I recently went to the dentist for the first time in several years. I have no excuse for my prolonged absence. Well, I have several, but I'm not sure any are particularly persuasive. Dental health is important (at least that's what Big Dentist wants us to believe) so I should get over my fear of making appointment phone calls and the sheer annoyance of having to physically go somewhere that's outside my normal routine.
I usually can get over those obstacles eventually, but there's one thing about going to the dentist that I just can't stand.
My main quibble with dentists isn't the physical discomfort or awkwardness of having a hand stuck in my mouth for an hour or so, it's the constant grift.
Since I moved away from my small hometown and very lovely dentist-owned, father-son dental practice, I've found nothing but corporate dental boondoggles in the big city.
Perhaps you know the type? They always have names like [Insert suburb name or street name] Family Dental, their staff and even the doctor turn over every six months, they try to up-sell you on everything, and perhaps most gratingly, the receptionist always answers the phone with some saccharine catchphrase like, "It's a beautiful day at Crapville Family Dental!"
And as bad as dealing with their incessant cheeriness on the phone is, things only get worse when you step into the office for your first visit.
I stepped into my new dental home on a steamy afternoon just before the thunderstorms descended. After searching our dental insurance database for a suitable replacement for my previous dentist, Grift Family Dental, I settled on this one because it was less than half a mile from my home and located right next to a Walmart Neighborhood Market. I figured it might have a nice, homey feel.
I was wrong.
The first thing that jumped out at me when I entered the glass doors was that the place was freaking weird. The waiting area was tiny, all the walls and doors were sparkling white, there was faux fancy recessed lighting that gave off a downscale South Beach coffee shop vibe, and a person waiting in the cramped vestibule offered me a seat in an empty wheelchair. He was joking, of course, but I am consistently terrified by unexpected jokes, particularly when I'm on edge (i.e., always).
The receptionist welcomed me heartily, as they do, I filled out some paperwork while perched on a chair between two sweaty patients, and a few minutes later, I was led through the gleaming white door toward my certain death.
The first dental assistant (there were like seven total) gave me an impromptu tour on the way to my chair. She pointed out the key sights like the other chair and the bathroom. She even introduced me to several people for some reason.
Then, she had me stand in front of an x-ray machine, bite down on a stick and stand still while the behemoth circled around my head like a white, robotic vulture. I had never done a standing dental x-ray, but I'm sure they are much better (i.e., more expensive).
After my narrow escape from the x-ray station, the assistant asked me to have a seat in front of a dazzling 4K TV that was showing scenes from a random city street. It was weirdly intoxicating, which I'm sure is the point. Makes you forget about the pain and how thoroughly they are robbing you.
Next up were some more x-rays. The more traditional type but about sixteen of them. From every conceivable angle and a few inconceivable ones. This office is almost "one hundred percent digital" of course, so the images appeared on the screen in front of me as they were taken.
This was a long process, but the dental assistant continually assured me I was "doing great" so I was quite pleased.
I was less pleased that I never found out what became of the standing x-rays. I now suspect it might've been a total ruse. It seemed pretty implausible in the moment. Like, why do they need a 360-degree x-ray? More likely, it was some kind of initiation test to see how big of a sucker I was. If so, I clearly passed with flying colors.
Later, a hygienist, who is completely different from the dental assistant, swooped in, jabbed my gums with a pick, shouted out a random string of numbers for the assistant to record, and declared me in need of the deepest of cleanings. Deep cleanings are twice as expensive as regular cleanings, but that's probably just a coincidence.
Finally, it was the doctor's turn to have a go. After his quick exam, he asked how old my crowns were and I stupidly said probably more than five years. This news seemed to please him greatly as he immediately declared them in need of immediate replacement. On the plus side, however, my totally real and optional but only if you want to die oral cancer screening ($25 surcharge) was negative. Hallelujah!
Despite all the early fun, the highlight of the visit didn't come until near the end when the doctor was fingers deep in my mouth finishing up the new crown. I'm a bit hazy about how we got on this particular conversation topic, but the dental assistant noted that she had always been fascinated by forensics. In fact, that's what she had planned on doing until she fell into this. I would've liked to know this information earlier or not at all but it got even better.
She had a passion for forensics because her parents were friends with a mortician when she was little and she was "always fascinated by…"
"Dead bodies?" the dentist interjected eagerly while jamming his mirror deep into the corner of my mouth.
"Well, yes," the assistant admitted. "And whenever there was shooting or anything when I was a kid, I was really curious."
"Did that…did that happen a lot?" the dentist asked.
"I mean, some."
"Well, it's never too late to chase your dreams."
At this point I was terrified but I remained stoic because that is dental protocol. Of course, the drone tour of Nashville on the 4K didn't hurt either. I guess they do know what they're doing in some ways.
All told, I walked out an hour or so later alive and considerably lighter in the wallet.
What was the point of telling this story? I'm not sure exactly, but mostly it's a long way of reminding you that while I mostly write about my children, I'm more than just a dad. I lead a rich life of my own. I do lots of interesting things. Like saying yes to every made-up dental test and procedure, going bankrupt, and listening to my dental assistant talk about her necromania. I'm very multi-dimensional.
Of course, I'll definitely be back at my new dental home. We're like family now. It's right in the office name. And if I'm going to be held hostage and robbed anyway, I at least want it to be interesting. Too bad the necromaniac almost certainly won't be there by the time my next visit rolls around (not because of the necromania, just because, as I mentioned, the staff at these places turns over quicker than at the White House).
However, I'm sure the next assistant will have a fun backstory. Maybe she'll be really into taxidermy!