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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Need a Fix? Visit Your Dentist


Those wacky dentists. They’re always coming up with new things to bill you for. Remember when there were just cleanings and fillings? Now you can buy whitening, veneers, tooth jewelry, and even fangs. You can get bonded, bleached, laminated and implanted. But my favorite new trend in oral hygiene is sedation dentistry.

That’s right, you can actually be under general anesthesia just to get flossed twice a year. I hear radio ads for it every day. Don’t believe me? Take a peek at the Yellow Pages under Dentists: “We cater to cowards,” one practice boasts.

A half-page, color ad directed me to a sedation dentistry web site. There you are met with some make-you-feel-like-you’ve-got-a-problem hype: “Ask yourself, how do you feel about going to the dentist? Do you have sweaty palms, feel fidgety or grip the armrests while in the chair?”

Hell, no. When a needle the size of a Lawn Dart gets jammed into my gums, I just sit back, hum an Enya tune and relax with my Etch-a-Sketch. Of course I get fidgety in the dentist’s chair. I behaved the same way when I used to get haircuts, too, but you never saw me requesting a Seconol from the barber. Although, in retrospect, I guess it wouldn’t have hurt to ask.

The Web site links you to an Anxiety Assessment quiz, where some even more laughable questions are presented. The following are actual questions from this quiz. “Do you feel embarrassed that the dentist will say you have the worst mouth they have ever seen? Do you feel that dentists will do what he wants to do no matter what you say? Do you feel that dentists do not like it when you make a request?” Then come to us. Our dentists are just like that, but you’ll be unconscious, so who cares? We don’t. When you finish the quiz, you plug in your e-mail address and phone number, and they’ll contact you. They forgot to ask, “Do you get offended when your dentist’s Yellow Pages ad refers to you as a coward?”

I appreciate that this could be the miracle that dentaphobics have been seeking for decades. A couple of friends haven’t seen a dentist in years due to their fear and embarrassment. They are people I won’t kiss unless they first gargle with Clorox. But if this knockout procedure keeps them going back for biannual prophylaxes, then I’ll conclude that this is truly great therapy. And I’m sure they will feel more at ease at my dinner parties after having the procedure, too. No one likes it when I follow them around the house, spraying Lysol into their mouths every time they speak. I’m sure they’ll feel better when, after they meet with a hygienist, I’ll be able to serve them something other than an entrée of blackened Altoids in Doublemint sauce.

On the other hand, I’m not convinced that sedation dentistry isn’t just an easy way to cop a buzz. I’m not sure that narcotics by request is in alignment with Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” strategy, unless that’s now been changed to “Just Say Please.” Up until recently, legal narcotics were reserved for those in severe physical pain, as opposed to those suffering from irrational fear. Personally, I love sedation, and more than once I’ve thought about cutting off a baby toe just so I could have that magical feeling that only Demerol can give. I would give up bigger, more important parts of my body if someone could find a way to make me safely feel as wondrous as I do when Vercid starts flowing through my veins. Clearly, prolonged use of narcotics is dangerous, but there’s no denying that when the sedation meds first hit you, all is harmonious in your world. It may only last briefly, but it is—without question—the best part of a colonoscopy. Once while I was sedated in the hospital, things seemed so stupendous that I told my partner, Other Bill, “You know, you have a beautiful soul.” I never would have told him that had I not been a couple dozen sheets to the wind. Now he believes it. So do I, but I only say it when hooked up to an IV. So if I can get down with some chemistry just by requesting it from a member of the oral hygiene community, I’m all for it. That way, I can feel splendid just by getting my teeth cleaned instead of going through the mess and discomfort required to stuff a snaking camera up my butt.

I no longer have dental fear, yet for the right drugs, I’d be willing to fake it. During adolescence, I got over that fear during months of orthodontia. Having my hairy-fingered, Italian orthodontist hammering stainless steel shards into my gums was unlike any other kind of torture I’d endured. This was before dentists used gloves, or apparently, Novocain. And God bless that orthodontist, because I now go through life knowing that nothing I’ll face will ever be more painful than what his gifted, wooly fingers did to me. I laugh in the face of a gunshot wound. Being run over by a train is a day at the beach compared with I went through as a metal-mouthed teenager.

But since some of us don’t have the need for knockout dentistry, I think we should be able to request sedation for events we find equally traumatic. A nice big shot of Demerol would easily dull the pain of sitting through an annual performance review meeting. I’m sure there are millions of women who would love to be twilighted while receiving a bikini wax. I would expect nothing less if I ever found it necessary to do the same thing to my back. I’d like something that would prevent blood pressure spikes when I’m trying to watch the evening news, when all that is broadcast are celebrity rehab updates.

I did notice that after my last dentist appointment, I walked away white-knuckled as a result of my tight grip on the armrests, so next time, I’m going for the gusto. What’s another trip to chemical la-la land going to hurt? Especially if my dental insurance will pay for it.

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