“Open Wider, Please.”

Okay, I admit it. I bit him. But he started it—he hurt me first.

True, that’s not much of an excuse. But surely I wasn’t the only child to have committed this particular offense. I can’t be the only one who ever bit the dentist. I may, however, have been the oldest one. I was nine or ten at the time, certainly old enough to have known better.

I remember it clearly, because it was such a deliberate choice. I’m not sure what the dentist was doing, but it hurt, and in cold-blooded retaliation I bit down on his fingers. His only response was to say quietly, “Open up a little wider, please.”

Which perhaps was the appropriate response, because I immediately felt so ashamed of myself that I not only opened wider, but I’ve never been tempted to bit a dentist since. (Well, maybe once. But I had great provocation. Besides, as a mature adult, I didn’t bite him. I got my revenge the 21st-century way instead, by posting something snarky about him on the Internet.)

All of this came back to me this week while I was getting my teeth cleaned. Lying back in my dentist’s well-padded chair, wearing my cool pair of plastic shades to keep the light from shining in my eyes, listening to pleasant background music, it occurred to me that going to the dentist isn’t what it used to be.

I have no desire to go back to in time when it comes to dentistry. I remember—and have no wish to repeat—that old-fashioned experience of being trapped in the chair for what seemed like hours, smelling the pungent aroma of singed tooth enamel as the drill ground deeper with excruciating slowness. I’m not sure why they even bothered to touch your teeth with the drill. The shrill, piercing noise it made was enough in itself to vibrate any cavities right off your teeth and clean out your ear wax into the bargain.

Today’s high-speech, high-tech drills are certainly a great improvement. So are the other amenities of modern dentistry.

Like the supersonic—oh, wait, maybe that was ultrasonic—cleaning tool that scrubs your teeth like a miniature vibrating fire hose and gets the job done in half the time with half the discomfort. Yes, the hygienist still does some finishing work with her little picks and scrapers, but at least it doesn’t feel so much like she’s trying to pry your back fillings loose.

Or the baby vacuum cleaner/sump pump that sucks the saliva and miscellaneous debris out of your mouth so you don’t feel as if you’re going to choke on your own spit.

Then there’s the foamy fluoride treatment stuff that tastes just slightly of citrus or mint. It fizzes as it is brushed gently across the teeth, and makes you feel a bit like a serving of strawberry shortcake being finished off with whipped cream.

I do have mixed feelings about the computer monitor that allows me such a clear look at my dental X-rays. Seeing the intimate details of my teeth, roots and all, enlarged to vampire-movie proportions, might be just a bit too much information.

But all in all, going to the dentist is much pleasanter than it used to be. Maybe that’s why none of those nostalgic tributes that circulate around the Internet look back wistfully at the “good old days” of dentistry.

Categories: Remembering When | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on ““Open Wider, Please.”

  1. Frank

    The most painful part of a visit to the dentist is the GREAT BILL COST! I remember when Ginny, Paul and I spent three hours in Dr. McMean’s office, getting some fillings and having our teeth cleaned, for a total of $17.00. They charge us $60.00 for sitting in that fancy chair with the television screen above you and those little plasic diapers they put on every article within reach. But this is just another of those good old days we like to talk about.

  2. Ginny

    Hey, for some of us, getting most of our teeth cleaned means handing them to the girl to drop into an unseen container which holds some unknown substance that gives them that pearly shine once again. As for the teeth still in our mouth, cleaning doesn’t take that long, and the little box of dental floss one gets as a reward for not biting the hygenist lasts a long long time even when used faithfully twice a day.There are some advantages to advanced age…..and we must be grateful for every single one of them. Ginny

  3. I guess I’m doing well, then, since they still leave all my teeth in place while they clean them!

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