From: stormreaver
Written: 2009-05-22 14:07:35.536724
Subject: Dentist Visits

Many years ago, when I was in my mid 20's, my younger niece found a dental mirror in the house. Being a naturally inquisitive young girl, she decided to give her family a dental examination to check on our oral health. When I let her look at my teeth, she asked me if I knew that the backs of my teeth were rotten.

Needless to say, I was a bit dismayed at her findings, though not completely surprised. Back then, I did very little to care for my teeth and gums, and I had no medical or dental insurance. I took the dental mirror, and used it in combination with the bathroom mirror to look at the backs of my teeth. Sure enough, there was very noticeable decay and rot -- a realization that was extremely unsettling. It spurred me into taking action to preserve what was left of my teeth and gums.

Since I knew that my teeth were in a state of decay, I assumed that they were probably too weak to withstand the pressures of flossing. This lead me to a decision to not floss, since I probably risked exceeding whatever tooth strength I had remaining. I did start brushing religiously, though, which is something I had only done sporadically for most of my life up to that point. All those times I had been warned by my mother about the consequences I would eventually face for my poor oral hygiene came flooding back into my mind.

About ten or eleven years later, I decided that I wanted to try flossing again since I knew that not doing so would allow dangerous bacteria to damage my teeth even more. I thought that if I did break off a tooth, it could be thought of as removing the disease to protect whatever healthy teeth remained. So I took out the floss one night after brushing my teeth, put it between my two front teeth on my lower jaw, and gently pulled.

A large piece of the back of one of those teeth came flying out of my mouth, and scared me more than any of the tornado warnings I've been through so far. My fear about losing my teeth to decay was playing out, and it killed any notion I had about continuing to floss. My teeth were reaching the end of their existence, and I wasn't about to hurry that along. The best I could hope for was to continue brushing regularly to hold off the inevitable as long as possible.

A few more years passed, bringing us to just a few days ago. I had just finished brushing my teeth after dinner, which included a few cookies for dessert, and ran my tongue across the back of my lower teeth. Something sharp and hard poked my tongue like a needle, and needless to say, it hurt. I could also feel something sharp and hard poking down into my gums, which was uncomfortable but not really painful (surprisingly). It was from the same tooth that had broken off years earlier, so I figured I had finally reached the end of that tooth.

By now, I have had dental insurance for 8 years. I've never used it because I knew it was too late to save my teeth, and I didn't want to go through the tongue lashing that was sure to be dished out by the dentist and who were sure to be beautiful women assistants. But the poking against my tongue was painful, and I had gotten extremely worried about salvaging whatever remained of my teeth.

I went to the dentist yesterday for the first time in 25 years, prepared for it to be a trip down dental death row. When I had made the appointment a couple days earlier, the receptionist assured me that I was probably not nearly as bad off as I thought. However, it's her job to not scare away the customers, so I didn't put a lot of stock into what she was saying.

When I got into the dentist's chair, his first young, cute assistant, Nicole, walked me through a basic questionnaire, did a few X-rays, and generally prepared me for the dentist's arrival. I noticed that she had extraordinarily beautiful teeth. She told me that one of those teeth was not real, which floored me since all of her teeth looked perfectly natural and very well taken care of. She was a very sweet, very helpful person, and I had every intention on complimenting her conduct in front of her boss when he arrived.

She started talking to me about various options while we waited for the dentist, which made me realize just how far dentistry had come since my last visit a quarter century ago. That got me considering my future plans, but my ruminations were quickly interrupted by the appearance of the dentist.

I told him why I came, and that I was expecting the news to be grim. He began his examination, and uttered things like "class 1" something and "class 3" thingamajig as he looked around my mouth. He produced the dreaded dental pick, and started tapping various surfaces of my teeth. He quickly made his way to my nearly obliterated lower front tooth, but didn't spend any time on it.

When he finished the examination, he told me, "You have a lot of calcified plaque, but your teeth are otherwise in good shape."

"Huh?" I replied incredulously. "Are you sure you saw the tooth? The whole reason I came in?"

He smiled at me like a teacher smiles at a pupil struggling to find an answer to an easy question. "Which tooth?" he said, humoring me. "You mean the one on your lower jaw?"

"Yeah, that one." The one that I chipped a huge piece off of -- twice."

"You didn't chip your tooth any. You broke off pieces of calcified plaque. You must have disrupted it somehow, causing it to break away. Below that, you have very smooth teeth. Once the Hygienist removes all the plaque, tartar, and calcification, you'll see nice teeth underneath.

You don't have any cavities or any kind of holes in your teeth, either. You have some gum damage, but nothing bad. Actually, it's very unusual to find teeth and gums in such good shape in someone who hasn't been to a dentist in twenty five years. You must have some kind of genetic resistance to tooth and gum decay. You have really good teeth under all the build-up."

I was shocked, and in disbelief. I was also happier than I've been in a very, very long time. I walked into his practice expecting to hear my dental death sentence, but was instead pardoned for all my past oral neglect. I just don't have this kind of good luck. It was like a dream from which I dreaded awakening.

"How about we schedule an appointment with the Hygienist tomorrow, and get your teeth cleaned?" he offered. I agreed, and we scheduled a time for the next day.

After I got home from the initial appointment, I used a dental mirror to look at what I had thought was a hopelessly broken tooth. It still looked broken! There was no way it wasn't broken, so he must have made some kind of mistake. How could he possibly have missed that? What is wrong with him, I thought. How can he overlook something so obvious?

The next morning arrived, and I went to my cleaning appointment. The Hygienist was not the young lady with the brilliant white teeth from the prior day, but another equally sweet young lady named Erica. I told her that I had doubts about the dentist's assertion that I hadn't broken my tooth, and that the grotesque stuff I was looking at was just plaque and tartar.

She took a look at the tooth with her dental mirror, and said, somehow smiling over the grotesque scene inside my mouth, "It's calcified plaque and tartar. Once I get rid of all that, you'll see your tooth underneath. I'll take before and after pictures for comparison."

She produced a dental version of a digital camera, and took a "before" picture of the backs of my teeth which then displayed on the monitor in front of the dental chair. It was disgusting. How she manages to do this kind of thing day after day without getting sick is amazing. I can watch the most invasive surgeries over breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and not twitch an eyelash, but oral messes like mine turn my stomach.

Over the next hour, she wielded a sonic cleaning pick with the dexterity of a surgeon. I hardly felt anything, with the occasional exception when she had to clean near my gums. I have one or two sensitive spots near my gums, and there was no way for her to clean without having to touch them. Fortunately, they aren't highly sensitive, so the pain was brief and slight.

When she finished, she took the "after" picture of the backs of my teeth, and put it on screen side-by-side with the "before" picture. For the first time in twenty five years, I saw all of my teeth from top to bottom. And they were white and healthy! The "broken" tooth really was just years of plaque and tartar buildup. I really had broken off pieces of calcified plaque during flossing and brushing, and hadn't damaged my teeth at all. The dentist with who-knows-how-many years of experience in dental conditions was right, and I was totally wrong. I have rarely been so happy to be wrong.

Erica explained how the plaque feeds off the blood in the gums and the bacteria in the mouth, and can take on misleading appearances to an untrained eye like mine. She said I had great teeth that were just hidden under all those layers of calculus (yes, that's a real dental term).

I had never before heard those words, "you have great teeth", applied to me in any context by anyone. I had to fight the urge to jump out of the chair and hug her.

She asked me if I planned on having regular professional cleanings in addition to my normal daily brushing and flossing. I smiled and replied with an enthusiastic yes. Now that I know I have something worth protecting, of course I'm going to start visiting their clinic on a regular basis. She smiled back, and generated a computer printout of the remaining visits I would need in order to complete the initial cleaning schedule. Four more visits for the four quadrants of my mouth that need to be cleaned below the gum line.

"Since you're going below my gum line, I'm getting Novocaine, right?" I asked with fear in my voice.

"Yes, definitely," she answered. "You'll be completely numbed before we start. You couldn't do this without it."

"You're my hero," I told her, "and a miracle worker."


The main point of this story is to emphasize the importance of going to the dentist. I was extremely lucky to have an apparently natural resistance to tooth and gum decay, but my lack of professional dental care for two and a half decades could have been, and by all rights should have been, devastating. Don't let it get so out of control as I did.

Conversely, even if you think your teeth and gums are beyond salvageable, let dentists have a look. As I was told when I made my appointment, it may not be as bad as you think it is. Even if it is, the things that Nicole showed me during our discussions are indicators of how far dentistry has progressed over the last couple decades. The techniques and tools of the recent past are barbaric by modern standards.
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