Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six
By: Jean Johnson for Dental1
Part of the beauty of writing these stories is that I’ve gotten more involved in the procedures than I ever have before. Also, the people who work on me engage me more – both the teams in my prosthodontist’s office and at my endodontist’s – and tell me things since I’m always scribbling notes. I imagine it’s rather nice to have your patients take such an interest. I know I’d like it if someone occasionally sat around my office and asked me this and that about writing.
| More Tips from the Patient’s Mouth:|
Don’t underestimate the power of Ibruprofen. Taken before dental appointments as well as after, this over-the-counter anti-inflammatory and analgesic can ease discomfort associated with dental visits.
Do allow for the psychological component involved in having restoration done on the front teeth. Perhaps rent a video as a special treat after a stressful dental appointment. Or curl up with a great read. Anything to give yourself a break and acknowledge the very real trial you are going through.
As always in the world of health care, staying involved and discussing any concerns with your dental professional during the process of restoration will generally yield a more positive outcome.
Still, when it’s all pared away, I am a patient and it’s my mouth that’s getting worked over. The brave little soldier routine has served me in good stead all through the bone grafts, and implants, and root canals and adjusting the bite, but now that we are circling back around to the front teeth, I confess to feeling fairly unnerved. These teeth are by far the most precarious part of my situation – and of course, the teeth capable of leaving me the most disfigured.
But my prosthodontist says not to worry. Little does he know that in spite of my best efforts, worry has been my middle name for much of my life. Sigh… the things you think of when you’re contemplating the restoration of your teeth.
Within a week after all the angulation work, I’m leaning back into the familiar, sculpted curve of the aqua dental chair once again. And there they are; five gold posts sitting in a model on his tray. They are great big things – oblong looking with flat surfaces and points on the end similar to large awls that will glue into the tooth sockets. Not at all like the “posts” I imagined. In my mind, dental posts were slender stick-like affairs onto which buildups and crowns somehow magically adhered. These more sizable critters staring back at me from their plaster model make a whole lot more sense.
I’m getting to be a bionic woman with a mouth full of titanium implants and tiny nuts and bolts and soon, white gold posts. Sometimes I can’t believe the cosmos allows three people – my prosthodontist, his assistant, and me – to get up to the incredible things we’re doing in that office. But that’s the unique thing with dentistry – it occurs in your mouth while you’re fully present for the most part. Surgeons can muscle your body around in unthinkable ways while you’re under general anesthesia. Indeed, they can even heave your intestines right out of your body and plunk them down on a sterile table for inspection with the patient being none the wiser.
In a way it’s cool to sort of take part in what’s happening. And at some level, it’s a highly intimate experience with the three of us sharing air in a relatively close space. That’s another reason the spaciousness of my prosthodontist’s dental suite is lovely; a lofty ceiling, picture windows, and divider cabinetry between his dental chairs that only rises six feet or so instead of completely confining us. It creates a feeling of considerable elbow room that I imagine all our psyches appreciate.
The intimacy thing is true when you think about it. I can’t think of another venue besides the dental chair where human beings crowd in that close around your face. Indeed, the only other people that have ever made a beeline to my mouth like this have been zeroing in for a kiss. That’s probably why so many women – even the married ones, I hear – make fools of themselves over their dentists. Somewhere in their brains the synapses get crossed, and they misinterpret the closeness of their dentist for the closeness of a lover.
This is a different kind of intimacy, though – and in many ways superior to romance since it’s much less complicated. In essence, it’s three people working together and cooperating toward a certain goal in which they are all invested. And while it’s true that I can feel my prosthodontist’s chest pressed firmly against my head – even hear him breathing when he rolls around on his chair to get into position for one angle or another, what I find truly intimate is the way he talks under his breath to his assistant and sometimes to me too.
Sous conversation, the French call it. The conversation under the conversation.
He’s getting ready to cement the gold posts into place, and his assistant is collecting her glues, crucibles and spatulas. Still my saliva factory is at work, so under his breath in a sous conversation undertone he says something like, “suction Cindy.” I can’t even tell if those were his exact words since they were run together, and it was more the tone that did the work of communicating. She brought her wand over to my mouth and moved in without a word.
Yes. That’s a significant part of this intimacy I’m trying to put my finger on. There’s little verbalized during these encounters except what’s essential – and generally that doesn’t require the level of volume and careful enunciation that normal communication seems to demand of us in mainstream American culture.
It’s like how it was out in Navajoland during my school teacher phase. I went over to a Navajo colleague’s house to ride their horse, and her husband helped me saddle up. He called the horse by name, and it was a guttural, growly sort of sound like ‘Moqui.’ When I asked him to repeat it, he stopped, eyed me – the white women standing in front of him – and very slowly said “MO-KEY.”
I wilted. The magic that had been there evaporated into the arid sky. The words remained, but the intimate sous conversation that can never be captured by sticking it under a scientific microscope vanished as swiftly as it had come. Like the door to the club a person only enters if they are hip enough to get the message, the groove closed on me that day in the valley of the huge pink rocks under a dome of a blue on blue Navajo sky.
That’s why getting a glimpse of the same ephemeral thing at my prosthodontist’s is so enticing. I’ve paid my dues. I’ve hung out with him and his assistant for a good year or more now, and listened to the way they work.
The dentist’s sous conversation began when he was getting ready to cement the posts, after he got Cindy to suction a little more. He was taking the paper points with his forceps and drying the very ends of the tooth sockets where the air dryer couldn’t reach. “Stay open, Jean,” he said in his normal voice. “We have to have these perfectly dry.”
I complied, but with five teeth to get ready I sort of got bored I guess and slipped out of the scene like I do sometimes by closing my eyes.
Anyway, I guess I was starting to relax my jaw about when Cindy was ready with her part, because he did the tone talking. His tone was way down and had hardly any clear enunciation.
They were the same words that he said before: “Stay open Jean.” But this time he half whispered them in an undertone while he was going for yet another paper point and air drying to beat the band. It was tone-talking for sure – the kind of tone you can only use when you know someone is on the same page with you. I loved it. I had arrived. I was part of the team. I felt the intimacy of being in synch with two other human beings.
They finish gluing the posts in place. I sigh with satisfaction while they get ready to put the temporaries on. They probably thought it was because the posts were in at last, and it’s true I am so very grateful for that.
But really, I sighed because today, I became one of the initiated that didn’t have to have every single thing spelled out in black and white. Soft smile on my lips. It doesn’t get any better than this. And who would have expected - in the dental chair.