Confession: yesterday was my first visit to the dentist since I was a child.
Most of my 20-something readers, particularly those who live in New York as well, will understand how this came about. Low pay, high student loans, and high costs of living collude to make you really prioritize where your limited funds go, and by the time you save enough to visit the sort of doctor you want to see, something goes wrong to rob you blind. Oh, and I don’t have dental insurance, so paying $100 just for the pleasure of another person’s company feels much more like a less fun version of prostitution.
Also, I killed my dentist when I was a kid, so there’s that. But that’s a story for another time.*
Anyway, I was having some pain on the right side of my mouth. Like any Brooklyn cliche, I assumed that my everything bagel had just lodged some sort of seed or topping back there. I brushed and flossed vigorously, doing my best to ignore the pain. That worked for a few days.
Wednesday was of course A Day. I forgot my cell phone at home, the trains were all messed up, and, naturally, I couldn’t chew with the right side of my mouth. After scrambling to find any sort of dentist who didn’t seem to charge a thousand dollars to yank out a tooth, I managed to book an appointment for Thursday online. The only problem: you have to enter a PIN number texted to your phone. Yes, even without making an appointment through my phone, I needed my phone. My friend Meghan kindly obliged to receive the text for me, and I was on my way.
Fast forward to Thursday. The pain had certainly gotten worse thanks to an ill-advised gum chewing test, so I was relieved when I entered the dental practice at 5 PM sharp. The soundtrack of Journey, Kelly Clarkson, and Pink did its best to make me grind my teeth, but I resisted the impulse. It was only when I was in the dentist’s chair that I began to really worry. Actually shaking levels of worry. I don’t know what really got to me other than the absolute lack of sharp tools out. I was prepared for nearly anything, but to be thwacked repeatedly by blunt objects inside my suffering mouth seemed too punishing to imagine.
Of course the dentist expressed dismay over my lack of dental visits, though I pointed out I have no insurance. After declaring an extra cusp on one of my molars “very cool,” she found the offending wisdom tooth. My first, even at the tender age of 26, had become abscessed.
“Your appointment’s only for fifteen minutes,” she reported. (Thanks, technology!) “I can hook you up with some antibiotics and painkillers and have you come back next week, or we can extract the tooth right now. We can do that in fifteen minutes easily.”
I considered my options. After days of favoring the left side of my face, a little narcotic bliss was tempting. But if your tooth is dying, it’s dying, and there’s no point in adding hundreds of dollars to an already outrageous bill just for a week of putting off the inevitable. “Let’s take it out,” I said.
My dentist seemed surprised, but she was quick with three needles to numb the area. I haven’t experienced all that much pain in my life I suppose, but the worst may just be the sensation of needles slipping into my gums and then pumping in the liquid. I felt like giant bubbles were swelling up inside my mouth. “You’re very brave,” the dentist said. Very stupid, I felt. A single tear fell along my cheek like that fabled Native American in the commercial where he observes litter upon his precious land.
My tooth had grown in fully, so it was a matter of prying it out. You would think there would be some delicate way of doing this. No. Instead the dentist pushes, pulls, wiggles, wedges, and finally yanks it out. Fortunately mine went out in one piece, so that was it. Fifteen minutes and $328 of my hard-earned money. For the record, the $8 part came from an extra fee to use my debit card. Because obviously I should carry hundreds in cash at all times.
I don’t know if I am “brave” after all or just particularly lucky, but I haven’t needed prescription-level painkillers (that the dentist didn’t give me anyway) and feel decent other than the disgust I have from the coppery taste of blood lingering in my mouth. The dentist wants me to come back to deal with those cavities I’ve been ignoring forever, but we’ll have to see what the wallet says about all that…