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 dentist.
   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 already.
   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 ominous sound.
   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 periodontal disease."
   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.
 

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