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Oral History

Posted Tuesday, August 5, 2008, at 2:27 PM

How do you choose a dentist?

After a recent dental check-up, I've decided that when people choose their dentists, they are going about it the wrong way. Maybe you ask friends and family about dentists. Maybe you look up dentist reviews on the internet. Maybe you check out the quality of the prospective dentist's dental school. This is all completely misguided, and I'll tell you why: Whatever the dentist does to you, you're numb while he does it. So who cares? Who you need to be checking into is the dental hygienist. She (it's almost always a she) is coming at you masked and armed with a steel spike while you're sitting there unanaesthesized and defenseless. She's the one you need to worry about!

I've had a checkered history of encounters with dental hygienists. For instance, I once had a check-up at a dental school, and felt that the hygienist-in-training was probably the best one I had ever encountered. She was deft and gentle and quick. She did my cleaning with a minimum of stress and discomfort and I figured, "Here's a young woman with a bright dental future ahead." Then the dentist came in to check her work. He took one glance in my mouth and started griping at her about how much she had missed. "You've got to get right in there," he said. "Don't be timid!" I might have protested and spoken up in her defense, but he grabbed the nearest metal implement and started enthusiastically chiseling away at me like a man engraving the tombstone of his worst enemy. Nothing she could have done would have been as bad as what that brute did to me. A cleaning by the dentist is the last thing you want. As I said, he's used to dealing with numb people.

My most recent visit was to a dental office with a very good dental hygienist, which of course means that it was a terrible experience. She didn't miss a thing. She found teeth hiding back there that I didn't even know I had, and she made every one clean enough to eat off of. I couldn't see the clock (I could only stare into the fluorescent fixture), but it seemed to take about six hours. Granted, that was partly my fault, since I kept interrupting the procedure to confess to various crimes and to offer to betray my country.

When the dentist finally came in, poked around a little bit and said I'd need to have a filling drilled out and replaced, I was giddy with relief. "Yes, sure! Drill me! Anything! Just get her away from me!"

This, of course, is the problem. If you like your dental hygienist, then chances are she isn't doing her job. That being said though, if I am brutally honest (which is no fun, by the way), I have to admit that the fact it took so long and was so unpleasant might have something to do with the number of years I had put off going in there to have it done. "Come back in six months," she said, "and it will be much easier!" Sure. I'll be back in six months. I promise. (He said while slowly backing away and groping behind for the doorknob.)

I have a lot of respect for dental hygienists, as I do for most people in important but essentially thankless jobs. It's one of those occupations in which the result of doing a good job isn't immediate or readily apparent. After all, nobody gets up in the morning, notices all his teeth still in place and thinks, "I should send the dental hygienist a thank-you card."


Comments
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Wow, what a coincidence, just today we had lunch in the same back room with all those ladies of torture. I wish I'd read this before today. I could've had loads of fun at your expense.

-- Posted by kennethjones on Mon, Aug 11, 2008, at 4:48 PM

Yeah, yeah, but the question is: Did you floss after that lunch?

-- Posted by kenteutsch on Thu, Aug 14, 2008, at 1:11 PM


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