2011-04-14 / Sam Bari

A day at the prosthodontist

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

Tomorrow morning, my life could very well change for the rest of my days on Planet Earth. I am going to the prosthodontist. For those who are fortunate, and have never had to see one, a prosthodontist is a dentist, but not just a regular garden-variety dentist.

Prosthodontists are specialists. According to the dictionary, they are involved with a branch of dentistry concerned with the design, manufacture and fitting of artificial replacements for teeth and other parts of the mouth.

They are the people you see in the television commercials who can give you your smile back. That is, assuming you lost it. They can also charge you so much that you may never smile again.

I am not looking forward to this visit. The truth is, I have an inordinate fear of people who attempt to put both of their hands in my mouth up to their wrists at the same time.

I know it’s a quirk, but that is one of my shortcomings. I have little patience for those who want to do me bodily harm, especially if they start with the inside of any part of my head.

I would swim in the middle of the ocean for no other reason than to have the opportunity to pet sharks, rather than visit a dentist. I do not care how long the word defining his specialty is. I do not want to be subjected to this legal form of psychological and physical torture and then have to pay for it.

I even have a routine that I practice whenever the nurse invites me to sit in that all-too-comfortable chair. First, I hold onto the arms of the chair with a death grip. Then, I close my eyes and do not open them again until someone says, “I’m sorry Mr. Bari, but you cannot stay in the chair any longer. You have to go home. We are closing.”

Whenever I go to the dentist, I pray for a person with a gentle tooth-side manner. I want someone who will take me seriously when I say, “If you do not hurt me, I will not hurt you.” I think it’s a fair compromise. I have to pay him to inflict pain. He doesn’t have to pay me.

But no, that is not the response I get. It’s always the same. “Now, now. We’re not going to hurt anyone. This will be easy. You won’t feel a thing. We’re going to numb the area where we are working. You’re just going to feel a little pinch that will cause no more than a few seconds of discomfort.”

At the word “discomfort,” my eyelids fly open as if they were experiencing shock therapy. And every time I go through this, I see the same thing. A hand covered by a plastic glove is holding a syringe with enough juice in it to petrify a mastodon, and it has a needle the size of a Samurai sword.

The hand and syringe are backlit by a bright lamp uncannily similar to the ones the government uses on terrorists when they are doing experimental methods of interrogation.

Although I promise myself that I will not open my eyes, I do it every time. For some unknown reason, the word “discomfort” triggers my eyelids to fly open.

Then a gentle voice comes from behind this mask-covered face. All I can see is his eyes. The voice says, “Open wide.” I comply. I do not want to anger this person.

The “little pinch” and “few seconds of discomfort” translate into the most painful sensation I have ever experienced in my insignifi- cant, miserable and meaningless life, and it lasts for at least an hour and a half.

As soon as the needle is out of my mouth, my eyes slam shut. Then the gentle voice says, “Now that didn’t hurt, did it?” It’s more of a statement than a question, but I feel compelled to respond. So I say, “Nggh,” which loosely translated means, “Nggh.” That seems to please him because he says, “That’s nice.”

I am glad he is pleased. Otherwise he might do it again.

After the ordeal finally ends, and both the dentist and hygienist have had their way with my poor defenseless teeth and gums, the receptionist melts my credit card and schedules my next visit.

The world of dentistry is part of our system that I will never understand.

Return to top