Last week I went to the dentist for what I thought was a regular cleaning. What it was, in fact, was the physical manifestation of my worst retail nightmare. I was reclined, strapped in, and wheeled through the marketing house of horrors, in which various masked people shoved sharp objects in my mouth – which could accidentally slip at any given moment – and yelled “consume, consume CONSUME!” My teeth – which were fine, according to the dental hygienist – had suddenly slipped into the nether-lands of black goo by the time the dentist entered the room, and I was definitely not having enough x-rays, getting enough fillings, or using enough of the offices “specially priced” whiteners/mouth-washes/prescription toothpastes that would address my specific problems – of which I’m not convinced I have. (But how would I know unless I get x-rays every five minutes…) After explaining -politely and in a matter of fact manner – that I didn’t have the money for Y product/service, she proceeded to explain that it would cost more further down the line if I didn’t act now. Yes, this is true, but it doesn’t change the amount of money in my bank account, does it? After we had gone through this conversation twice, the dental hygienist – who had just told me ten minutes ago that my teeth were fine – piped in with her story about how she let a tooth go for so long that it was too late, and she had to have it pulled. I muttered, only somewhat sarcastically, through the hands in my mouth that I guess that would be my fate as well.
“It looks like you will have to pull my tooth then.”
The room was pleasantly silent for the rest of my visit, but the dentist was not going to let me walk out empty handed. As I was leaving, she suggested that I purchase her treatment plan, both advice and products, for the very low price of $100. Sorry, no. Again with the spiel. My teeth are all going to rot and fall out the moment I leave her dentist office, and that is going to cost more money to fix than the low price of $100 she is offering today. One day only! Buy now! At this point I was more than a little irritated, and turned to her, looked directly into her eyes, and in a voice I reserve only for the very few who have earned my aberrant wrath, I explained to her, slowly, that unless her arguments are putting money in my pocket, that she is barking up the wrong tree. I’d love to save my teeth from the tenth layer of hell, lady, but how do you expect me to buy something when I’ve been telling you for a half hour that I HAVE NO MONEY. I have enough money – cash – to get my teeth cleaned, and get the @*%^ out of my way so that I can go give it to the receptionist. Thank you. And by the way, how much is your special mouthwash that I will never find anywhere else? Twelve dollars?
Later that day, I found it at the health food store down the street from my house for eight. And I bought it. I will fight oral bacteria on my own terms. And I will be looking for a new dentist.
This past week, I brought Emerson to the dentist for her regular scheduled cleaning as well. Again, I was not expecting anything out of the ordinary to happen. Again, wrong.
Last time Emerson went to the dentist, I was told that the office starts giving x-rays at age five. That seemed a little odd to me, as the teeth are just going to fall out in a few years, and there didn’t seem to be ANY problem with Emerson’s teeth as it is, but the lady persisted, and I finally agreed to have bite-wing x-rays taken (after saying “no” at least three times) because it made sense to me that there might be some hidden decay lurking between her back molars. So they took the x-rays, and there was nothing wrong, and after I left the office I felt angry that I had been talked into them in the first place. I told myself that I would not be talked into any x-rays again until Emerson had some permanent teeth.
Her appointment the other day went fine. No cavities, no anything, perfect hygiene, bla, bla. And then came the talk of the x-rays. I said no, the lady persisted and persisted, but I stood my ground. I can fit an entire toothbrush through the gaps in Emerson’s front teeth, and you aren’t missing anything there that an x-ray will find. But we just like to look at the adult teeth and make sure they are there, and coming in correctly. Why? What can you do at this stage if they’re not? No, I don’t want the x-rays, thank you. It was a polite and calm conversation. She said she would talk to the dentist, and I thought that was the end of it.
But no. It wasn’t. After Emerson’s cleaning, I heard her in the corner, whispering to the dentist. Then he came over, and in the course of her exam, said that he wanted to take some x-rays. Hadn’t we gone over this already? Remember, the whispering? I said no, calmly, and said I would wait until she had at least some permanent teeth first. I thought he would persist with the reasons and bla, bla, bla. Instead, as calmly and coldly as could be – while looking in my daughters mouth – he said “then you’ll have to find some other office to accommodate you.” No discussion. No pulling me out of my daughter’s (or anyone’s) earshot. Just my way or the highway. I was so shocked I felt teary-eyed. But I acted normal, kept my nice voice on when helping Emerson to pick out her prize, and then walked out. I wish I wasn’t with Emerson so I could have told him what I really thought. Or at least talked to him. Who does that in front of a five-year-old? It’s like someone breaking up with you in a crowded restaurant to save themselves any possible expression of emotion.
I left the dentist office, keeping my game face on for Emerson, but screaming inside. A mixture of anger and some weird feeling I couldn’t put my finger on. Shame? It was like I did something wrong and was kicked out of school, or fired from a job. Was I the crazy one? Was he sane? I called Matt as soon as I had a moment alone, and we agreed that maybe I was acting a little rashly. I didn’t want to lose a “good” dentist that had be recommended to me by a few trusted people, and maybe I was being to unreasonable by rejecting the x-rays. I ended up calling the dentist back, and going back in for the x-rays. I am a big enough person to admit I was wrong, and that I can reconsider. No big deal.
They took the x-rays, and the dentist looked at them and called me over. He informed me – in a VERY cold way – that Emerson was, in fact, missing her two top incisors, and did that run in the family? Yes, it does. My husband is missing one of those teeth. I was friendly. He was a total dick. I asked him what would be done about it. Well, we’ll take another x-ray in a few years and make sure they are not hiding somewhere in the top of her mouth. When she gets her braces on her permanent teeth we’ll pull the baby teeth and put a false tooth underneath. When she gets the braces off, she can get an implant so the other teeth don’t move around. What? So she’ll get braces when she’s a little kid? No, not until she’s eleven or twelve. And the implant? Not until she’s eighteen or nineteen?
What? Why did I get these x-rays again? So that you can take more x-rays in a few years? So that you can do nothing until she’s twelve? Are you fucking kidding me? Not that I said any of this. I left, perplexed, and took the girls out to lunch.
I don’t care that my daughter is missing two teeth, if in fact she is – which I am not totally convinced of. Modern dentistry is amazing, and I’m sure it will all work out fine. I do care that I can’t have a conversation with a doctor who is caring for my child. That when I try to say something, I am completely shut off. If he kicks me out of his office for refusing useless x-rays, what next? Will I get kicked out for refusing sealants? Refusing fluoride pills? Refusing to do everything that you – the dentist with the perma-tan -tells me to do? I don’t lean so far to the alternative side of life that I refuse everything just for the sake of refusing it. I don’t think everything is bad. But I am a person who questions things, and I appreciate someone who can meet me in the middle and have a rational discussion. I’m not going to blindly do everything a doctor tells me to do just because he is a doctor. Especially if he gives me no reason for doing it.
So I’ll be looking for a new dentist for Emerson too. (To my credit, when I told Em’s pediatrician – who I trust unconditionally – he told me I shouldn’t go back there, and gave me a list of other area dentists.) I will find someone who will be open to discussing things with me, someone I can trust, and someone who has my child’s best interest in mind. Someone like our pediatrician. I will keep believing that a good diet and brushing are better than x-rays and sealants. And I will try to ignore the fact that Emerson may or may not be missing some teeth, and might need braces and all the rest. Maybe she will. But I don’t need or want to see the future if I don’t have to. I’m happy with her right now, the way she is.
Sigh. And then it is all forgotten in the midst of a Sunday bonfire.I love these ladies. (And the guys aren’t so bad either…)