Dentistry in the Time of Coronavirus

One thing you didn’t know about me: I have my Father’s teeth. Not his literal teeth, or a wooden version a la George Washington; darn strong ones nevertheless. I don’t know if the quality of teeth is a genetic trait, but it certainly seems so to me. My Father never, to my knowledge, went to a dentist in all of his 80+ years, passing away with all of his original teeth and nary a known cavity. He also had a very high pain threshold (a trait I inherited from both parents) so he could have had dental problems that he just ignored. After all, he ignored a heart attack when I was 19. But I digress.

I am a loyal dental patient. I’ve been seeing the same dentist for about 35 years. Typing that makes me amazed that he’s still practicing. In the course of those years, I’ve had two dental hygienists, both of whom I’ve adored. One is now retired, and the other is my age. Our kids went to the same nursery school, though we never encountered each other then. We know about each other’s lives. It’s an old-school, small town type of relationship. We talk a lot during my appointments, and I’m certain that all dental practitioners must take a course in how to understand people when their fingers are in your mouth, and you can only make sounds like, “Aho, int tht ingstng?”

With the advent of Covid-19, protocols have changed in order to protect both practitioners and patients. No more going in and sitting in the lobby, catching up on the latest issue of People magazine. Now, I stand in the chilly vestibule, attesting that I haven’t taken public transportation or been licking the buttons on gas pumps until my hygienist comes out to take my temperature and escort me to the chair.

I’m also a sensitive dental patient. The roof of my mouth is like a three-dimensional topographic map of Colorado, so those things they put in there for x-rays hurt like the devil. I get a little anxious when my teeth are getting cleaned. Thinking about it today, I realized that it’s a huge mark of trust to allow someone to put sharp metal instruments in your mouth. I mean, having a functioning mouth is pretty important for a lot of staying alive reasons. You don’t want just anyone sticking pointy things in there.

To alleviate the anxiety and make me more comfortable, they give me nitrous oxide, which does not make me laugh, but does make me a little drifty. It also makes all the music played in the office sound the same – no idea why. Since everything has to be disposable now, they use a little canula to gas me up. It’s like having a miniature wind tunnel stuck up your nose; not at all the previously happy nose mask experience. It also doesn’t work as well, as I discovered today. When my hygienist hit a particularly sensitive spot, my arm automatically drew back to smack her. I stopped myself from doing so, but she noticed, so of course I said, “Ahm slry.”

We both resembled something out of a bad sci-fi movie or an underground film about rogue plastic surgery. Me under a blanket with my green sunglasses to protect me from the laser, and my nitrous and oxygen tubes with canula, and her with his protective eye wear, face shield with additional cloth mask, rubber gloves, and disposable gown.

In summation, we had a nice, if garbled chat, my teeth are healthy as always and feel delightfully smooth, and no violence occurred. In this day and age, I think we can mark that down as a good human interaction.

Not my actual mouth.

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