What Did I Do to Deserve These Cavities (Or the Sociology of Dentistry)

Dentists aren’t real doctors. That’s not an insult. That doesn’t mean dentists aren’t important. But doctors deal with the health and care of body parts. And, when defining “body parts”, I draw the line at teeth. Teeth are in the same category as hair and fingernails. And nobody thinks manicurists are real doctors.

Dental schools don’t accept just anyone. I mean, I assume you need decent college grades. Hence, the kinds of people who choose to attend dental school have other career options. And yet they choose dentistry. That’s interesting to me. At what age do you decide to dedicate your life to looking at teeth? You’ll never hear a young child say, “When I’m a grown-up, I wanna be an astronaut, a fireman, or perform root canals.”

I suspect the decision to become a dentist is less of an “Aha!” moment than a “well, whatever, I guess I’ll do this now” moment. Sort of like making the choice to start a family.

In the animated Christmas classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Hermey the Elf wants to quit making toys in order to pursue his dream of dentristy. The other elves find this choice- to become a dentist- so absurd and abhorrent, that Hermey is essentially forced out of the North Pole. The show’s producers must’ve figured, “Yeah, audiences can relate to that.”

(Later in the story, Hermey defeats Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster by pulling out all his teeth. It’s a pretty sick and sadistic act. Yet, it’s no less offensive than exiling misfit toys to a secluded island or excluding Rudolph for having a physical deformity.)

On Seinfeld, there was an episode where Jerry is accused of being an “anti-dentite”, prejudiced against dentists. In the episode, the dentist is played by Bryan Cranston, who later went on to star as a meth dealer in Breaking Bad. So Cranston’s acting career went from fixing teeth to rotting them.

I don’t think anyone actually dislikes dentists, though. Society understands the need for dentistry; Americans have a Constitutional right to chew. But many people don’t like going to the dentist dental vacuum forming machine.

The idea of masked strangers jabbing sharp metal tools into your mouth can be very frightening. But hey — that’s marriage!

But getting back to dentistry…

I don’t mind going to the dentist. There are things far more disturbing to me than sitting in a dentist’s chair… like watching any Eddie Murphy movie made after 1990. Shudder dental curing light!

My dentist is a nice man. And I think he knows what he’s doing. Actually, I have no idea if he knows what he is doing. But my teeth are still more or less in tact, so he must be doing something right. Actually, when I’m at the dentist’s office, I spend most of my time with the dental hygienist. She does most of the work — all the scraping and polishing and cleaning. And then the dentist comes in for a minute or two and confirms everything. He must’ve learned how to do that in dental school. During my last teeth cleaning session, the dentist literally could’ve been a hologram, and it wouldn’t have affected the appointment.

My dental hygienist is a sweet lady. I’ve noticed that people will say “my dentist”, but they’ll say “the hygienist.” My dentist refers to “his patients”, but he also says “my hygienist.” Nevertheless, I refer to both dentist and hygienist with a “my.” I like to think that we all own each other equally dental handpiece.

I’m using the pronouns he and she as they relate to my personal situation. It so happens that my dentist is a man. And my dental hygienist is a woman. I’m not sexist. I wouldn’t hesitate to go to a female dentist. In fact, a couple of things trouble me about my male dentist; he never asks for directions and I wish he would express his emotions more openly.

While cleaning my teeth, my hygienist often makes friendly conversation. She asks me about my job, etc. Of course, I can’t really answer her because I have metal tools on my tongue and I’m trying to keep the excess saliva in my mouth from escaping down my cheek. So I respond to her questions with a subtle nod or a grunt. It’s an efficient method of communication. I hope Apple doesn’t ruin it, as it did with all other forms of communication.

Both my dentist and hygienist know to be careful around certain spots in my mouth. Specifically, my front teeth, and a few in the back, are very sensitive. Hence, my dental team knows not to say anything that might hurt feelings.The Gums Have White Bumps? for more information.

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