Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Four Stages of Grief and a Dentist

 I’m obsessed with my teeth.

I was one of those lucky kids who never had braces because I never needed them, and so while my classmates struggled with metal clad grins in high school I got all the compliments about my pretty teeth.  I became very vain about that feature, thoughI was as neurotic as every other teenager about everything else.

I didn’t get my first cavity until I was in my late twenties, and when my dentist, whom I'll call Dr  A. gave me the news I asked for a second opinion like a dentist might be wrong about a cavity or that a cavity needed the same medical considerations and treatment as cancer.   

It took my mother the better part of a six hour drive to convince me that Dr. A was not, in fact,  some kind of dental hack who enjoyed giving unsuspecting twenty-somethings devastating news about their teeth, and that really, honey, the news of a cavity was not in fact devastating.  Cause for concern, but not devastating.  

So a couple months ago, a different dentist told me that I had a filling that had come loose and the cavity beneath it was so bad and my teeth so small, that I’d probably need a root canal and a crown.  That’s was a lot to take in, and it was not  Dr. A, whom my mother and my Google stalking had convinced me wasn't actually a hack, telling me this but this other supposed  dentist. 

Who was this guy?

When I questioned that dentist about what came next, he did what any good stand-in dentist would do. He told me, “ Dr A will have that conversation with you.”

On the car ride home from that appointment, my poor mother got the first few runs on how I envisioned THAT conversation with Dr  A. was going to happen.  

Looking back, I was clearly in denial. 

I realize now that in the following months I went through all the stages of grief over the news of the impending mercy killing of my little pre molar.

Next, I got angry.

Angry at the tooth for being so horribly weak that it got sick.
At myself for not only eating pure organic non sugary foods from very moment of birth.
At my entire ancestry for giving me the good genes for pretty teeth but lousy genes when it came to strong teeth.    

Later I moved into depression.

I would attempt to look at the tooth and its sorry little silhouette as I brushed my teeth, trying to memorize how it looked, knowing that someday soon it would be gone and I would only have these precious memories to remind me of the thirty something years we’d spent together. I can be annoyingly sentimental, especially if I allow it to happen, and in this situation I just wrapped myself in it like a big depressing blanket. 

It was with heavy heart that I began the journey to the dentist that I knew very well might be the last for the little guy I’d known for so long.

It turns out Dr. A  is a pretty persuasive guy, who basically never gave me much of a chance to argue or convince him that all of his dental training was simply no match for my sheer force of will.  
He bluntly and simply told me that the other dentists hypothesis regarding my tooth was correct, and that there was a 70% chance that my little molar was doomed.  

(insert sinking feeling here) 

Still, I held on to that remaining 30 percent chance for my tooth's survival in the same way that Jim Carrey’s character believed that “one in a million” was actually  “a chance” in Dumb and Dumber

I sat in that chair and prayed to the Baby Dentist Jesus--because I couldn't for the life of me remember which Saint was the Patron Saint of Dentists--- that  I would just need a regular old filling.

Alas, it was not to be and  I had very little time to move into the acceptance phase of grief, because in a matter of seconds, I was informed that not only did the “toothenasia” as I had termed it, need to happen, but that it was actually starting immediately.

And you know what, you really can’t cry with all those dental accessories in your mouth, or  wipe your tear-filled eyes with the safety glasses, the light, the assistant, the dentist and all their arms and hands and movement between your own hands and your eyes.   

Also, I knew my face would be numb and distorted already, and if I were to cry, I'd have tear smeared eye makeup. The image of my own  post dentist appointment face all saggy and streaked was too pathetic for my taste. 

I made the snap decision not to, but I really, really wanted to cry.   

Plus, Dr A. was physically moving forward with the work on my tooth, and had also already moved on to more positive things in our largely one way conversation, so my mind ultimately went elsewhere.  He's pretty much the best one way conversationalist I've ever met.  As he worked and talked, I wondered if they taught that in Dentist school or it's something he had to pick up over the years when sitting in another room with a person who can't talk because his hands are their mouth.  

Then I started  thinking about how his job in many ways is as weird as mine. I have to stand in small rooms and dress naked people I don't know, some with questionable hygiene practices.  Dr A has to sit in small rooms and put his hands in the mouths of people he doesn't know, some who probably also don't have the best hygiene practices.  Taken out of context, both professions have a serious potential ick factor, but I think he would usually win ---unless I get one who isn't wearing underwear. 

Anyway, Dr A. finished and put a temporary filling in so he could continue at another appointment, and my little tooth lives to fight a bit longer.  In many ways it’s not it’s old self, but least we get to spend a bit more time together. 

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