I was so nervous this morning, I had to wear my new and ridiculously formal earrings just to get me out the door. Today, after all, was my first dentist appointment in a decade. If you'll recall, prompted by extreme tooth pain in what I (along with the internet) determined was my upper left molar and a promise of parental subsidization, I finally conceded my dental ban and booked an appointment with my mother's dentist, the apparently wildly attractive Dr. Catalano.
I don't know where my extreme fear of the medical profession comes from, but I assure you, it's not limited to dentistry. I'm terrified of any doctor, mainly because I'm convinced I'm dying of every disease imaginable. I'm going to the "lady doctor" on Friday and I can't begin to tell you how terrified I am of that. I'll probably show up in a beaded evening gown.
I should also point out that part of recovery is going to get every single part of yourself checked out. I had to sign some kind of rehab contract promising I'd get the standard once over in every department and while I can't imagine some AA mafia is actively enforcing said contract, I'm following the recovery rules as close as I can.
Dr. Catalano and team send me a "Welcome Binder" weeks in advance of my appointment with strict instructions to fill out the paperwork before my appointment. If you don't fill out the paperwork, they send you away. It's all very formal and I don't imagine Dr. Jang's this uptight. But Dr. Jang charges 50 cents and he probably just sticks a key chain flashlight in your mouth instead of an x-ray machine. Anyway, I had my paperwork raring to go when I walked into the office, lest I be thought of as ill-prepared. I haven't been to the dentist since the Clinton Administration and suddenly, I was worried about what these people thought.
The waiting room was very plush and low lit, much like that carpeted section of the Nordstrom ladies room just for hanging out.
"Hello Beth." A blond woman said in soothing tones. "Do you have your paperwork?"
"Yes! Yes, I sure do! All filled out!"
"Okay, have a seat. It'll be just a few moments."
It was kind of like checking into a spa with no hint of the torture devices around the corner. I picked up a People and worried. Suddenly, my phone rang and much like an 11 year old flying unaccompanied for the first time, my mother had called to check on me.
"Are you there?!?!"
"Yes." I hissed though gritted teeth.
"Well, he's very nice. It'll be just fine."
A woman appeared with a clipboard. "Beth?"
"Mom, I've got to go!" I stood from the couch as Nikki introduced herself.
"Don't worry. I totally get it. It'll be fine." She assured me.
Oh, okay Nikki. Sure. It'll be terrific. Everyone just raves about the dentist.
She led me down a hallway to the last examination room, past patient after patient in their dental chair, no doubt stifling screams and praying for death. After a quick chat, where I had to do the dreaded, "I was in treatment for addiction and I'm supposed to inform my doctor as some kind of public humiliation step" Nikki took my X-Rays.
"X-rays last about 5 or 10 years anyway, so we'll just do new ones."
Much has changed since last I sat in the dentists chair. Instantly, my teeth appeared on a screen before me looking exactly like they do in all of my google searches. I don't know why I imagined my teeth to be mutant from everyone else's, but I was highly relieved to find them tooth shaped. "So these are like, my dental records. In case I'm ever found in a dumpster, you can identify me."
Nikki laughed and asked if I had any questions while we waited for "Dr. Chris."
I always hate being asked if I have any questions and responding that no, I don't have any questions. Smart people should have questions, right? What am I supposed to ask? Do you pay your bills on time? What's the grossest mouth you've ever seen? If I promise to be a "before" picture, can this all be free? I asked the only question I could think of.
"Do any celebrities come here?"
Nikki smiled. "A couple."
"Say no more!" I said, perhaps too loudly. "That's all the recommendation I need!"
Looking at my x-rays on the screen in front of me, Nikki offered, "I think I know what's wrong."
She'd spotted a hole in my tooth.
"You've got a cavity. I'm not the doctor, but that's my guess."
And with that, in walked Dr. Catalano. My mother, bless her, thinks every man under 50 is the bees knees. Dr. Catalano's celebrity equivalent is a slightly older, well dressed Mike Myers. And everyone calls him "Dr. Chris."
I think Dr. Phil ruined this for doctors everywhere because while it's very cool and helpful that Dr. Chris is so laid back and warm, I suddenly thought of Dr. Ruth and Dr. Laura and realized I'd prefer to call him Dr. Catalano.
"Okay." Said Nikki. "Stage three."
We'd agreed that stage two was the x-rays and stage one was me even walking in the door. Stage three involved the doctor examining the x-rays and examining my mouth.
"Wow, that's a pretty big cavity, Beth. And really close to the root there." He wasn't chastising or mean about it, which I had expected. I honestly thought these people were going to yell at me.
I mean, really. A decade.
The x-ray of tooth #13 was obvious, even to my untrained eye. And then we looked at the other teeth. "So you still have your wisdom teeth."
"I do, yeah. I just ignored them when they came in and voila!"
He then told me that I'm obviously a meticulous brusher. This is something I remember hearing from dentists when I was a kid and the same thought flashed through my mind as it did then. "You're nuts."
I congratulate myself when I eat an apple, I consider the process a virtual dental overhaul. And the only time I floss is after eating ribs. Dr. Chris then went on to examine my mouth and shout things to Nikki, at one point announcing, "There's no oral cancer."
He removed his hands from my mouth as I screamed, "Wait! What? Oral Cancer?!?!"
"Well, yeah. We're checking for everything."
"Oh, of course. It's just, had I known that was a possibility, I would have run for the hills."
Turns out, I need a two-part deep cleaning and let's just say, more than one cavity filled. But it looks like I'm root canal free for now, or as Dr. Chris said, "until we get in there and see how bad it is."
Then we kind of hung out and chatted for awhile, which was lovely because I was told I was already very close to "movie star teeth" which is what I requested on my form. I booked my next appointments to get my cavities filled and my first (of two) teeth cleanings and then was handed prescription mouthwash and a printout of the entire cost of making my teeth reasonably healthy.
You could have healthy teeth, folks. Or you could have a slightly used Camry.
Anyway, as we were finishing up, I mentioned to Dr. Catalano that I'd heard, thanks to a blog reader, that brushing my teeth would salt would make my toothache go away.
"It worked. It was gross, sure, but it totally worked."
He was flabbergasted but kinda went with it. "That's so interesting! Wow, well I guess the Ph levels..."
Dr. Chris'd lost me, but thanks to Mousqueton, a dentist in Marin is now onto this salt thing. Anyway, my cavity appointment is booked and my mouth is on the road to incredibly health and movie star status.
I think that perhaps, the biggest and most important lesson we learned today is that you might have oral cancer, whatever that means.
I certainly don't have it. But you might...