Sunday, January 9, 2011

D.D.S. Now Stands for “Dentistry’s Downward Spiral”

Unlike most people, I used to love going to the dentist. My family’s dentist is the cream of the crop and I respect him the way practicing Catholics respect the Pope.

He kept critically-acclaimed children’s books and magazines in his waiting room, and one of my most vivid childhood memories is of trying to teach someone how to read while waiting for one of my parents to come out of the examination room. As end-of-appointment freebies, all patients were given the good, small-headed toothbrushes and packs of Trident gum. Classical or opera music always played in the background and while scraping away at my teeth, he would unpretentiously talk about something compelling he had just read or watched on PBS the night before. On top of the intellect, he’s one of the kindest people I’ve ever known.

Thoroughly spoiled by the relationship, I thought all dentists (and trips to the dentist) were like this. Having to find a new dentist in New York Shitty set me straight real fast. Instead of Oral-B toothbrushes and Trident, my first NYC dentist gave out cookies. A big Tupperware container of them sat on a table in the waiting room, along with a note reading: “Please Take One.” I usually took 4 or 5, and wrapped them up for the road. He once offered me a cup of coffee while I was reclining in an examination chair with a bib around my neck. Other inappropriate, unprofessional behavior followed in due course.

NYC Dentist #2 was better than the cookie monster, but that’s like comparing a deadbeat dad to a child molester. After confirming that NYC Dentist #1 was quackish, she gave me a root canal to correct a problem with a filling she claimed he had mishandled. She kept bankers’ hours and, with my full-time work schedule, setting up an appointment with her free clinic-style office became close to impossible. One morning, when I came in early, I overheard her joking around with her assistants about “black people’s” dental hygiene. And none of them are black. That appointment was our last.

I spent yesterday morning with NYC Dentist #3. Just as with #2’s office, it’s the kind of place that schedules about 5 people for the same time slot, so you end up sitting in the waiting room for an hour before you’re summoned. By the time I made it into the hot seat, I was starving and dozing off. I wanted some cookies and coffee. The hygienist bibbed me up and then turned a chairside television onto a startlingly strange cartoon show before taking off. If I’m going to be forced to watch TV, at least let me have something interesting like the Real Housewives or 16 and Pregnant. Or give me the remote.

When NYC Dentist #3 finally made her grand entrance, she was worth the wait. She appreciates the fine art of sarcasm and, aside from her telling me that I need to do a better job with my flossing, we had a very nice time together.

The whole ordeal took 2.5 hours – for a check-up and a cleaning. For something this simple, my family’s dentist would have had me in and out in less than an hour, during the course of which he may have softly recited lines from an obscure Alfred Tennyson poem. But, to paraphrase Tennyson, it’s better to have lost something great than to have never experienced that greatness at all.


  1. I never knew that dentists like your childhood dentist existed! Dr. Hawes used to extract teeth by crushing them with a pair of pliers and then pulling out the shards and splinters...I'm not kidding. I swear that the case that he pulled his instruments out of doubled as a tackle box for his weekend fishing trips. No wonder my mother had to lie to me about where we were going, and when we reached his parking area, she would have to drag me into the building! I can hardly believe how kind and gentle my current dentist is. I hope you find someone who is not only gentle, but respects the value of your time!

  2. My childhood dentist retired a few years ago when I was 25 years old. Unfortunately, the woman who took over his practice is part of a corporation, and she repeatedly tries referring me to a "specialist" or oral surgeon in her corporation, whether it be for a new diagnosis of TMJ, the sudden need for a mouth guard, or other miscellaneous costly extras to tack on. That also includes the possibility of pulling out wisdom teeth that have never been a problem, nor have they shown to be causing problems (my original dentist was good about not recommending "extras" which were really unnecessary, and even said that the wisdom teeth were not a problem).. I'd like to find a simple "family" dentist, but I don't think they exist anymore.