Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Every bite unique

Yesterday I had my biennial visit to the dentist. The conversation mainly centered around their technological retrofit since my last visit. I had to fill out my paperwork again--the receptionist told me "we're in cyberspace now." I said "Welcome!" but she either didn't get it or didn't find it amusing. They have a new x-ray machine that takes its pictures digitally. The censor that they place in your mouth is gag-inducingly large, but the technician boasted that this one uses only half the radiation of the film x-rays. Comforting. Next to the x-ray contraption they have a huge moveable lead wall with a little window to peer through that's manufactured by General Electric. The technician didn't even bother seeking shelter behind it. A bold sign reading "IF YOU THINK YOU MAY BE PREGNANT, PLEASE TELL TECHNICIAN," was placed next to the knob that apparently adjusts the level of radiation. A hot pink plastic paperclip was taped onto the knob, marking a certain position. Accompanying it was a post-it with an arrow pointing to the paper clip and the word "pregnant" hastily scrawled across it. I wonder whether this method of marking the level was improvised or part of the manufacturer's recommendation. When the dentist came over to inspect the resulting images, he invited me up to the monitor to take a look for myself. "With these new digital x-rays," he said, "you get instant gratification."
Because looking at x-rays of my teeth is so gratifying.
The invitation to check out my teeth was also, evidently, an opportunity for me to collaboratively diagnose the state of my oral health. "See this gray area?" the dentist asked, making a ring around a translucent blob on the screen with his index finger. "Yes," I lie. I am not trained to look at x-rays. I might as well be looking at an x-ray of a horse's teeth. That's not entirely true. I do have one recognizable tooth in the very back: when I was ten or so, it broke off. To save money, my dentist at the time put an enormous filling on the remaining tooth--transforming the thing into a 95% silver chomper. Flash forward fifteen years to when the Jazz-era oral surgeon extracted my wisdom tooth on the ground floor of his Victorian home filled with model sailboats. The roots of this anomalous silver tooth were tightly entwined with those of my wisdom tooth, so he yanked them out. So now I have a mostly silver tooth that mysteriously hovers in my mouth without much support. It is a curiosity, to say the least. Once a minibus full of Mexicans drove to my house and asked me to open my mouth, claiming they could see Our Lady of Guadalupe gleaming back in the silver crevices. I didn't believe it.
When the dentist saw this tooth, he quickly offered two or three explanations of why it seemed so strange. He asked "What do you think?" I told him the history of the thing, and he said "Oh, that explains it. Good thing we've got these big monitors so you can check the images out and give us the back story." Yes, good thing. The conversation made me wonder how frequently people self-diagnose their maladies on Web, M.D., print out their conclusions, and show them to their doctors, only to have their doctors confirm their findings.
Overall, though: great visit. Everyone was really nice, scraping 18 months worth of plaque off of my teeth was relatively untraumatic, and a nice Pandora station played in the background.


Jill said...

I love this post. Your writing is always my favorite.
We had a bit of trauma at the dentist this year with the boys. It took for assistants just to get the x-rays of Jeffrey's teeth. It was quite the sceen. Even the dentist, who has worked in children's mouths for years, is blow away by Jeffrey and his paralizing fear of anything dentist.

Good thing he's not pregnant. Jeffrey I mean.

w. leavitt said...

This really go me fantasizing about going to the dentist real soon. My last visit was in mid-November.