We are referring, of course, to the little suction deal that dentists hang in the side of your mouth to pull out saliva and bruise the skin on the inside of your cheek where it gets stuck while they insert four fingers and a power saw into your mouth and ask you how your day is going. We would never say anything negative about dentists or make over-generalizations about any group. We learned our lesson from the Seinfeld anti-dentite episode.
Still, very few experiences are as painful and require quicker relief than a tooth problem; and very few professions have less of a sense of urgency than dentistry. I am convinced that my eventual cause of death will be a tooth infection. “He should have gone to the dentist,” someone will say at my funeral. “Ha,” I’ll scream from the magical cloud from which dead grandparents watch soccer games. My cries for help usually go like this:
ME: I broke a tooth, and I think I’m infected.
DENTIST’S OFFICE: Yes, we can schedule you for a cleaning, x-rays, and a check-up right away, three weeks from tomorrow.
ME: But I really just need this tooth fixed right away. It is quite painful.
DO: Boy, that sounds bad. When was your last visit?
ME: I’m more interested in my next. I don’t know, maybe a few years ago.
DO: You should really come in more regularly.
ME: Yes, I should. I broke my tooth flossing, by the way, so don’t recommend that, too.
DO: It shows in our records that you were last here in 2015. You’re now a new patient. You’ll have to get x-rays and a check-up before we can take care of your problem.
ME: There’s no way to get help now? I think my brain is about to be infected. I feel it shutting down.
DO: Ha ha. I suppose you could go to our emergency clinic.
ME: OK. I’ll go there. Where is that?
DO: It’s in our office. Walk-in starts at 7:00 A.M, but I have to warn you, we’re booked up with emergency appointments, so you won’t get to see anyone if you walk in.
ME: Can I make an emergency appointment then?
DO: Yes, of course. We’ll need to do x-rays and a cleaning first, though. I can get you in right away, three weeks from Friday.
And so it goes. After too much suffering and a quick $200 trip to the regular doctoring clinic to get drugs to relieve some of the stress of having an infection creeping toward your heart, plus three tubes of tooth-pain-be-gone and a sad attempt at installing a home-repair version of a filling, you finally get to see a dentist. After a consultation, you are prescribed antibiotics since “we can’t do a root canal on that; it’s too infected.”
Your insurance is then checked and a bill is fashioned that always equals your maximum annual insurance amount plus $750. Always.