One of my lower left jaw teeth has been giving me trouble for about a year. There’s a cavity right about at the gumline, and food would pack in there, despite brushing, flossing, mouthwash, and all that good stuff. This has led to irritation, pain, and all that good stuff. Our family dentist has tried to fill it on several occasions, with several different materials, but within a day to a month, the filling would break or fall out, and it was back to the merry-go-round.
It was acting up a couple of weeks ago, and I was told that I probably should just go ahead and get a crown. I agreed, and scheduled the first part of the process today. And not a minute too soon, as it turns out — it hurt enough last night that I decided to skip dinner, and 10 this morning couldn’t get here fast enough.
Now as it happens, I tend to get really twitchy in the dentist’s chair (and you can save your Kentucky jokes — I already know them), so nitrous oxide is a regular feature of my dental visits. I even have my own little nosepiece that I keep in the car, and that they hook to the tank for my visits. I get pretty loopy, but I have thus far managed to avoid going full Dennis-Hopper-as-Frank-Booth on any of my visits, for which I’m sure the staff is grateful.
When I’m waiting for my procedures, I tend to find myself kind of abstracted — aware that I’m buzzed, and maybe about a quarter-beat slower than I’m used to. I observe myself from a sort of intellectual third-person perspective, floating along at one moment and then making an art-film jump cut of awareness. “I’m at the dentist. The song is “Jungle Love” by Steve Miller. I think I’ll float again. He’s giving me some Novocain. It doesn’t hurt, but I know that it would, were it not for the gas. I should look around, so they know I’m still pretty alert and with them. Am I getting enough of this?”
And that’s where things get interesting. Because of the whole nervousness thing, I would just as soon be knocked out with a truck while they work. But I recognize that’s poor form. So I try to demonstrate a balance while all this is going on. I try to be cooperative, and to show that I’m relatively alert, not overdoing this a bit, nope. So when I heard the dentist ask the nurse if Aretha Franklin was still alive, I said “As of this morning she was.” And when everyone else was out of the room, I got my phone out of my pocket and checked my e-mail, which reported that Ms. Franklin’s death had been announced while I was sitting there. The nurse came back in, and I told her the news. She said she’d tell the dentist. So see? I’m pretty aware. On the other hand, you know, what you just did wasn’t agonizing, but it was uncomfortable, and if I let you know that — subtly — you might want to maybe boost that Nitrous a skosh?
And so I started talking to the nurse this morning. “It’s a balancing act, you know.”
“The gas. I know it costs money, and that you don’t want to use more of it than is necessary by getting me blasted. Whereas if it were up to me, I’d vote for ‘getting blasted.'”
“But at the same time, you know you need to give me enough so that I don’t come unglued here.”
“So you have to keep that balance — effective, but economical.” And about that time, the doctor came back in, so naturally I explained my take on the economics of the situation to him as well. And while he worked, I again found myself wondering if I was appropriately wasted for the occasion. And how does one really determine that sort of thing?
But after a total of about 90 minutes (that felt subjectively like 45 minutes to an hour), I had received my temporary crown, been switched over to straight oxygen, and was ready to put my nosepiece back in the Ziploc bag and return to the regular world for a few weeks.
How are my teeth? Go ask Alice.