Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Dentalists

Big has FIVE cavities. Five. They all appeared within the last twelve months, so I can assume that she either has a stash of Swedish Fish under her pillow or has been secretly doing meth up in her room while she was supposed to be reading "Little House on the Prairie". Aside from the incredible expense and anxiety surrounding a whole lot of cavities, the news brought back fun filled memories of the  decay filled dental wanderings of my youth.
The first dentist that I can remember looked just like a ginger haired Grizzly Adams.  He was sort of a  combo of Dan Haggerty and his co star, the giant bear. I will call him Doctor Meanie. I  saw him a lot- since I must have never brushed my teeth-and he drilled seven holes in my head over a period of five years, which meant at least two shots of Novocaine per cavity in my head and countless hours spent half asleep lying in the chair with him hunched over me, wild haired and wild eyed,growling "open......OPEN......keep it OPEN..".
When I got older and moved to another state, I went to Dr. Shaky, who was in his seventies and likely ancient by dental standards. I'm no ageist, but  his drill holding hand shook fairly significantly. He inevitably nicked a nerve whilst trying to replace a Dr Meanie filling.  I was in excruciating pain for a couple of days until it was decided that I had to get a root canal. I was seventeen, and I needed a specialist. I was referred to Dr. Pudgy and Nondescript  across town who did the root canal for seven hundred dollars. He  wisely suggested I not return to Dr. Shaky, unless I wanted a few more root canals before I could legally vote.
I moved to LA that summer.It was 1987.  Before long, my molars swelled up in the back. I went to Doctor Fuzzy Face for removal of my wisdom teeth. They put me to sleep for the procedure. All I remember is crying when I woke up and feeling really embarrassed about it.
I moved east and found Dr. Hedgehog, who was a nice lady up on Silverlake Blvd. She looked uncannily like her namesake. She gave me a silver crown and seemed competent but for some unknown reason, I kept looking. She was followed by Dr. LA Weekly Coupon and Dr. Amazing Long Lasting Bonding whose bonding of my Shannon Dougherty like tooth gap lasted almost as long as my acting career.
Dentists are a strange bunch, kind of like magicians- there is something inexplicably fucking bizarre about them. I was desperate to  find the right one.  I came close: Dr. La Weekly Coupon was a purely economical choice, but her regular rates after the first visit were cost prohibitive. Dr Amazing Long Lasting Bonding was not on my insurance plan, so after paying out of pocket for some incredibly durable bonding,  I found a guy in Beverly Hills that accepted my insurance: Dr. Lecherous and Son. They had an office on an upper floor of a well known medical building on Roxbury, but when the elevator doors opened,  the entire floor was under construction. There were bare primed walls, painters tape galore and the office door had a hand written number taped to it. Despite the "I'd turn back if I were you" sign blinking in my head, I went in and was hurried into an archaic dental office with machines from Dr Meanie's era. Dr Lecherous' resemblance to Zell from Marathon Man would have been the deal breaker if Son hadn't beat him to the punch when he loomed over me in the chair like I was some sort of specimen and hissed "Mmmm... You are quite beeyoootifulllll!". His father shooed him away, and I was instantly reminded of Dracula's minion Renfield and his appetite for bugs, spiders, birds and whatever else he could get his hands on.  The Son peered over his father's shoulder while he cleaned my teeth making odd guttural noises. I fled from the office as soon as I could, my blood stained bib still attached.

The next dental discovery was Dr. Seems Like a Serial Killer and his wife, Miss I Cook the Books. He was just about the oddest person I'd ever met, prone to gazing off mid sentence and turning beet red for no apparent reason, the vein in his forehead bulging out simultaneously. He also had the unnerving habit of talking with the scraping instrument poised over my face, so each gesture would cause it to sway and dip precariously close to my eyes and nose. However, the upside was that he was extremely skilled and pretty much pain free in his technique. Oh, and he and his wife managed to get me as much free bonding as a gal could ever want, even though it wasn't covered by insurance. My insurance company must have thought that my mouth was a sewer with all the "deep scaling" going on. I was young, dumb, broke and vainly trying to make it in the land of Chiclet teeth, so I took what I could get. Miss I Cook the Books would "make it work" and tell me "not to worry about it", with an ominous  cackle while Mr. Seems Like a Serial Killer would say things like "She does work her magic!." which meant "when we get arrested for insurance fraud, she will be going to prison, and I will be going to Aruba". I stayed with the practice for a few years until my future husband paid them an emergency visit and came home looking spooked. He couldn't really say why, but he urged me to keep looking.
I decided to go back to the beginning. I went in search of the guy whose bonding had lasted so long and remembered his name wrong. It was the same neighborhood, but I inadvertently ended up in the chair of Dr. I Hate My Life, the most lugubrious individual I have ever encountered, who behaved as if  the very act of looking into my open mouth might make him vomit or blow his brains out. As he did the initial exam, he impatiently called out numbers for the corresponding teeth, but never told me what the numbers meant:
" two......one.......three.....one.....one..two...".. I didn't bother to ask since I had no plans to return, but it stayed with me- are my teeth really that bad?
I left his office, vowing never to return,  and there, across the street was the shingle with Dr. Amazing Long Lasting Bondings' name on it. Back to the beginning, Vezzini!. Of course Dr. Amazing Long Lasting Bonding still had the cute bungalow with the fish tank. Of course he did, because he was as amazing as his long lasting bonding.  I made an appointment, arrived early, practically giddy with the anticipation of a normal dental experience. I was greeted by a glossy coiffed woman in a white lab coat with incredibly shiny lips and a clip board. She escorted me into an office and sat me in the chair. There was an enormous flat screen TV,which later showed the inside of my mouth in HD, but not before the glossy woman did an impromptu presentation about some sort of groundbreaking veneer procedure that "only" cost nine hundred per tooth. I listened, crestfallen, wondering what had happened to my homey approachable Dr Amazing Long Lasting Bonding? He breezed in about twenty minutes later- older, fatter and balder to check my older, fatter and more decayed mouth. He was disappointingly nonplussed that his amazing long lasting bonding had brought me back to him some fifteen years later. He had clearly moved on into the 21st century and I was still in 1993.  He suggested a few expensive unnecessary cosmetic procedures and had them take some x-rays with a high tech camera. Glossy coiffed woman escorted me out, her lips reflecting the light like the Spoon Diamond of Topkapi Palace.
I kept looking.
In the meantime, Husband was referred to Dr. Old School, whose offices were a ringer for Dr. Lecherous and Son, but he was a delight. He did tell Husband that flossing was overrated, though, and his clientele was a bizarre combo of won't look you in the eye Orthodox Jews and mentally unstable people, by virtue of the fact that he shared a suite with a mental health professional. I went to him in excruciating pain, eight and a half months pregnant. Some sort of lightning was striking about every six seconds inside my jaw and no matter how many people said it was a great precursor to labor, in retrospect, it hurt worse. Dr. Old School looked worried. He took a reluctant, blurred x-ray and determined that Dr. Shaky's error has reared its ancient head and need to be re- rooted tout suite. Naturally, I'd need a specialist, so he sent me to Dr. Snooty Velvet Paws  just down the block from  Dr. Lecherous and Sons in Beverly Hills. He was young, slick,  very well coiffed, and very  condescending, but because I was about to deliver my baby any second, he was "respectfull", despite the gnawing feeling I had that my very pregnant existence repulsed him. Three shots of Lidocaine later he gave me perhaps the most amazing root canal I have ever had. Pain free and with finesse. He applied a temporary filling, and  I was instructed buy his buxom secretary to return two weeks later to get the permanent crown put on. I delivered my baby a week later and was instructed by my pediatrician not to leave the house for the next month. Literally, do not go outside except for wellness visits for the baby. I tried to abide by this but Dr Snooty Velvet Paws had been clear- two weeks. Yes, I pushed it- almost three, and arrived- exhausted, engorged, depressed-for my root canal. How mean was life right then? He took a look and made some tsk tsk noises and broke the news to me that I'd waited too long, and I'd be needing another root canal (for another 1500 bucks). I sobbed all the way down the elevator and called my husband, blubbering. Seriously? My husband called  Dr. Old School, who was was furious and called Snooty Velvet Paws to ask for a little understanding. After an outright hostile second look peppered with mutterings about Dr. Old School being old school, Dr. Snooty Velvet Paws decided that the seal was in fact viable and that he just needed to charge me five hundred dollars to fill it in....possibly to explode with infection down the road? Not his problem, clearly, and so, far not mine either.
Needless to say, I kept looking.
Then the clouds parted and the dental storm subsided- friends referred us to Dr. I Can't Believe He's a Dentist. He was so approachable-normal even-with a nice, friendly,non- cackling, non- insurance fraud committing staff. He recommended I have some maintenance work done but nothing cosmetic or unnecessary.  I kept waiting for the weird to show itself but it never did. I kept waiting for the ridiculously expensive recommendation to roll in, but it hasn't yet. When I foolishly removed my ancient crown with a Coffee Nip, he replaced it with a stern warning as opposed to talking me into a whole new set of veneers and state of the art crown. He might be a Republican, though it's unconfirmed,  but I can live with that. I'm overdue for my next check up, in fact, and I'm downright excited to go in. How weird is that?