BLOG: Haley Goes to the Dentist
Updated: Nov 19
Edit: oh, I forgot the best part. The combined cost of seeing the dentist four times, getting deep cleaning, the sealant on a tooth filled, as well as medicine and brushing solution? About 60 dollars. Yeah, that's how national healthcare works, it turns out.
Like many people, my otherwise happy childhood was marred with experiences of going to the dentist.
I know few people who like dentists. Actually, only one - Aly - and I'm pretty sure she's secretly a dentist in disguise, trying to turn their reputation positive. "They make your mouth so clean!" She says.
This is not untrue.
I would rather go to the eye doctor six times in one day until my pupils swallow my irises entirely and so that I couldn't go outside for a week, than go to the dentist. I would rather get bit by a dog and taken to the ER again, than go to the dentist. I would rather go to the GYNECOLOGIST than go to the dentist.
I am also plagued by memories as a child going to the local dental clinic. The brushing part was fine - I'm a loyal brusher - but the part where they take a minty string and jam it up into your teeth crevices until the taste of iron fills your mouth, that's the part I had issue with.
No, I was never a good flosser. That is to say, I never flossed. I lived a good 24 years with no issues, even throughout braces. "Blasphemy!" Regular flossers would say. "You need to take care of your teeth! I floss every day! It's good for you! And also I'm a better person than you!" Like the cross-fitters of the dental world.
The pain of getting my braces tightened every six weeks for two years definitely encouraged my distrust for those who willingly go to school to torment - I mean - fix people's teeth.
Then there was that time my parents thought I should get my wisdom teeth ripped out before I came to Japan the first time, in case they were to act up while I was there. Never mind the fact I didn't have any issues with them in the first place, and I understand their precautionary stances, but the intense after-pain, drugged crying spells (met by the laughter of my family), and the three weeks of dry socket to follow was enough for that distrust of dentists to boil into lava-hot hatred.
So it should come as no surprise to those who are reading that when I was having issues with my teeth, I decided to avoid them as long as humanly possible. Never mind the fact that my gums often bled when I was brushing. I would have to find a dentist in a foreign country (I had gone to a dentist - and family friend - I didn't hate, even sort of liked, when I came home for Christmas each year, until the financial burden from the lack of insurance outweighed the need for a check-up), AND I would have to be an ADULT and make the appointment myself.
Like most adults, I hate being an adult.
But, after three MONTHS (the stubbornness is strong in this one) of the bleeding and plaque that seemed absolutely intent on plaguing my teeth, I finally bit the bullet (heh, teeth puns), talked to a friend in town about a nearby dentist, and made the appointment, figuring I could handle the language barrier well enough with my skill.
"I really don't want to call and make the appointment," I complained to my friend, glaring down at the phone in my hands. "I hate talking on the phone. Especially in Japanese, it's harder to read and understand people."
"What are you talking about?" My friend replied, laughing. "When we were in Nagoya you called five restaurants to see if they were open."
"That was for misokatsu!" I protested. "That's different! That's really important."
"So is getting your teeth cleaned."
Me: (Incoherently mumbles something about dentists, pain, hatred.)
"Haley, just call them."
So I did. Begrudgingly. And while frowning the whole time.
I arrived at the dentist office a few days later, my jaw clenched in anticipation, my only consolation being I could swear like a sailor if I needed to and most of it would go untranslated. True fact: Swearing relieves pain! Yay, brain hormones!
The office was small, and only a short drive from my apartment. It was cozy inside, and a kind receptionist greeted me. I gave her my insurance information, got my clinic card for visits to come (YOU'LL NEVER TAKE ME ALIVE), and shortly after, was taken to the back.
My anxiety rose all the while. I am typically a fairly brave person. I moved, alone, to a foreign country at 20 years old, and again at 22. I have gone zip-lining over empty gorges you can't see the bottom of. I can turn off the lights in my apartment and make it to my bed without worrying about ghosts or murderers. I am usually capable of removing bugs and spiders from my apartment with only a little screaming. As far as bravery goes, I consider myself to be fairly well-grounded.
Stupid freakin' dentists.
LEVELS OF DISCOMFORT RISING
After doing some basic X-Rays, where the dental assistant struggled to explain to me where to put my chin and what to bite, but we eventually got it done - I set my bags aside, sat in the long dentist chair, and folded my hands in my lap, the image of calm in human form.
Then the seat went back, and my stomach went into my throat. I was told to open wide. The woman took some of my plaque and put it on a microscope slide.
Yeah, this is where things get weird.
She left my side and wheeled up a microscope that had wires connected to it. She hooked up the video cables to the TV floating above my head - which was once playing Tom and Jerry cartoons - and slipped the slide onto the microscope. Then she focused the visual.
What I saw next will be burned into my memory forever.
BACTERIA. Big, small. Round. Pulsing. Everywhere on that slide. In my mouth. I ran a tongue over my teeth in paranoia. The main dentist walked up, and even though he looked like an attractive actor who only plays a dentist on TV, I still didn't trust him. Sure, he was nice enough, but I know dentists. They loooove to deliver bad news. LOVE IT.
He reached over me and pointed to a squiggly white line on the screen. That's really the only way to describe it; it was needle-thin, but swam vigorously, wriggling between the other bacteria. He zoomed the microscope out a little, and there it was again. And again. And again. Thousands of teeny-tiny worm-like bacteria havin' a gay ol' time, writhing around on the microscope slide, on the screen, burning into my retinas. All with the accompany tunes of Jerry running away from Tom and the circus-like music echoing their fun chases around the house, with the occasional BAM and BOOF.
It was, in a word, horrifying.
"Look how energetic they are," Handsome Dentist said in awe.
"Please stop. Please don't say those words."
"Really, look at them go."
He wouldn't stop talking about my excited bacteria, because he was trying to get his point across; my mouth was a land mine of bacteria, and not the good kind. He would tell me I have periodontal disease, that my gums were bleeding because of the bacteria in the plaque around my teeth.
"How did I get it?"
"Hmm," he considered, as I turned myself physically away from the screen with the writhing masses of nastiness, trying not to feel them squirming around in my own mouth. "From the outside. Probably sharing drinks with someone." He looked at me with a raise brow. "Or kissing someone."
He laughed. He thinks I'm funny.
He and I have that in common.
He continued to say that if left untreated, the disease would eat my gums, and eventually, the teeth would fall out.
So, after a thorough cleaning by the assistant, I was given homework: take an anti-periodontal disease brushing solution - not toothpaste, much more liquidy in form - and floss daily. They brought out a set of fake teeth and I was taught how to brush and floss like I was seven again, sitting anxiously in the dentist chair, wanting to go to the play room and finish building things with legos. The assistant said that a good brushing session would take twenty minutes. Yes, twenty minutes. This would include brushing horizontally across your teeth with the bristles pointed up towards the gums, or down, if its your bottom teeth. Then you should brush each tooth individually, she would say, at every angle, while holding the brush vertically.
Then we got to the flossing bit and I paid even closer attention. How to glide the floss against the edge of each tooth, between the gums, what to look for in the mirror. As much as I hated to do it, as much as my I-don't-floss-and-I'm-proud attitude was at stake, I would seize the day and floss my teeth after every meal and get those squirmy bastards out of my mouth.
And I'd be damned if I lost to a DENTIST.
The dentist's plan of shocking me into taking care of my teeth worked; even as I went home with my medicine and went to the store to buy a new toothbrush, I felt uncomfortable. I never wanted to see that visual of bacteria again, and I had never wanted to brush my teeth more in my life.
For the next week before my following appointment, I brushed loyally after every meal, and flossed meticulously. The bleeding stopped after the third day, the redness down by the fifth, and by the time I went to my appointment, I was confident that my mouth was perfect.
When I returned and the assistant tried to take plaque from my mouth, she said, "What? But there's no plaque. Sensei, there's no plaque in her mouth."
I grinned smugly up at them. Damn, right. I showed the man by brushing and flossing my teeth like they WANTED ME TO. HA. JOKES ON THEM. THEY DIDN'T THINK I COULD DO IT. I'M GONNA RUN YOU OUT OF BUSINESS, BUDDY.
EVERYTHING IS A CHALLENGE AND I WILL PREVAIL!!!
Eventually taking a saliva sample and an itty bit of plaque she managed to find in my mouth crevices, she brought the microscope visual up on the TV screen.
I was congratulated for being a good patient and was told the disease was gone. To keep using the medicinal wash once a day for good measure, but that over time, once a week would suffice. And to, of course, keep up on my flossing and brushing, after each meal.
For the last three weeks, I have been the best flosser and brusher you have ever seen. And I plan to continue to be loyal to my teeth cleaning.
Because I'll be damned if I see those squiggly worm assholes in my mouth again, eating my gums away like super-sized Americans at a buffet. NOT MY MOUTH, SQUIGGLERS. NOT TODAY.
By the way, I'm going back today because apparently I have a teeny, tiny hole on the top of my back, bottom molar. Mr. Dentist wants to fill it. Although every instinct is to run away, flee the country, and start a new life, storing things in the hole in my tooth as it widens like a squirrel would store acorns in its cheeks, I will do my best to be an "adult" and go.
But I'm totally gonna complain about it the whole time I'm there.