Yesterday I was talking with my younger sister on the phone and somehow the conversation wandered through a discussion of dentistry. This reminded me of something that happened many, many years ago.
I was 17 and my younger sister was 15. My father had sent both of us to the dentist for check-ups and so I could have one previously known cavity filled. I was a new driver and was more than happy to take my sister (along with a blank check from my dad) to the dentist about 15 miles away.
Her appointment was first and like usual, she breezed through it with no problems. My appointment, the last one scheduled for the day, started at 4:00. Tooth #19 had been filled at least twice before and each time, it was progressively worse. The dentist looked it over and remarked that he thought there was enough there to fill it one more time.
Since it was in such bad shape, he prepared a shot of Novocaine, and I remarked that I had never had Novocaine for a filling before. He gave me a curious stare and asked how that was possible, considering the number of fillings I already had. What he did not know was that our family used to go to another dentist, whose techniques were straight out of the early 1900s and his chair barely newer than that.
So in goes the needle and the dentist leaves the room saying “I’ll be back in a few minutes, after that takes effect“. When he returned he asked how I was doing and I replied “No difference“. Another curious look from him and he decides to give me a second shot. Off he goes, probably to chit-chat with his wife, who was also his assistant, waiting in the front office. Again a few minutes goes by and he returns to check on me, only to find me with still no change from the shots. “Does your face feel fat and rubbery?” he asked and I assured him “No, no difference“. He mumbled something about “Maybe I missed the nerve” and he gave me, you guessed it, a THIRD shot, which… you guessed it, had no effect.
So now it’s 4:45, and after finding the 3rd shot had no effect, the dentist asked “What do you want to do?“, to which I replied “Go ahead and drill, it’ll be just like the old days“.
He leaned the chair back, and since his wife/assistant was busy up front closing out the books, he placed a large tray with all of his tools across my lap and asked me to hold on to it. I’m sure he thought I was going to “help” by holding the tray within his reach, but I’m not sure if he had anticipated the tray being a replacement “bullet to bite on”, though that was what it ended up being. As he drilled, I twisted the tray diagonally, to the point of the tools sliding towards the center crease. When he was done and the new filling was installed, he lifted the tray from my grip and commented “You’re one tough guy!“. I thanked him as I stood up and walked out of the room.
As I stepped back into the waiting room, my sister gave me a leering look that instantly said “What the hell took so long?“. Pulling out my father’s blank check, I turned to the counter where the assistant was sitting and I tried to say “How much will that be?“, but all of a sudden, 3 shots of Novocaine all came rushing in. My face went numb, my left eye swelled shut, and all I could mumble was something that sounded like Sylvester the Cat rapping “Howlth muth wbill blat blee?” The dentist looked at me and said “Where did that come from?“, because he knew what had happened. My sister added “Can you drive?” and I replied “I thope tho, brecause youb can’t!”
The ride home was somewhat challenging, but uneventful. But the story of tooth #19 doesn’t stop there.
Years later, when I was working at a Dodge dealership, and tooth #19 was acting up again. I had switched to another dentist years before (let’s call him Dentist #2), but he was not in the “preferred network” that the dealership’s dental insurance used as their primary care providers. I made an appointment with one preferred dentist and his assessment of the problem was “You need a root canal and a cap… $850“. I was stunned, so I made another appointment with another of their “preferred dentists” and his assessment was nearly the same… “Root canal, $1050“. It was plain to see (1) the pricing was going in the wrong direction, possibly because word was spread around within the “preferred network”, and (2) my dental insurance sucked.
Since my finances did not allow for this expenditure, I made an appointment with Dentist #2. His assessment was the same, so I asked him how much it would cost to just pull the tooth. He gave me a ration of shit including “You’re too young to be loosing teeth at this age” and “Your orthodontist is one flight down, what would he think?“, both of which are valid arguments from a dentist’s perspective, but obviously worthless from mine. I asked again “How much to pull it?” and he said “50 bucks“. I gave him a nod of approval and he started to prepare a needle full of…. you guessed it…. Novocaine. I quickly relayed the history of tooth #19 and he nodded and grinned as he gave me the shot. Within a few moments, my heart started beating harder than I had ever experienced before. BOOM… BOOM… BOOM! Every pulse seemed to build upon the last in an ever increasing fervor. I gripped the armrest and loudly exclaimed “DOC! I THINK I’M HAVING A HEART ATTACK!” He just grinned and quietly replied “I mixed it with epinephrine; makes it -GO- faster“. A few seconds later, my left jaw went fully numb, he pulled the tooth, and I was quite happy all around.
I’ve told this tale to many dentists, assistants and hygienists in the decades since it happened and they all say the same thing – “Rinse and spit please!“