my pure mouth be sullied.

After the digging and the filling, I watched the hygienist show me proper flossing techniques. I took many samples of fluoride mouthwash. I put my hand on the Dental Journal and swore never to partake of dried fruit again.

For six months, I flossed and I brushed -- firmly, but not too firmly, because we love our gums. I drank green tea, even though I think it tastes like stewed lawn clippings, because there have been studies which indicate it destroys plaque-forming bacteria. In short, I was the reformed sinner you would dread being stuck next to on a plane.

So imagine my chagrin when I went in for my next cleaning, and heard:

“Huh. Quinn, do you have a little extra time today?”

NO! I did NOT just spend six months behaving like some sort of dental Mennonite just to get another cavity. But apparently, I did. The dentist dug. The dentist filled. The hygienist said sweetly “Do you want me to walk you through flossing again?”

Great, now I’m a remedial student. Or worse, a repeat offender.

And where I was once the Periodontal Pin-Up, I am now the Periodontal Paranoid. Several times over the last few months, I have dragged Consort into the bedroom, a purposeful look in my eye. The first few times I did this, the poor man looked hopeful, until he saw that I was handing him a flashlight and a magnifying glass. Unhinging my jaw like a large boa constrictor, I would point at a molar and garble “dat ‘ook ‘ike a cahity to u?”

After reminding me gently that neither his undergraduate nor graduate fields of study ever involved the word “incisor”, or that the only plaque he could identify with any certainty had an image of a golfer on it -- he would dutifully examine my teeth. How could you not love a man who does this for you without starting to talk about seeing other people?

This has, of course, affected Daughter’s life. Morning and night, while she is brushing her teeth I stand next to her, as festive and life-affirming as the Grim Reaper. “Remember,” I drone if I sense she isn’t putting her whole heart into brushing. “Mommy needed three shots of Novocain to not feel the drill. We’re a high-threshold people. That’s right, get the dental floss all the way down there.”

Now that I know my teeth can go awry, everything in my body seems that much more fragile. When I go to the pharmacy, I have to use their blood pressure device. Every time. I obsess over whether the anti-oxidant benefits of dark chocolate are negated by the sugar, which I am certain is carving the Olduvai Gorge in one of my molars. In short, I have come to understand that the entire human body is unexploded ordnance.

If it were just the teeth, that would be one thing. But I spend more time checking my and my loved one’s bodies than your average Bonobo monkey. If it’s not “…Let me see your arm, how long have you had that freckle?”, it’s “...I read something about how a fold in your earlobe can indicate a higher risk of heart attacks. Or something like that. Anyway, come here for a second…”

You want attention to detail? I had a conversation with someone tonight about how I would have handled the immunization schedule differently had I given birth to a boy. I have a system in place for a nonexistent family member. That’s like getting health coverage for an invisible friend.

I’m going to sign off now. I just realized I have never gotten the dog’s resting heart rate, and I might need to know it someday.

2 Comments:

Blogger Mel said...

Very funny post!

9:28 PM  
Blogger Drew Weeks said...

Your cavity was caused by childbirth? Exactly where did she come out?

1:02 PM  

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