We all know it’s important, but nobody ever said going to the dentist would be fun. Or even comfortable. Reclining in a chair with your jaws gaping wide, desperately needing to swallow but unable to because your mouth is jammed with the dentist’s fingers, the hygienist’s fingers, and six separate implements of torture—it’s just not anyone’s first choice for a way to spend a relaxing hour.
At least not as long as other options are available. Watching back-to-back reruns of The Brady Bunch, perhaps. Or cleaning out the gunk under the refrigerator. Or trying on swimsuits in the company of a much skinnier friend.
Still, there are limits. My dentist just exceeded them.
Today’s appointment was supposed to be the final one in the process of having a broken molar replaced by a bridge. The previous visit was a two-hour session of drilling and scraping, capped by the delightful experience of having to sit still for several minutes with a mouthful of disgusting molding goop that tasted like clay. Today should have been a simple matter of taking out the temporary bridge and cementing in the permanent one.
Things didn’t go quite according to plan. Taking out the temporary bridge turned into an extended session of prying, yanking, and rocking. Every time something touched the rasped-off exposed tooth underneath the bridge, it hurt. The dentist’s occasional “sorry” seemed to lack sincerity. Or maybe it was just that I kept thinking of the scene in the movie Marathon Man where Dustin Hoffman’s character is tortured by the drill-wielding former SS dentist.
At long last the temporary bridge came out. Then the real fun began. The dentist couldn’t get the permanent bridge in. He shoved it. He wriggled it. He rasped its edges. He rasped edges off my neighboring teeth. He shoved and wriggled some more. Every time the bridge scraped across the exposed supporting tooth, I winced and thought of Dustin Hoffman.
Finally, the dentist acknowledged defeat, numbed my throbbing jaw, and made a new mold so the lab could make a different bridge.
All of this was, if not precisely enjoyable, at least endurable and forgivable. Mistakes happen. Things don’t always go right the first time. I can live with that. I can handle discomfort. What I can’t put up with is discourtesy.
The dentist was obviously frustrated and angry over the bridge that didn’t quite fit. Fair enough. I wasn’t exactly happy about it myself. But he wasn’t professional enough to keep his anger out of his fingers. The longer he worked, the rougher he got. He seemed to take the problem as an affront to him personally. He never once apologized for the inconvenience, pain, and frustration it was causing me.
Nor did he trouble himself to explain what was wrong or what he was doing as he busied himself in my mouth. The last straw came when he shoved a tray full of cold goop into my mouth without even the courtesy of a warning. Then he held it so tightly while it set that his fingers were digging into my jaw. With my teeth stuck together, I couldn’t even say, “Hey, would you ease up a little?” When he finally took the mold out, he didn’t bother to rinse the gunk out of my mouth.
By then, I was no longer thinking of Dustin Hoffman. I was wishing instead that I could get my hands on the Nazi dentist’s drill. And I knew just where to start using it.
The dentist could have apologized. He could have empathized. He could have accepted responsibility for the mistake—if, indeed, a mistake even had been made. He could have reserved his anger for the lab instead of literally shoving it into my face. He could have made me a partner in this misadventure. He could, quite simply, have treated me like a fellow human being.
He didn’t. He forgot that the bridge in my mouth wasn’t the only bridge he needed to build. And that’s why, as soon as that bridge is finally in place, I’m finding a new dentist.