KEEP FLOSSING UNTIL
YOUR TEETH FALL OUT
I think about professions a lot. What's it like to be an
attorney, a laborer, a contractor, an engineer, a proctologist, an actor,
a porn star, a politician? Inquiring minds want to know.
In today's column, I will investigate what it is like to be a
Actually, there will be little investigation other than my
personal experience as a patient. While I happen to know a few dentists
personally, I don't really care to ask them any questions. I know enough
Like most people, I hate going to the dentist. My first
experience that I remember is with Dr. Mack, my childhood tormentor. I
distinctly recall being about 8 years old and sitting in his dental chair,
my mouth open, his wicked face inches away from mine, a drill making its
My little 8 year old mouth was in pain, and my natural
inclination was to moan. Dr. Mack, who should have picked another
profession besides children's dentistry, wasn't happy.
"You sound like a sick cat," he hissed.
I'm not sure what happened to Dr. Mack. Since he was a mean
old man when I was a kid, I'm guessing he's probably dead by now, and
can't torture little children anymore. That's probably a good thing.
Now that I'm 55 years removed from Dr. Mack's evil practice,
I'd like to say that things are better. But I still moan like a sick cat
when I go to the dentist. It's just for different reasons.
For instance, about six weeks ago I went in for a general
cleaning, and my new tormentor checked the margins of my gums, rattling
off numbers from 1 to 6, with 4 or 5's meaning trouble. Sure enough, some
of my rear gums had the magic number.
"We need to do a scaling and root planing," he
announced with an evil smile. "If you don't do it, your teeth will
fall out. It will cost about $900.00"
Yep. The sick cat was back. My moan could be heard by the
receptionist. It reached a feverish pitch as he explained the procedure,
which consisted of two separate visits, one for each numbed up side of my
mouth, and basically a deep, deep cleaning to remove plaque and bacteria
that will eventually, if not treated, make me look like Granny Clampett in
the Beverly Hillbillies.
He tried to make me feel better by noting that almost half of
U.S. adults over the age of 30 have periodontal (gum) disease. And you can
have it without pain or other symptoms.
That was the problem. If my teeth hurt, I love dentists. They
can make it stop hurting. But my teeth felt fine. And quite often,
dentists tell you something needs fixing that feels fine, whether it's a
cavity or faulty gums. It's all about trust.
"I trust you," I lied as he walked me to the front
desk to make the first appointment. "Cure me of this dreaded
I had my first appointment two weeks ago. He numbed my right
side with 5 agonizing shots of novocaine and then went to work digging and
scaling that evil plaque bacteria.
"All done," he announced after over an hour of
digging. "Now here's a couple of instruments you can use at home to
insure success in the future."
He handed me a pointy thing on a stick and a miniscule brush
on a stick and told me to use both between my teeth for at least 15
minutes a night. Then he showed me how to do it.
I wasn't sure whether to admire his passion or question his
sanity. The chances of me spending 15 minutes every night digging into my
gums was zero. Like 99% of his patients, I hadn't got past lying about how
many times a week I floss.
Nevertheless, I tried. I went home that night and dug that
little wire brush into the space between my back teeth, pulled it out,
looked at the mangled wires, and threw it in the garbage. Same with the
other diabolical instrument he wanted me to use.
The appointment for my left side is in a couple of weeks. I'm
going to tell him he'd better dig deep, because the home care solution is
not going to happen, other than an increased awareness of regular
flossing, which is probably what he had in mind all along.
It seems like a sinister way to get someone to floss
more, but it worked. No one said dentists aren't smart.