Get your teeth into this – Another in my “Life in my little town” blog series

I used to hate visiting the dentist. As a child I remember going downtown after school with my mother. We would park near the historic Dominion Building on Victoria’s Douglas Street. The highlight was a ride up in the elevator cage staffed by a women working the controls. Now arrived on the sixth floor, I could smell the dental office around the corner and hear the drills whirring as the elevator cage door closed behind me. My stomach cinched as discomfort loomed, the only consolation a promised chocolate bar after the treatment.

Once in the chair, Dr. G (a friend of my father’s from the war I think, our side thankfully) welcomed me to his chair. After a few unmemorable remarks he started poking around in my mouth. In those days dentists did their own hygiene care. As with most kids my age, there were a few cavities—and modest discomfort. No screams, but not a fun experience.

How things have changed some fifty-five years later, especially in our little town of Summerland. The new shiny new citadel-like single-story dental building is spacious, well appointed, and beautiful. This was my first appointment so the order of the day was data collection and treatment plan development. After completing one of the longest and most complex medical and dental history forms I have ever seen (I avoided mention of childhood Plantar Warts) I was led by a pleasant  assistant through a myriad of photographic diagnostic procedures. As a photographer, well you might say this investigative process caught my eye.

With memories of full body scans in airports, I was first ushered into a room equipped with what I call a “roundhead” scanner. Keep my shoulders down; it will take about twenty (long) seconds; enjoy the show. Keep your head still—one had no choice as what looked like pointed green talons closely surrounded my head. Did I say stand still? You bet. One test down–What’s next?

Parading down a narrow corridor with what felt like a dozen additional workspaces—persons in chairs, lights above, technicians below gazing into cavities willed with, hmm, cavities, I arrived at my very own dental chair. A lovely view out the window was balanced by X-Ray tubes to my left and a television screen above my head. (You must be under six-years-old to enjoy cartoons on the TV I suspect.) Next came the typical X-rays–but hey, no more film to develop–a digital sensor now replaces film for the customary side shots. The pictures seemed to work well—see above—author mouth, with lovely implant—check out the swirly screw; it’s beautiful. The team was curious to know where I got the implant. I won’t tell.

Staying with photography, next up is a portrait session with the typical (for Western Canadian dentists it seems) Nikon body with a Sigma macro ring flash. (I want one of these flashes, for flower close-up work.) I wonder, do they get this gear free from the manufacturer hoping that dentists will develop an expensive hobby attachment to the brand? (The dentists I know are Canon shooters–hmm.) Back to work now. Lots of shots—smile, lips together, think of something sad. Lie—through your teeth. And while we’re at it, do I want my teeth brightened? Absolutely not—Whiter teeth would make the rest of me look real shabby.

Lest you think we’re now done, well no. There’s more. Now the technician inserts something similar to an electric toothbrush or a drink mixer into my mouth. It connects to a swanky screen unit. Prowling around my gum lines it collect data from my mouth to form a digital reconstruction of my teeth. Shame it could not do this in real time with real teeth. A future possibility? Never say, never! Every gnarled, edge, every filling, every crack, every unflossed tooth is on full display—a permanent record for posterity and for insurance purposes. Most cool is the way the image first appears, after which the technician uses something like Photoshop content-aware to tidy up the image and reduce its content to the bare necessities. The scanner sees everything. There is no place to hide. A treatment plan develops (!) as quickly as the cost mounts. A very comprehensive physical exam follows, more exhaustive than I have ever experienced.

It is a bit much for a first appointment, but at least in this dental office, prevention is a priority. (and the local Credit Union is two doors down the road.) Lest you think I am ungrateful I am not. We privileged professionals enjoy fabulous access to dental care, especially for those of who can afford benefit plans. Will expansion of our Canadian public health system include dental care for all Canadians anytime soon? We live in hope.

Returned to where I began, as I remember uncomfortable dental experiences in my past, the experience is now so very comfortable. I actually fell asleep in the dental chair a few months ago. One thing that has not changed however is the advice–floss and brush; repeat.

Teeth tell stories. If I am ever murdered, forensic investigators will quickly discover that I collided with a guy wire in my early twenties—one tooth died but the rest of me lived. Lateral craters above my upper back molars fronts will indicate that I used to brush from side to side. My implant will place me in my early sixties and matching fragility on the other side will document my decaying seventies. Evidence of childhood braces may be found along with horrible cramming in my lower centre block where one tooth was removed in childhood. Why bother whitening that mess I say. Negotiations continue.

One thought on “Get your teeth into this – Another in my “Life in my little town” blog series

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  1. We’re you talking about Dr Gunning? He refused to treat me because I bit him so I was moved to Dr. Kjeckstad across from the law courts!

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