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Sailing down the root canal.

After excavating the nerve, the dentist caps it with what he calls a crown. At the price, it should be a tiara-diamond studded

I'm strongly thinking of putting my dentist on salary. The primary reason is root canals. I've had six of these fake suckers-count them, they're all right here in the front-and it would be cheaper and a lot more fun just to bite down on dynamite caps.

A root canal, for you of root-canal innocence, is a ritual in which the dentist and/or his assistants excavate the nerve from a tooth and fill the cavity-and I'm going here strictly by the price tag-with pure platinum. Over this mother lode the dentist then installs a clone of pure India ivory.

And why does my infrequent smile now disclose six of these treasures? No mystery, really. It's because I have chosen a dentist who upon graduation from dental school took the Yacht Oath, swearing upon a cigar box full of denture failures that he would own a yacht before reaching the age of 35. Not that I would mind making a payment or two on his blasted boat, but apparently I am paying for everything but the anchor. He must be making this anchor himself from other dentists' fillings he removes to make room for his own. Why don't I just hand him the money and go on my merry way? Because I've got one of those moral dentists who won't accept money without giving something in return. In my case, six root canals.

What gave the overseer of my enamel an excuse to convert my six human teeth into these lavish fakes? No mystery here, either. A postcard arrived in the mail one otherwise carefree day to remind me that the anniversary of my annual teeth cleaning was coming up. The wording also carried a subtle hint that unless I made an immediate appointment I could very well be gumming my Big Macs before the year was out.

Heaven forbid! So I hurried in to have my teeth cleaned. And while I can't prove malfeasance, or whatever, it does seem odd that the very next week one tooth broke off at the gum line upon biting into a lemon-meringue pie. And I could feel another one weave whenever I opened my mouth on a windy day.

"Wouldn't it be cheaper just to have him glue the teeth to your partial plate?" my dear wife asks each time I take back her weekly allowance to help pay for one of these assaults on my dental structure. On six different occasions I've tried to

broach the same question to my dentist. But having evidently worked his way through dental school as a carnival barker, he doesn't give me a chance to broach. Let me interrupt his pitch on how great he's going to make me look, and he will immediately ram a "Shut Customer Up" device into

my mouth and ask whom I like in the coming election.

As for trying to convince a dentist that this gap in your yap is the direct result of his having cleaned your teeth right down to the nubbin the month before, forget it. He will argue that your dental skid row is more likely the result of having been nursed on a laboratory beaker. Or that you've been using a brush hard enough to take plaque off a cement block. Or what have you been using for dental floss, binder twine? And you hold your breath, afraid he'll wind up with Red Skelton's famous line: "Your teeth are O.K. but your gums will have to come out."

Let us say that we are both of the same religion: devout cowards. And let us say that we prefer to get along with a smile that looks like a whitewashed picket fence in disrepair rather than to face the pain of a root canal, which we have heard rates right up there alongside a porcupine breech birth.

But as FDR once said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." So . . . let's get on with it.

The procedure begins, of course, with an X-ray, the price of which will pay for a compass on the dentist's boat. It win also assure the dentist that the remains of the tooth in question have a root and that they are not being supported like a drunken sailor by the teeth on either side. The next step is to lower the dental chair until all the coins in my pants pocket fall out on the floor. These go into a collection that pays for lunch for the impassive little office group.

"Now we'll have to numb you," the dentist trills, flourishing a mini-javelin that leaves no doubt of its ability to render my face immobile"This may hurt a little," he confides as he follows me down in the chair and finally makes contact with the timorous tissue of my And how are we feeling today?"

"Arrgummeeronum," I explain, pointing to a knuckle the size of a walnut where some drunk had stepped on my hand at a party the night before.

"Great," he says, pushing the plunger on his converted grease gun that forces in the venom. "And how's the family?"

"Garrumfeeserrspacytt," I enunciate.


He then jabs me twice more-not that I need it, we'll soon discover, but evidently he can't unload the thing and doesn't want to see the stuff wasted. Leaving me there to numb, he hurries back to his yachting magazine.

It's all of 15 minutes later before he interrupts my delightful entertainment of staring at the ceiling by bustling in to ask, "Do we have a fat lip?"

Fat lip? The fact that I answer with hand signals should be a slight indication. But even I don't know that for the next four hours I will be using my necktie for a cuspidor. And why is the dentist now wearing a mask? So I won't be able to identify him in court, of course, should things go wrong. Like what? Like dropping his grinder in my lap while daydreaming about a name for his yacht . . . will it be "Molar Maid"? . . . "God's Little Acher"? . . . or how about "Cavity Jane"? (I actually have had one of those augers dropped in my lap, and it's not all that pleasant. I never did get the latticework effect out of the front of my pants.)

Time now for the X-ray office party, attended by two assistants obviously hired for more than their dental skills. Numbness by this time having reached my ears, I can catch but snatches of their repartee as they peer at the substructure of my doomed tooth, now exposed on the light table. From what I can gather . . . he wants a sausage pizza catered for lunch . . . one assistant is holding out for a Hardee's chef's salad . . . the other assistant brown-bagged a turkey sandwich, but she could help out on a pizza, if it were pepperoni. Why won't the salad assistant go along with a pizza? Because they are having beef and noodles for dinner, and she's got to take it easy for lunch. And I am drooling on my necktie.

Concerned that the pizza pros and cons might be penetrating my frozen earbuds, the dentist and assistant begin exchanging phrases more pertinent to their trade: "File length measurement" . . . "incisal wall of the pulp chamber" . . . "flame beaks of cotton pliers" . . . "amputated apical end" . . . "labial-lingual "Barbed broach" impressed me least of all.

The pizza ordered-half sausage, half pepperoni-and my X-ray having served its purpose as a conversationpiece, into the archives the X-ray goes. The assistant then isolates my sentenced tooth from its sympathetic companions with a rubber dam, and the dentist begins grinding it down beyond all redemption. This precaution he learned in Customer Relations II, a dental-school course designed to prevent the customer from hauling his big fat lip out of there, Kleenex bib and all.

Why would a patient leave? asks the innocent with his full complement ivories. Because the pain of price cannot be numbed. What better time than the victim's state of partial paralysis to introduce this delicate subject? It will be done earlier only if the small amount of change that has fallen to the floor indicates a deadbeat.

"By the by," the dentist says, letting his motor whine to a your root canal will be $145." Having pegged the price at more like twice that amount, I am midway into a sigh of relief when he cuts it short by callously adding, "And the crown will be $410-for a grand total of $555."

A grand total, he says. A crown, he calls it. At that price my tooth should be wearing a tiara, diamond studded. But to jump up and flee now would be inviting another hole in my face, for he is back in there "extirpating" (a word that probably added at least ten bucks to my bill) more nerve from the tooth. He removes the auger only long enough for the assistant to stick her head into my mouth to check his progress. It obviously being her responsibility to use up the X-ray film before the expiration date, she has my cringing molar shell saying "cheese" on the flimsiest excuse.

Finally tiring of extirpating, the dentist livens things up by setting my tooth on fire. No kidding. Bilows of smoke begin rolling out of my mouth. And in the midst of the conflagration I am reminded of the joke that got Pat Paulsen his job with the Smothers brothers: A workman at the Hershey plant, having fallen into a vat of chocolate, had the presence of mind to holler "Fire!" under the assumption that no one would come if he yelled "Chocolate!" My attempt to scream "Fire!" came out "Ffytsszel!"--to which nobody paid the slightest attention.

As the smoke finally cleared, my partly thawed ears caught the welcome words "That's all for today." Today? Oh yes, there would be three more appointments before dogs would quit following me because of wind whistling through my open gap.

"Don't chew on that side" were the dentist's cheerful parting words. Not that it mattered a whole lot. Even by dinnertime I couldn't tell which side was which. But I did get one break. In stir-frying the chicken oriental, my dear wife mistook a bottle of Breck shampoo for peanut oil. I didn't notice the difference.
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Title Annotation:personal narrative of dental surgery
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1988
Previous Article:Doomsday and Mr. Lincoln.
Next Article:Home sweet (restored) home.

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