The Art of Dental Burlesque

In two weeks, Holly and I are taking our fishing trip to Nicaragua. This trip is guided by three simple questions: Why fishing? Why Nicaragua? Why not?

In preparation for this trip, I must see a number of health professionals. It is as if my body is a vehicle and I have to have it tuned up so I can feel safe taking it on long rides. Last week, I had the inside of my head vaccumed clean. This week, I spent a long day in Long Island, facing my ultimate childhood fear–needles.

I went to the dentist. I went to the doctor. There were needles waiting for me at every turn.

My dentist’s name is Lou Smoler. Say that fast and it’s “loose molar.” Really. He’s a very pleasant guy. His office is full of pictures of his yacht. After yesterday’s visit, I no longer wonder where he got the money to buy the yacht or how he finds the time to enjoy it.

It’s a little hard to read, but that’s $447.50.

Lou Smoler, D.M.D. prodded each tooth with the pointy fishook device, sending that unpleasant jolt up the nerve and into my ear. You can either allow each dig of the tool to flip your head up a little bit or you can tense up your neck and keep it still. Plink, plink, plink–he scraped along, satisfied, until the very last tooth, the farthest molar on the top left. The pointy device sank in a little. He wiggled it around. It wobbled ominously. The eyebrows over the surgical mask raised up and then furrowed. The tiny spelunking light clipped to the top of the glasses grew momentarily brigher as he peered into my mouth. Then he shot back on his stool and stopped on a dime at his little cart of instruments. He picked up the little manila envelope with my dental records in it and started a new line. Just seeing my dental records makes me nervous, since the phrase, “dental records” has such morbid connotations.

“You’ve got a cavity,” said Lou Smoler.

“But I’ve never had a cavity,” I said.

“Well, the people in the cemetary were never dead before,” said Dr. Smoler.

“I’m disappointed,” I said. “I really try.”

“Don’t worry,” Dr. Smoler reassured me. “It’s in a wisdom tooth. They’re very hard to reach and the grooves in your teeth are exceptionally deep.”

Dr. Smoler has always made me feel special. When I was sixteen and inquired about bleaching my yellowish teeth, he said sternly. “Now, Emily, you are a swarthy girl. You have a swarthy complexion and ivory-colored teeth that match it. You don’t need to have your teeth bleached.” Thinking he meant I looked like a pirate, I was horrified. But later on, when I looked up “swarthy” in the dictionary, I found out that it only means “dark-skinned.” I was not bothered by this at all, though I did notice that many people much darker-skinned than I had much whiter teeth, and that Dr. Smoler’s correlation of skin color with tooth color was bogus. But I still always took it as a sign of integrity that he did not capitalize on an opportunity to make money off the insecurity of teenaged girls. I wish I could say the same for myself. I make most of my money off the insecurity of teenaged girls. Now I don’t care about how white my teeth are. I like coffee and red wine too much to care about shit like that.

I watched the anxious knowledge that I had a cavity and would soon receive a Novacaine injection move through me. “How interesting,” I thought. “If I was a little kid, I’d be freaking out right now. I’d be terrified. But I’m a grownup. It would be ridiculous if I cried and ran away. And I don’t even want to cry and run away. I want to take care of my teeth so they’ll take care of me. I understand that if I didn’t get this cavity filled now, it might turn into an abcess and then I would need root canal, one of those unpleasant things that happened to adults like “an audit” or “a divorce.” When I was little, I knew it was bad news to get a root canal, an audit, or a divorce. But there is also the shame of having a cavity. With all that dental hygiene they ram down your throat they make cavities seem like sins. But at least I’m not scared of the injection. What would I even be scared of? A little pinch? It’s just a little pinch. I never believed them before when they said it was just a little pinch. My terror itself elevated the little pinch to the level where in my mind, if not in my nerves, the little pinch was terribly painful. I was afraid of pain, and my imagination made that pain more real. I know it will be over very soon and I can just breathe through it.”

Dr. Smoler rolled back into view. I noticed he was concealing something in his gloved hand. I craned my neck to get a better look at his hand and he instinctively turned his body so I couldn’t see it. “Isn’t that clever,” I thought. “He has this whole set of skills that enable him to hide that especially scary metal syringe that dentists use. But I know it’s there. It’s like the art of the burlesque. What he conceals becomes even more important than if he would just reveal it.”

“Now open,” commanded Dr. Smoler.

“What about the topical?” I pleaded. “Don’t I need topical?”

“You don’t need topical with my technique,” said Dr. Smoler. “I’ll be in and out of your mouth in a quarter of a second.”

Somehow, while he said this, Dr. Smoler managed to lift up my upper lip and jab me with the needle. Maybe. I couldn’t tell.

“Was that it?” I said.

“That’s it for what you’ll feel,” said Dr. Smoler. “I inject a tiny bit to numb you up so when I inject the rest you can’t feel it.”

“That’s great,” I said. “It really works.” I appreciate good workmanship, good technique. I hate cabdrivers who don’t know all the streets, postmen who jam the mail in the mailbox. I like it when someone takes the time to find the best way to do things. Humankind doesn’t leap forward by leaps and bounds. Atomic bombs and computer chips are nothing compared to minor adjustments to important details.

Dr. Smoler filled my cavity. He ground down the corner of a different molar that had broken off. He took some X-rays and put them in my ominous dental records. He told me I didn’t need to have my wisdom teeth out. I was relieved, because I suddenly remembered he had told me to have them out two years ago and I never remembered to make an appointment. I would remember every time someone would say, “Percoset,” but then I would forget again. The hygienst cleaned my teeth, talking compulsively the whole time. I collected my goodie bag and went to buy something I could eat with the 3/4 of my mouth that wasn’t numb.

Later that day, I saw the regular doctor. I asked her for a tetanus booster and a blood test. Again, words I feared when I was a child. I still remember playing in the living room and hearing my mother in the kitchen, on the phone with the doctor’s office. “I need to make an appointment for Emily to get her BOOSTER SHOT,” I would hear. My ears would prick up at the word “booster.” It was only a matter of time, I knew, until they’d get me. Even when I was a baby, my mom said, I would cry in the car all the way to the doctor’s office, as if I knew that’s where we were going. When I got older, I had allergies and strep throats and chronic ear infections. My parents took me to a special allergy clinic where they eventually cured my allergies. But the first time I went, I was concerned that the doctor might draw blood from anywhere. My parents told me the doctor was going to try to find out why I was sick so much. If I was sick in my ears, I surmised, he might put a needle in there. So I wore a turtleneck and pulled it up over my ears. I pulled it down over my wrists and held the fabric in my fingers. They got me anyway. I am very thankful. I can frolic in meadows of fresh-cut grass and wildflowers and eat a lot of cheese now.

Now, I was walking willingly into the doctor’s office to get jabbed with needles. And jab they did. It hurt, but not much. I watched the blood flow out of the butterfly needle into the test tube. “There it is,” I said to the nurse. “All my secrets are in there.”

“Yeah,” she said. “You got tiny veins.”

One Response to “The Art of Dental Burlesque”
  1. deputy says:

    Thanks for another informative website. Where else may I am getting that kind of info written in such a perfect approach?

    I have a venture that I’m just now operating on, and I have
    been at the look out for such info.

Leave A Comment