I was raised in a home where dental hygiene was of utmost importance. When my mother flashes her award-winning smile, people actually pause to compliment her on her teeth. My father told me flossing is more important than changing your underwear. At school they celebrated our teethbrushing with little paper awards; this one time a giant dancing tooth came and we all got free toothpaste and little red tablets that would show us where we weren't brushing enough. As oral hygiene goes, well... I should have been the poster child.

But my enamel is weak. You know those fluoride treatments you stop getting when you're 18? I still get them, and will for the rest of my life. You know how you brush twice a day and floss once and you're not supposed to get cavities? I brush four times a day and my mouth is like the beaches of Normandy after the D-Day invasion.

Yet for years, I enjoyed going to the dentist. I loved getting my teeth cleaned (even though I ralph at the thought of fluoride) and novocaine shots, fillings, and those little white butterfly cards you have to gag on to get panoramic pictures taken never bothered me. That is, until I met her.

Dentist #1: The Omen

She was the new hygienist at my dentist's office, and a bad omen for things to come. I still remember the hideous mole on her cheek, with the one giant hair that mocked me from its pedestal. Though she was about 60, she'd just graduated from tooth academy. I had to have been her first patient. If you're squeamish, stop here.

Objective: to get my teeth cleaned.
Procedure: take a scaler (the long, hooked sharp pointy thing) to my teeth 
           to remove imaginary plaque.
Outcome: severe incisions along my gums and lips

While she hacked away at my mouth, she accused me of never brushing my teeth, flossing improperly and eating too many sweets. I am Jack's bleeding gums. Color me stupefied.

Dentist #2 and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Co-pay

We switched dentists. This one had a nice office in an affluent area and came highly recommended. Very popular fellow. But because he was so busy, often juggling 2-3 patients at a time, he would begin cavity-filling procedures by shooting me full of novocaine. Standard practice is to wait 5-10 minutes for the anesthetic to kick in, then to start immediately. Novocaine has a life of 1-3 hours, depending. But the good doctor, if you can call him that, would get caught up with other patients. By the time he'd return, he'd have to give more novocaine. He was so preoccupied with his busy practice that his work was shoddy; and because he was so greedy he'd break one filling into three office visits to collect more money from the insurance company.

These facts made it difficult to enjoy visits, but not unbearable. What was unbearable was the pain. He was so hard on my teeth that I would leave in tears, unable to eat for days. And because he kept finding more work to do, I kept going back. Over the span of 6 months, I had approximately 15 visits during which I would subject myself to pain unimaginable. But if you want healthy teeth, you have to go to the dentist. And I wanted healthy teeth. The last straw was when he had to restructure one of his own fillings, and actually made it worse. If I could take a novocaine needle and stab this man in the eye, I would not hesitate. Now that's hate.

Dentist #3, or Third Time's a Charm

This is the dentist I've always dreamed of. He's kind, patient, explains every procedure to me as an intelligent human being, is dedicated to one-patient-at-a-time, does his own cleanings, and has great breath. But I still hate going to the dentist.

He's slowly repairing the damage Dentist #2 did. To put it in simple terms: I was given fillings I didn't need, without medicine to protect the exposure, that were so deep they exposed nerve endings. There was so much damage done to my front teeth that they are noticeably thinner than they were before; My enamel is all but gone. I will need root canals, caps, and if all else fails, a bridge. Since the procedures are mainly slated for my central incisors, I can expect a lot of pain. When novocaine is shot into this region, the discomfort spreads to the nasal cavities. If you've ever had any work done on this area of your mouth, you know what I'm referring to. Worse than the pain is the suspicion I harbor for the profession of dentistry.

No one should have to think twice about the intentions or practices of people who claim they're helping them. When someone you're taught to trust your entire life then betrays that confidence, it's hard to rebuild.

This is why I hate going to the dentist.

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