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Hooking and Scaling: The Tale of Modern Torture

The thing to remember about dentists can best be summed up in the words of Bill Cosby: “Dentists tell you not to pick at your teeth with any sharp metal objects. Then, you sit in their chair and the first thing they grab is an iron hook.” I recently spent four mornings sitting in a dentist’s chair and I have had several hooks picking at my teeth under the guise of good dental heath. To say this was not a pleasant experience is like saying the biblical 40-day flood was a light, spring shower.

Like most people, my mother admonished me to always brush my teeth while I was growing up and like most people, I let those admonishments fall on deaf ears until fresh breath became important to me in my teen years. It is worth noting that girls seem to have a dental hygiene preference when deciding who to kiss. I now ensure I brush everyday with my Colgate Spinbrush and have done so for decades. I recall a dentist once commenting how strong my teeth were when I was younger. In fact, the only dental work I ever had was after I smashed a tooth that necessitated a root canal and a post and crown.

About ten years ago, I went to the dentist for a checkup and cleaning, since it had been several years since my last visit and the hygienist refused to clean my teeth until I had a “scaling” performed. For the uninitiated, a scaling is where they attack the teeth and gums with that iron hook, scraping a concrete-like substance called tartar off the enamel. This substance provides a growth environment for tooth decay and forms in areas typically missed by brushing alone. Unfortunately, my insurance would not pay for the scaling procedure and it would have cost more than $200, which, at the time, was more than I had. I also figured if the insurance wouldn’t cover it, it must not be too important, because clearly the insurance company had my best interests in mind. I went to two more dentists and was told the same thing. They would not clean my teeth without my first agreeing to the scaling. Sounded like a racket to me, so I increased the time I spent brushing to compensate. Because nylon bristles are clearly every bit as effective as metal hooks at scraping concrete off teeth.

I broke a tooth recently and needed a crown, so I went back to the dentist to have it done and the hygienist once again recommended the scaling. When I said my insurance won’t cover it, I was informed that now they do. So I did. During the exam, it was also discovered that I had several cavities that needed attention. So, what I expected to be two visits—one for the impression and temporary crown and one for the permanent crown—became four visits. They don’t like to do the entire scaling in one sitting (and I agree with them on this) so I had to make several visits.

For about four hours per visit, I reclined in the admittedly not-uncomfortable chair while the elasticity of my jaw muscles was sorely tested and I regularly fought with the suction tube in order not to drown. All the while, a procession of metal hooks traumatized my over-stretched mouth accompanied by two different drills, a couple of needles, and a glowing LED light wand. This, I presume, was a light saber to get the tartar the hooks couldn’t coax off my teeth. Fortunately, the anesthetic did its job and I felt no excruciating pain, though the sensation of that hook scraping along the gum line was akin to fingernails on a chalkboard and the feeling of the drill vibrating through my jaw was worse than the aftermath of a right hook. Lest I forget to mention the worst part, it was most difficult to remain still while the dentist rammed a foot-long needle through my skull into the chair behind me and left it there for a year while I tried to remember how to breathe. Then she slowly squeezed fire through that needle into my mouth. Fortunately, the Marcane worked fairly quickly and I felt my cheeks and tongue grow to five times their normal size as the nerves became deadened.

I found out that the anesthetic they use lasts four hours. I had to endure four days with an anesthetized mouth for four hours each day. I also found that during those four hours, talking becomes problematic and eating becomes dangerous. You never realize just how much your tongue moves when you eat until it doesn’t. My tongue now has battle scars from lunch.

It was great relief when I drove away after the final scaling and cavity filling visit, knowing I shouldn’t have to repeat that process for some time. The only thing that remained to be done is to attach the permanent crown when it comes in. Then, during a trek to Dallas this week, one of my brand new fillings decided to vacate its post, leaving an annoying hole in my rear molar. This means another trip to the dentist’s chair and another battle with the iron hook. At least it won’t involve scraping tartar this time, though I might wait until dinnertime before I try to eat anything.

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