Dread in the dentist’s chair
June 28, 2010
by Ivan Raconteur

I believe I understand what a northern pike feels like when he is swimming along looking for some dinner and suddenly finds himself yanked from the sky blue waters of a Minnesota lake by a treble hook attached to the business end of a Rapala.

Some people say the fish don’t feel the hook. These are probably the same people who say it doesn’t hurt when one goes to the dentist, and I don’t believe them in either case.

Now, I am not suggesting that these people would prevaricate in a deliberate attempt to mislead us. I am just saying they may be a bit confused.

I haven’t actually had the experience of finding a Rapala impaled in my cheek, but I just returned from the dentist, and I am convinced that the two experiences are similar.

I don’t believe for a minute that dentists and other dental professionals are monsters or meanies. I doubt that they enjoy inflicting pain on their patients. Most of them are probably decent, caring people who treat their spouses and children well and do good works in their communities.

I suspect they are hard-working individuals doing difficult jobs.

The fact that the jobs they do bear a marked resemblance to the light entertainment that was popular during the Spanish Inquisition is an unfortunate coincidence.

Dentists and I got off to a bad start.

My first dentist was Black Jack Kowalski, the Sadist of Central Avenue. I remember desperately clutching at my mother’s apron strings as they dragged me off to his despicable lair.

The instruments of evil in that awful place resembled the trappings of a rather seedy medieval torture chamber. Edgar Allan Poe was his interior decorator.

Once he got a victim into his chair, he would commit unspeakable acts of violence using his antique collection of iron hooks, spikes, and rasps, all of which were designed to inflict the maximum amount of pain.

Then, he would fire up his primitive drill. To this day, it makes my flesh crawl to hear a power tool that approximates the high-pitched wine of that horrible machine.

Dentistry has come a long way since those barbaric days, but my early experiences scarred me for life. Even now, I go to the dentist with a sense of foreboding, and I am seldom disappointed.

To their credit, modern dentists do try to make us more comfortable. They often paint their offices in soothing colors, and some have added aquariums stocked with tropical fish to put patients at ease.

Others offer video screens and earphones to distract patients with music or movies.

Nevertheless, a visit to the dentist can still be a traumatic experience. I am starting to think those dentists who give their patients drugs to completely knock them out during appointments are on the right track.

As a rule, I do not advocate drug abuse, but in the case of dental visits, I am willing to make an exception.

I have a healthy aversion to pain, and if drugs will help me to get through an appointment in a pain-free fashion, I encourage dentists to bring on all the drugs they have got. I might finish as a hopeless addict, but at least I will be relatively comfortable.

Most dental professionals that I have met demonstrate a delightful sense of humor. Understatement is an established comedic device, and no one does it better than dentists and hygienists.

With a straight face, they look up from wielding their tools of torture to utter hilarious lines, such as “That seems a bit sensitive.”

Remarks like this usually come just after they jab a sharp metal implement deep into the soft tissue of one’s mouth.

This can give us an idea of what Moby Dick might have experienced when Queequeg put forth his best effort with his trusty harpoon.

I am generally unable to reply to those little gems, due to the fact that my mouth is usually full of fingers and assorted hardware at the time.

If I were able to reply, I would probably say something like “Sensitive? Flaming agony is more like it! What was your first flipping clue? The fact that I am standing on my head (no easy feat for a big man) and gripping the arms of the chair so tightly that my knuckles are white and my fingerprints are permanently imprinted in the metal?”

I would say something like that, but of course, I don’t. I am too busy trying to use mental telepathy to transport myself to a happier place.

I have also though of asking to borrow the spike so I could jab it into my assailant’s gums down to the jawbone, to see if he finds it a trifle sensitive.

When they get to probing around with those tools of terror, it seems like they are deliberately trying to find the most painful spot to attack.

That is the way it feels on the receiving end, anyway.

The pain doesn’t end when the appointment is over, either.

Not only does one leave the office with a mouth that feels like a well-used pincushion, but one often emerges into daylight with an acute pain in the general vicinity of one’s wallet.

I am not sure if it is because they are not good at math, or because they just prefer round numbers, but dentists seem to think almost exclusively in increments of $1,000, which means the pain of a visit can linger for weeks or months to come.

We are told that dental hygiene and regular dental care are important to our overall health, and I will continue to go to the dentist when necessary.

That doesn’t mean I am going to like it.