Daily Archives: September 3, 2009

Dentistry Update

For those of you what don’t follow me on Twitter:

Tooth not cracked after all; what looked like a crack to me turned out to be a discolored filling. The source of the pain is gum inflammation; yes, I brush and floss, but apparently I’m not flossing deep enough, which is a lesson to all y’all. So rather than a root canal, which I was sort of expecting, I received a dental cleaning and had the infected gums packed with antibiotics, which is without a doubt the worst-tasting thing to happen to me this year. Antibiotics thusly packed in, I was told not to floss for twenty four hours, which was the first and I expect the very last time I will ever have a dentist make such a command to me. Now back home with horribly bad antibiotic breath. Be glad you’re not near me.

That is all.

On the Subject of Teeth and Dentistry

This is a lovely time to drag out of cold storage a humor column I wrote in 1996, entitled “Drill, Sergeant”.

—-

Drill, Sergeant

My wife played softball on Saturday and spent Sunday wobbling around the house like Weeble. She had odd-shaped bruises in weird places (a thin, streaky one on her ankle, a splotchy Rorschach blotch on her shoulder and small but nevertheless real bruise in the cleft of her chin — the Kirk Douglas special) and stiffness in her joints. Lactic acid, produced in bursting moments of athletic activity, leaked through her muscles, making them achy and sore. She debated whether or not to be fed intravenously.

Don’t feel too bad for her. The pain my wife was feeling was brought about by her own doing. It’s a subset of the entire “Feel the Burn” philosophy that dictates that unless you exercise your body until your neurons misfire, you’re not really exercising at all. This is in turn a subset of a larger philosophy that embraces pain, and how much of it you can take, as an indication of character and internal makeup (Not REAL pain, mind you. Real pain is brought on by circumstances that you cannot control, like car wrecks, or food poisoning, or Charlie Sheen popping up in a movie you’re watching. Real pain is random. Real pain is scary. Real pain hurts).

On one end of this philosophy, you’ve got my wife and her softball aches. On the other end you’ve got G. Gordon Liddy barbecuing his hand, taking “Feel The Burn” rather too literally. Somewhere beyond Liddy’s finger food, however, is a story that my dentist told me earlier in the week, while he was shaving down my teeth.

My dentist had his medical schooling paid for by the Navy, and in return was stationed at Parris Island, tending to the dental needs of the Marines there. In all respects, my dentist said, the Marines were fine, upstanding men, both officers and gentlemen.

But the Marine officers also had this thing about anesthesia: they didn’t want any. They would come in to his office, salute and say “Sir, I request not to have Novocain. I would like to test my endurance to pain.” Then they would sit down in his chair, their uniforms neat and freshly pressed, to await the dentist’s ministrations.

This freaked out my dentist for a while, until he was pulled aside by some of the other dentists who had worked on the base longer than he. “Look,” they said, “If they’re dumb enough to ask, you might as well give them what they want. Just tell them not to move.” He did. They didn’t. After the work was done, my dentist said, the backs of the Marine officers’ neatly-pressed uniforms would be drenched with sweat from collar to seat.

The payoff for the Marine officers (other than quality dental care) were the bragging rights they got out of it: someone was tooling around in their mouth with a high speed drill, and they TOOK it. Like a MAN. Like a MARINE. At social functions on base, my dentist would be approached by his patients, who would have a friend in tow. “Sir,” they would say, “Please communicate to my colleague here how much pain I endured in your chair.”

“We drilled right on the nerve,” my dentist would invariably reply. Everybody went away happy.

If I were a dentist, I don’t know that I would want to have a reputation as a master of nerve pain, but my dentist didn’t seem to mind, and now we have a corps of Marines ready for whatever feats of dental malice our enemies may hurl against us. As an American, I sleep better at nights knowing this.

How do I feel about this “No Pain, No Gain” philosophy? Well, ask my dentist. He drilled right on the nerve, and I didn’t flinch once. It’s because he numbed my face so thoroughly there are parts of it I still can’t feel.

Observations on a Toothache

Well, I’m scheduled at the dentist at 3pm to deal with the cracked molar, and until then I have a toothache which occasionally throbs up, but is mostly under control at the moment thanks to the dynamic duo of ibuprofen and Orajel. Be that as it may it’s too distracting to allow me to be terribly creative at the moment, so instead allow me to offer some thoughts on me and my toothache.

First, I feel lucky to be alive in the relatively small slice of human history during which dentistry is a licensed medical profession, said doctors have an understanding and appreciation for basic hygiene, and we have access to lovely, lovely mouth-numbing painkillers. Considering the vast majority of humanity typically had their teeth pulled by people who also doubled as hairdressers, and had to feel every single yank and twist until it was over, the advantages to being alive now should not be understated.

Second, this is a reminder that sometimes things just happen. Four years ago today, as it happens, I wrote my “Being Poor” essay, in which one of the things I noted was “Being Poor is hoping the toothache goes away.” To which some arch twit who thought he was very clever responded in the comments that being poor doesn’t excuse people from brushing their teeth, and did not appear to want to be convinced that the simple act of brushing one’s teeth does not mean one then has blanket immunity from all subsequent dental issues.

And, well: Hello, I brush and floss my teeth daily. I go to regular checkups as recommended by my dentist. I do not chew rocks or coat my teeth with a solution of sugar and acid directly before I go to sleep. I do everything I’m supposed to do for my teeth and mostly none of the stuff I’m not, and yet one morning — today — I woke up and one of my teeth was cracked. Why? Oh, possibly because I’m a 40-year-old man and this particular molar has been in constant use in my mouth since I was twelve or so, and also possibly because shit just happens, and also possibly because a tooth brush is not, in fact, the magical talisman against life that this smug jackass appeared to think it was.

Now, fortunately for me, I don’t have to just hope that this toothache goes away. As soon as I realized this wasn’t just some random transient pain I hopped on the phone, called my dentist’s office, and was delighted that he was able to drop me into his schedule for the day. I can do this because I have dental insurance and can afford the co-pay without problem. That said, it’s not hard to imagine a situation where I wasn’t so fortunate, without having to resort to being poor. I could be unmarried, for example, since my insurance comes through my wife. Alternately I could stay married and have my wife unemployed, laid off because of cuts her company made due to the recession, and then the full cost of the insurance we have would fall on us, at least until the COBRA runs out, and it would be an open question as to whether we could afford it.

If my wife couldn’t find another job with health/dental benefits — and where we live there are lots of jobs that skip that part — it’d fall on me to cover it. I’m a successful writer, but I also know that much of my success comes from luck; there are other writers who work as hard and are as good at writing as I, who are not as financially successful. I could be in a situation where I (like most writers) don’t make a whole lot of money and would have trouble purchasing a health and dental plan for myself, much less my wife and our child. If I didn’t have dental insurance, I might have to decide whether I want to fix my tooth or pay some other bills first; I might decide it makes more financial sense to chew on aspirin for a while.

And so on. Again, these are some of the situations one might find one’s self in without having to go all the way to being genuinely in poverty here in the US. Not all of these situations are entirely under one’s control, and not all of them are one’s fault. There are lots of people who have cause to hope the toothache goes away, and to dread if it doesn’t, and not just because some guy is fiddling around in their mouth with a high speed drill.

This is what it is (which is not to say it is what it has to be, which is another thing entirely), and what it does is remind me that I really am a fortunate bastard in lots of little ways that don’t bear thinking about until thinking about them is required. I don’t stay up nights thinking “gee, it’s nice that if I crack a tooth I can take care of it with a minimum of fuss,” but when I do crack a tooth, I think it’s worth noting that there are many ways in which it would be a serious problem, were my life just a degree or two off the direction it’s going.

It’s particularly useful when I’m feeling smug and thinking my life is as it is solely because I made it that way on my own. In the real world, what we do with our lives matters, but our lives are lived in a world that is more than just what we make of it. And sometimes you get toothaches.

That Was the Science Fiction Summer That Was

By every measure but the one that’s scientifically accurate, Labor Day Weekend is the end of the summer here in the US, so that means it’s time for a summer science fiction film wrap-up column from me over on the AMC site. Come learn what I think it means that Transformers was so successful, that District 9 got so much press, and that Star Trek landed the reboot dismount. And then think wistfully about that certain summer romance that you will never forget, the last sweet summer breezes wafting through your hair. Because it’s the time of year to do that too, people.