My First Filling (or, Why I Can Never Wear Chapstik Again)
I’ve never had a cavity.
Don’t ask me how apparently spectacularly healthy gums and teeth have lived in my mouth for the last twenty-three and a half years, because I have no idea. Yeah, I brush my teeth twice or three times a day, and I floss whenever I remember, but I also went through a phase when I was in elementary school when I had spectacularly bad dental hygiene (Basically I was a grimy seven-year old with glasses who didn’t brush my teeth enough. Sorry world.) and I have always partaken of copious amounts of sugary foods and drinks. Yet somehow, miraculously, I have never had a cavity.
I had a cleaning last week and the guy goes, “Oh. You have a little cavity.”
“No I don’t,” I said.
“Just a little one,” he said, “on the bottom.”
“I don’t have a cavity,” I repeated. “I’ve never had one!” Didn’t this guy know I had decided I was immune to cavities?
He pulled off his gloves and tossed them in the trash. “Just schedule a filling next week and we’ll get it taken care of.”
“I’ve never had a cavity,” I told the woman at the front desk when I handed her my file.
“It’s okay,” she said, checking my birth date on the folder. “Twenty-three years is a pretty good run.”
Which I thought was valid, so I scheduled the filling and carried on with my life. UNTIL THE DAY OF THE FILLING ARRIVED.
Following this experience I am led to believe that I did not fully understand what a cavity is exactly, so, as is usually my solution for things I don’t understand, I Googled it. (I found some horrifying pictures, so I really don’t recommend Googling the seemingly innocuous word “cavity.”)
After trying to un-see some of the pictures of people’s mouths rotting before my eyes, I have decided it was basically like this:
Poor little guy.
So I went in and the helper/technician/ladyperson led me to my chair. It looked like this:
Then a short Asian kid came in to deliver the paper. Only he wasn’t a ten-year old Asian newspaper delivery boy. He was the dentist who was apparently going to fill my cavity. I was immediately suspicious. Why were they going to let a child perform dental work on me?! He looked like someone who aced everything his fourth grade teacher tossed his way, the type to know his multiplication tables better than I know that catchy Fifty States song I had to learn in fourth grade (I can still sing them all in alphabetical order upon request, in case you were wondering). But even really bright fourth graders don’t know calculus or legit biology yet. Some of them don’t even know where babies come from yet! I’m sure Asian Newspaper Delivery Boy is a fine, upstanding American; that doesn’t alter the fact that I don’t want a prepubescent kid performing dental work on me!
But apparently I had no choice and they leaned me back in the evil dentist chair to meet my fate.
“I’ve never had a cavity,” I told the Asian Newspaper Delivery Boy in a last ditch attempt to worm my way out of the situation.
“What?” he said. He was very quiet.
“I’ve never had a cavity,” I repeated. “So…I’ve never had a filling.”
“Oh,” he said, sounding like he was wearing one of those paper face masks and muttering. Except he wasn’t wearing a mask; he was just muttering. “So you’ve never had any oral injections or anything like that then?”
I looked at him sharply, then back to the helper/technician/ladyperson, then back to him. “What? No.” Who said anything about injections? What was this kid talking about? One second we’re talking about some gunk and a hole in my tooth and the next it’s needles? What the heck???
“Oh,” he said.
Then he leaned me back and pulled open my jaws wide enough to swallow a polar bear whole and dabbed something that tasted like rotten bubble gum toothpaste mixed with bleach onto my gums. “This is just a local anesthetic,” he informed me in that same could-someone-please-turn-up-the-radio-because-it’s-tickling-my-eardrums? tone. “To numb the area.”
I made one of those non-committal “ah” noises that suggests you have heard and comprehend what the person has just told you but could really mean just about anything.
“Okay,” he said, reaching for something on his tray where he was apparently keeping all of his medieval instruments of torture. “Now hold still.”
And people, I swear to you, all of a sudden he had a needle in his hand and before I could do anything my life was flashing before my eyes (it was more likely my eyes widening and then clenching shut and then flying open in horror again and then closing again because I didn’t want to see the needle but that light they put over your head is really bright and made me think the Rapture had come at last) and Asian Newspaper Delivery Boy was easing the needle into my gum for an impossibly long time.
“Just breathe normally,” he said. “And hold still.”
What was he talking about, “hold still”? Breathe normally??? I went into freaking cardiac arrest! I was paralyzed from the bleeding gum down! I couldn’t have moved if I’d wanted to. I felt like I was on one of those unforgiving metal tables you see corpses lying on while they await forensic dissection.
I usually have a lot to say, and three or four ways to say it. While that needle was in my mouth, however, all I could think about was that brutal instrument of drug transmission penetrating my innocent, fleshy pink gums. It went something like this (minus the expletives):
WHAT SHARP OW OW OW OW MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM SKIN SOFT NEEDLE SHARP OW OW OW OW SERIOUSLY WHERE THE HELL IS MY MOTHER RIGHT NOW OW OW OW OW OW FREAKING OW OW OW TAKE IT OUT RIGHT NOW
And after about eight thousand years, he withdrew the needle slowly. (You can tell I was legitimately afraid because I lost the ability to punctuate my inner dialogue. It’s like somebody put me on caps lock forever and stole the period and comma off my mental keyboard.)
“Okay,” he said. “Now do you feel tingling in your chin? How about your lips?”
“Um. Sure,” I said. “I guess.” Couldn’t he see I was traumatized?
“You can relax now.”
The technician/helper/ladyperson squirted water into my mouth and then sucked it back out. She made a face. I think my gum was spurting out blood or something. I tried to unclench my hands, but my fingers had entered a rigor mortis-like state while I had my brush with death in the dentist’s torture chair so they weren’t going anywhere.
The Asian Newspaper Delivery Boy poked around my gums with something pointy.
“Can you feel that?” he asked.
“Oh,” he said. “Hm.” Then he sat there and stared at nothing and waited to see if the medicine would work. Then he poked some more and when I could still feel it he whipped out another needle and stabbed me in the mouth again. This one hurt more, which makes very little sense to me since part of my mouth was already numb. My head started to spin a little bit after he pulled out the needle. I wasn’t sure if it was because all the blood was rushing to my head from lying back so far or because I was in shock due to the torture to which I was being subjected.
When he prepared to give me a third injection I thought about making a run for it. Then I realized I couldn’t even unclench my hands, let alone sit up and bolt for the door. Just as I was thinking that perhaps I ought to simply have a stern discussion with this fourth grader and his needles about the dosage of whatever he was sticking into me, the needle was in my mouth again and I went totally rigid for fear of making it even worse than it already was. After the third injection he deemed me sufficiently numb to continue with the filling. It was at this point that I was thinking to myself what a truly terrible prisoner-of-war I would make, because I would not be able to keep a single secret if the bad guys started shoving needles into my gums. I’d be like, “STOP I’LL TELL YOU ANYTHING. IN FOURTH GRADE I HAD THIS HUGE CRUSH ON–” (Classified. Strictly need-to-know basis.)
Anyway, next the Asian Newspaper Delivery Boy put some kind of evil-looking metal clamp around my tooth and shoved some rubbery-feeling block into my mouth to keep it propped open. What does he think I was, a python in another life? I can’t detach my jaw, buddy! He topped off the whole thing by tenting my mouth, presumably to keep my tongue from flailing around involuntarily and slobbering up everything. I’m not entirely certain. It was hard to tell what was going on since all I could really see was flashing needles and the bright light of the Rapture hovering over my head.
“Raise your left hand if you feel any pain,” he said.
Then he turned on one of those devices that makes people hate the dentist. It sounded like we were in the welding shop, but instead of cutting metal, he was grinding down on my teeth. Which, when you think about it, is basically like the visible bones of your face. At this point I was too dazed to really care and was just glad there were no more needles for now. Take my teeth, I thought, I don’t care. Grind them down. I don’t need them. Just stop before you get to my swollen, bleeding, victimized gums.
He decided to take a break and fiddled with his torture tray for a bit. “Just raise your left hand if you feel any pain,” he reminded me. I sort of wanted to raise my right hand, just to see what would happen. He never told me what it would do if I raised my right hand. Probably get a shot in the middle of my forehead or something to teach me a lesson. But I kept my hands clenched together in my lap the whole time and never deployed the Left Hand Panic Button so I never found out if either hand had any power or if that was just something they tell patients. When it was all over the Asian Newspaper Delivery Boy told me to make an appointment to have a consult and then have my wisdom teeth taken out. LIKE I REALLY TRUST YOU AFTER WHAT YOU JUST DID TO ME, MISTER.
I wasn’t scared of the dentist/dental procedures prior to this experience. I wore braces for two years and went to the orthodontist’s office dutifully each month to floss, brush, and have my braces tightened and admired by my eccentric orthodontic team. I now understand why people equate the dentist’s office with a medieval torture chamber. There are needles in your face and there isn’t even a foot massage or mood music like some kind of New Age spa to justify this indignity. THEY PROP YOUR MOUTH OPEN WITH A RUBBER BLOCK. It’s like an Orwell novel.
Furthermore, I feel deceived by everyone who has ever had a cavity filled and didn’t talk about it so people like me who have gone their whole adult lives (I know it’s not long, but it’s all I’ve got right now so give me a break!) without getting a filling didn’t realize what we were in for with the dungeon and the torture chamber and the underqualified-looking dentist kid with the needles and the drill.
I think of it as the horrifying opposite of kissing. I was barely a teenager anymore by the time I got in on this whole kissing trend. Prior to the experience I was like, hey you kids! What’s all the hullabaloo about this kissing nonsense? And then I got involved in the worldwide phenomenon of kissing someone you like and I was like, oh. Well jolly good to that! Carry on, everyone! Except in this case when people said they didn’t like cavities I thought it was like not enjoying having your teeth cleaned, when they scrape around on your mouth and try to make your gums bleed a little to make a point about how nobody knows how to floss properly. I’m going to say this again: NOBODY TOLD ME THERE WERE NEEDLES INVOLVED. It was like when I first figured out how tampons worked and I was like, WHY IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY WOULD GIRLS DO THAT. I think I was about twelve.
So here I was, eleven years later, horrified about another apparently widespread, first world phenomenon that I had, once again, apparently been totally in the dark about up to this point. I sat in the parking lot of the dental clinic for a bit and slapped and pulled at my numbed face. I called my father and told him that I had just had my first filling and it was literally one of the most horrifying experiences of my life. He laughed at me.
(I really think it was an unfair and paternally unsympathetic response on his part. Look, even his childhood hero, Captain James T. Kirk, didn’t like the dentist:
Look how upset he is! He’s totally lost touch with reality. And this guy is a graduate of Starfleet Academy and the captain of the Starship Enterprise so he’s not exactly a wimpy butter bar, okay?)
I’ll say it one more time, people. NO ONE TOLD ME THERE WERE NEEDLES INVOLVED. I legitimately thought needles in the mouth were only necessary for major oral surgery, not some puny filling on what was supposed to be a tiny cavity! It took like three thousand hours for them to do the whole procedure! What was in there, the Grand freaking Canyon?
I tried to put on some Chapstik (the liquid kind, in a tube). It was all melty from sitting in the sun, but hey, no big deal, just use a little less and spread it around, right?
Not being able to feel my face, I lost all sense of where the Chapstik ought to actually be applied and ended up with some on the half of my mouth that could still feel and some on my cheek and dribbling pathetically down to my chin. Struggle bus, ladies and gentlemen. Front row seat on the struggle bus.
When I got back to the motor pool, one of my NCOs looked at me funny, pulling his chin back and scrunching up his face. “You all right, ma’am?” he asked. “You look a little…” Upset? Traumatized? Like half of my face is numb and I have apparently lost the basic skill of applying Chapstik to my dentally-ravaged mouth?
“I’m fine,” I said. “I just had a cavity filled.”
“Oh,” he said. “That sucks.”
He’s right. It does suck. But you know what? He mentioned nothing about needles.