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Dental Perspective

Today I went to the dentist for a cleaning. As is my nature, when the polite hygienist asked me "how it was going" with my braces, I didn't...uh...hold back: "I hate them." She looked surprised, concerned even: "Oh! Are you having problems with them?" My gaze was steady. "No. No problems. I just hate them, the way they feel, the extra work they require, and then there's that pesky aspect of them making me look like I'm 12 years old when I'm in the process of establishing myself at a new job and meeting people who assume I'm the Doogie Howser of the business world, and then snicker about it to all of their co-workers who look like actual adults. So, I'm not entirely happy about the whole braces THANG."

"OH. I, um... see." Then, glad to have a legitimate reason to tell me to stop talking, she gestured to the chair and prepared to use one of her scary torture devices to scrape and poke around the softest, most sensitive tissue in my mouth, which happened to be surrounded by lots of metal blockades and wires, making her job much, much more difficult. And therefore causing it to take much, much longer. She didn't hold my braces bitterness against me, though, and chose to continue our thrilling conversation while she scraped and scraped, probably while her hand was cramping from the effort: "Well, you know, your teeth are looking great! You keep them so clean! You'll be so glad you got the braces!" Do they say this to everyone? Do they tell everyone that they're impressed with their dental hygiene while hypocritically spending AN HOUR scraping build-up off of those very same "clean" teeth?? Every time I go, they tell me how impressed they are with my amazingly clean teeth and healthy gums. Before I had braces, they were blown away that I could actually manage to floss around the train wreck that was my bottom middle teeth; now that the braces have (for the most part) straightened those monstrosities, they are proud of the fact that I take the time to THREAD THE FLOSS THROUGH THE WIRES EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. (You know, I'm kind of impressed by this, too, now that I think about it.)

While I was lying there with my mouth open, allowing Polite Hygienist to wield sharp objects around my pink, healthy, vulnerably exposed gums, I was thinking God I wish I could talk right now so I could tell her, YES, YES, I KNOW I'll be happy I got the braces ONCE THEY'RE OFF! It's RIGHT NOW that I hate them, don't you understand!? RIGHT NOW!!! But because Polite Hygienist was busy scraping, scraping, scraping away on my INCREDIBLY CLEAN TEETH OHMYGOD THESE ARE SO CLEAN YOU'RE JUST AMAZING!, I couldn't say that. I was forced to listen to the dentist talking in the room next to me. Here is what I heard:

Dentist: I looked at your x-rays, and I don't see how we can save these top four. And the bottom ones don't look much better.

Frail Old Patient: Yeah, I know.

Dentist: I looked at the x-rays you had done in 2001, then in 2003, and compared them to today's. The deterioration is very rapid.

Frail Old Patient: Oh.

Dentist: I'm going to come on your right side so you can hear me better. Do you hear better out of your right side?

Frail Old Patient: Yes. Thank you.

Dentist: Sometimes as we age, it becomes harder for us to care for our teeth well. We don't have the dexterity we need to brush and floss, and the build-up causes rapid decay.

Frail Old Patient: ......

Dentist: We'll have to take the teeth out.

Frail Old Patient: Is there any option besides dentures?

Dentist: There are implants, but I'd like to get the teeth out, make some dentures for you, have them ready the day your teeth are removed, and let you try them for a month or two.

Frail Old Patient: Oh. Okay...

Dentist: There is a surgeon in this building, I've sent my wife and my mother to him -- he'll take good care of you, and then I will be there to make sure your dentures fit before you even leave.

At about this point, Polite Hygienist finished scraping and polishing my teeth, and I had an opportunity to talk. "You know," I said, "the braces don't bother me as much as they used to. "

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