The smell of the dentist’s office—so familiar it’s almost comforting, but yet repulsive and terrifying all at once. If impending doom had a scent, it would be the same as the dentist’s office. Contrast that with the sweet voices of the receptionists at the dentist’s office. I have never encountered a dental receptionist that didn’t have the voice of angel. It must be a job requirement meant to distract the patient from the all-too-painful whirring of unidentified, electric dental tools.
Even the most faithful flossers begin to perspire as they walk into the dentist’s office. I consider myself well above average in the oral hygiene department but I still get nervous. And that dental office decor only adds to my anxiety because I can never stop wondering how they managed to get my grandma’s old sofa into this tiny office. I pick up the May issue of Glamour but the summer swimsuit collection isn’t really going to help me now that it’s November and 40 degrees outside. I decide to amuse myself by focusing on the guy across from me who looks really nervous. I look over and whisper, “I hope the tools are properly sterilized here or we could all get dysentery and die.” Nothing makes me feel better like making someone else feel worse.
That sweet-sounding receptionist gives me a scowl so I quickly get back to reading about which bikini will look best on the Thanksgiving turkey. I get up and walk to the bathroom to wash my hands because pre-read magazines always make me feel dirty. There is complimentary floss and mouthwash in the bathroom. I imagine the poor, desperate soul who uses this stuff. If you have been shirking your flossing duties, you’re not going to fool anyone here with this last-ditch effort. But they are travel-size so I grab a few and put them in my pocket—perfect for the flosser on the go.
Soon enough it’s my turn for the power chair and the sassy clip-on bib. The dentist and her assistant shove tools, hands, and enough cotton to knit a sweater in my mouth then begin asking me questions. I try to answer with a clever combination of hand gestures and eyebrow movements but I’m afraid the hygienist may think I am propositioning her. I switch all my answers to a throaty gurgling noise. Thankfully my dentist is fluent in throaty, gurgling noises. All too quickly my chair is back in the upright position and the dental verdict is in. “You need to see an endodontist.”
An endodontist, I learn, is a root canal specialist. In other words, a doctor who specializes in torture. Another appointment, another office. Only this office was not the same. Where my dentist had my grandmother’s couch from 1986, this office has a roaring fireplace, a crystal chandelier, and a self-serve wet bar. My travel-size floss pilfering seemed so amateur compared to what I could pilfer here: soda, water, little granola bars. This is how the other half of teeth live!
My excitement over the opulent office soon wanes as my appointment time comes and goes. I become more and more anxious as I come to terms with the fact that this office must have tools whose sounds I’ve never even heard before. My imminent root canal suddenly feels more like a death sentence and I start looking for an escape route. Too late, the nurse calls my name and before I know it, I’m sitting in that horrible dentist chair. Only this one’s not too horrible because it’s heated and and is massaging me. But not even a heated massage can distract me and my terror grows.
That’s when I was introduced to the three most glorious words in the English language: “free nitrous oxide.” The doctor saw how nervous I was and had the nurse get the nitrous. I was apprehensive because I had never had the stuff before, but the nurse smiled slyly and said, “Don’t worry, you’ll like it.”
Like it was an understatement. A little cover over my nose and a deep breath later, I was one happy root canal recipient. As it turns out, nitrous oxide is just like drinking your favorite cocktail but without the bourgeois hassle of lifting a glass. It’s unadulterated drunkenness and all you have to do is breath. I almost hyperventilated—twice.
That’s the day I no longer feared the dentist. I never miss an appointment and even though they assure me a routine check-up doesn’t require nitrous oxide, I request it anyway. If only this stuff was available at the gynecologist’s office.