Today is the first day of my cushy Thanksgiving Break. After a long Tuesday of teaching, playing piano, and driving, I made it to my hometown to head to the dentist. The dentist is my cousin, so I get a marginal discount.
As a child and teenager, I had extensive dental work performed. I had a gnarly tooth, which I dubbed “The Monster Tooth,” that grew in the wrong way. My orthodontist spent years slowly dragging the tooth into place, only to have the enamel completely absorb the root, making the tooth nonviable. At that point, bone from my wisdom teeth was used to create a foundation in which a metal implant—a small screw, of sorts—was installed into my mouth. I walked around with a small metal rod in place of a tooth for some months, and then a crown was placed atop the implant.
Needless to say, I’ve become accustomed to dental work, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy going.
The experience itself is not all that bad once I’m there. I only go once a year now—contrary to the advice of the American Dental Association, which would probably have us going in for cleanings every week if they thought they could get away with it—but it always comes too soon. Part of the problem is that I never floss like I should, so I come out feeling like Bleeding Gums Murphy, the blues saxophonist from The Simpsons.
I have no good excuse for not flossing. I know I’m supposed to do it; it’s just a pain. Sometimes, literally—because my gums have grown so weak from a lack of daily twine batterings, when I do floss it’s an unpleasant experience. But mostly it’s just inconvenient—I’m a busy man.
My dental hygenist—also my cousin, but not related to the dentist cousin—always recommends those little floss picks, telling me to keep them at my desk so I can just floss away while watching television. It sounds good, in theory. In practice, I have to toughen up my week, gingivitis-encrusted gums with real flossing for a few weeks before I can leisurely pick away at stray bits of popcorn and Sam’s Club hot dogs.
A couple of months back, Roosh V, the Internet pickup artist-turned-Orthodox-guru, wrote a post about the tendency of American dentists to overdo it with fillings, etc. The piece, appropriately enough, is called “Why I Don’t Trust American Dentists.” He noted that while in Europe, dentists would often brush off tiny cavities, recommending that Roosh merely keep on eye on them. In the United States, on the other hand, dentists will immediately fill the cavity, no matter how small.
This dichotomy rings true. I can’t speak to the quality of European dentists (I imagine our American dentists are probably better, albeit perhaps more zealous about dental hygiene), but I know my dentist will suggest filling any cavity as soon as it’s discovered.
I certainly appreciate the impulse to err on the side of caution, but from personal experience I know that there’s a bit of panicky rhetoric about cavities. As a child, we’d be taught in elementary school about how evil cavities were (they were usually portrayed as cartoon villains addicted to sugar), and that they would destroy our teeth.
That’s objectively true, but a bit rich. I once walked around with two cavities for months with virtually no discomfort. They cost several hundred dollars to fill. In the long run it was probably worth it to take care of them—and the cost is an incentive to practice more deterrent dental cleaning—but at the time they were negligible irritants in my life. Most of the time, I didn’t feel anything.
Of course, I’m not some kind of anti-dentite. I’m not going to adopt the position of my kooky Uncle Jerry, who once told us he’d gone ten years without brushing his teeth and never developed a single cavity (as a child, that was a fascinating revelation, if true; it was, perhaps, the first iconoclastic statement I ever heard). Now I think he’s mostly toothless, though, so there you go.
But we could probably cool it a bit with all the pro-dental propaganda. Yeah, yeah, I’ll brush my teeth and rinse with mouthwash. Got it.
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