“Uhm,” I say to the dental tech as she covers me with a lead apron, “I just want to warn you. This might take a while.”
“Oh?” She asks. She is hooking this H-U-G-E thing to a little bracket and approaching me with it. It looks nothing like the bitewings they’d used at the office I used to go to. Is she planning on putting that in my mouth?
“Yeah. I have a really strong gag reflex. I mean really strong.”
“Oh, that’s all OK.”
“No, seriously. I’ve had techs get mad at me because of it.”
“Really?” She is sympathetic. “That’s not right. Okay, open up.” Yes indeed. She thinks that thing is going in my mouth.
“What’s this?” I ask, cocking my head at The Great Big Thing.
“Oh, it’s digital. The picture will show up over there.” She shrugs to the open laptop behind her as she tries to position this piece of equipment in my mouth.
“Hm.” She steps away, the Great Big Thing still in her hand, now much wetter.
She tries again. I gag again.
“Let me try something else.” She disappears and comes back with Something Else on the bracket.
“The film is a little smaller than the digital device,” she explains while fitting it in my mouth.
“Sorry,” I say after gagging and spitting it out.
She leaves again, and comes back with this blue foam thing she wraps around the bottom edges of the plate. I guess she’s thinking maybe the sharp edges are the problem.
Place, gag, spit out, repeat. This happens three times before I manage to hang onto it long enough (chanting dontchokedontchokedontchoke in my head, punctuated by the occasional no! when my mouth tries to get rid of this foreign object) for her to set up the machine and sprint out of the room to hit the button.
“There, that wasn’t so bad,” she says as she comes back in the room.
She catches the thing as it leaves my mouth and goes to develop the film. She returns a few minutes later as I’m telling the dentist what’s up with my teeth, a look somewhere between dread and apology on her face.
“It didn’t come out. We’re going to have to take another X-ray.”
-----One week later-----
Back in the chair again. The problem I originally came in for has been fixed, now we’re doing some sort of general inventory of my teeth. My last dentist has sent over my records, including every single X-ray they ever took. The entire office is impressed with me because of this—that particular dentist is famous for not giving complete records. They want to know what I said to make him give them everything. I'd love to oblige them, but I can't remember the actual exchange.
Before the dentist gets started, they have to take panoramic X-rays of my mouth. I’m not fussed.
“Those don’t bother me,” I tell the tech. “It’s the bitewings that give me grief.”
She looks at me oddly.
“But that thing where you stand up, put your chin in the bracket, bite down on something, and the machine just kinda wraps round you and takes pictures? No problem.”
“Yeah, those are great….but we don’t have one of those.”
Oh, God. We gaze solemnly into each other’s eyes.
“I hope you don’t have anything else to do this afternoon,” I sigh.
The procedure goes like this: Set-up, gag, remove, set-up, bite-and-concentrate-while-she-sprints-for-the-button, buzz, gag, spit, repeat. About a third of the way through, she calls the dentist in.
“Could you help us out, please? Hit the button the second I clear the door?”
“Did you try numbing her tongue?” He asks.
“Yes. Doesn’t work.”
“What about salt?”
“Salt!” She leaves my field of vision. “I forgot about salt!”
She hands him a Q-tip. He rubs it on my tongue. It tastes like plain table salt. He places the film, then sets up the machine. And the clouds part, the light shines down, and the angels sing. I feel like he could take all day to set up if he needed to. There’s no gagging, not even a hint of it. This feels perfectly fine. They both leave the room, she takes the picture and they come back. I’m still holding it in my mouth, marveling at how not bad this feels. He takes the film out of my mouth.
“That’s amazing! Salt did that?”
“Yep. Or maybe I’m just that good.” He winks, smiles, leaves the room, and the tech continues taking pictures of my mouth. She has to salt my tongue before every X-ray or I choke--we experiment with salting every other X-ray and the results are not good.
When I finally leave the dentist’s office, I am extraordinarily thirsty. I stay thirsty until about Saturday. Four days later.
-----One week later-----
I am back in the chair for a cleaning and the filling of a cavity in between two of my upper back teeth. The cleaning takes a while because I haven’t been to the dentist in a few years (lost faith in the other guy, teeth didn’t hurt until the middle of August of this year, so I never got around to finding another one). At one point I think they’re done with the scraping part and are about to move on to the brushes.
“Done with the metal hook?” I ask.
The dentist leans over me with another, smaller hook.
“Oh,” I say.
“You know what this metal hook is called?” he asks, waving it at me. “A sickle.”
“Awesome,” I squeak.
“Though in my hands, it’s a gentle sickle.” He winks from behind the mask.
After the cleaning it's time to fill the tooth. It’s waaaaay back there in the upper part of my mouth. I’m tilted back in the chair so far I feel like I’m hanging upside-down. There’s a drill, a hose, some kind of padding, another hose, all in my mouth. I’m okay with it until he puts a metal band around the tooth and starts to pack in gauze. Oh, here we go.
“Uh-oh.” He says. He starts taking gauze out. It’s not helping. I make some sort of inarticulate noise, an attempt to speak.
“Hang on!” He takes out more gauze.
“Thawngkt?” I say. Then, more clearly, “Thalt!”
“Salt!” The tech dashes into another room and comes back with a little cup of salt and a Q-tip.
Rest of the filling goes fine. Gauze, metal whosit, equipment…hell, they could have put everything in the room into my mouth and I wouldn’t have gagged.
I think they’re going to have to make a notation on my chart to have salt nearby for every visit. And I’m going to need to remember to carry a great big bottle of water with me to the dentist’s office.