Dentists love to judge you, don’t they? “How often do you brush?” “You need to visit more often.” “No, you cannot have your laughing gas ‘to go.'” Very few life experiences leave you feeling more judged than your time in a dentist’s chair. I visited mine recently, and in this case he went above and beyond the usual level of judgment.
We started with the usual “are you taking care of your teeth?” job interview, which I always fail. “Floss EVERY day? That number feels high. Are you just throwing that out to start the negotiation? In that case, I want all solid gold fillings. Maybe we should wait and talk when we’re both ready to get serious.”
I’m having a cavity filled so he shoots me up with novocain. As he goes to work I realize I can feel the drill, so I do that thing where I make Helen Keller-sounding noises even though I can’t form words to get him to stop. Shoots me up with more novocain, it still hurts. More novocain, it still hurts. It felt like I was a captured terrorist and he was the lamest CIA interrogator.
Finally he furrows his brow and almost whispers to me, “Can I ask you kind of a…you know, a personal question?”
This caught me off guard because I’ve never had a conversation with a dentist that went beyond small talk or him yelling at me over how shitty my teeth were. But he’s got the drill, so I say, “Uh, sure.”
He gets a real serious look on his face and says, “How often do you drink?”
My brain immediately went into overdrive trying to analyze the implications of his question. Is he a Quaker, trying to start a new subject and leading me on the path to righteousness? Was he trying to distract me from the pain of the drill by asking me to get a beer with him later? “I know this great dentists-only lounge down the street. I know you aren’t a dentist but they probably won’t even call you on it. Just act confident, like you belong. If anyone strikes up a conversation just mumble something about incisors.”
I stuttered my response: “Um, yeah, but like, socially, you know. Every so often I’ll have a drink but it’s not like, habitual.” I did that thing where I sounded unsure of myself even though the previous sentence was true. “I can stop any time I want, honest.” Why was I defensive? And why am I defending myself to my dentist of all people? I’ve never once in my life not done something because I thought, “Man, this party seems fun and all, but I can’t help feeling like my oral surgeon from childhood, Dr. Magann, would be disappointed in me.”
He then says, “The only reason I ask is people who drink sometimes develop a higher tolerance for novocain.”
My first thought on hearing this: doesn’t drinking have enough bad effects associated with it? Hangovers, possible liver failure…oh and you know that one painful experience in life where a guy pokes at your mouth with a pulsating, sharp metal object? This makes that even worse.
It also made me think: I wonder if there are any alcoholics out there who finally realized they were alcoholics after a conversation just like this? Some poor sap comes home to his wife with a bloated lip full of anastethic and a medical bib covered in blood: “Honey, I have a problem.” After he completes step 12 he adds a 13th: go back and get that wisdom tooth removed.
The good news was that with a little more novocain, I was able to get numb. Crisis averted. The only problem is now I can never drink without thinking of my dentist. I won’t be able to order a rum and coke without hallucinating about the bartender asking me, “You sure? Don’t you have a root canal scheduled soon?”
The experience did give me an idea: what about a dentist’s office specifically for people with this problem? Drinking-friendly dentistry. No gas, no novocain. Just liquor, wine and beer. Our lobby has a full bar and we replace the receptionist with a bartender. “Here’s a list of our specials and who’s your insurance provider?”
I’ll call it…Mike Eltringham’s Dentistry and Bar and Grill. Because a trip to the dentist is nerve-wracking enough. Shouldn’t you be allowed to get wasted for it?