If I were abducted by aliens and put through some kind of probing/inspection, I think it would feel much the same as going to the dentist. I recently had the pleasure of visiting my dentist for a root canal, and let me tell you, it was as much fun as, well, getting a root canal. It’s really not all that bad once you get past the shots. I’m super squeamish around needles, especially the kind that are going to be stuck in some body part of mine with the purpose of putting something in or taking something out. Thankfully my dentist knows what a big baby I am and keeps the giant turkey baster-sized needles he uses out of my line of sight. Once I’m all good and numb, it’s usually smooth sailing for me. I’m pretty used to having people come at me and stick their fingers in my mouth. Luckily for me, they’ve all been dental professionals of some sort, so far anyway. Along with the routine visits to the dentist, I’ve had braces twice to perfect my once very crooked teeth; four teeth pulled to get said braces; four impacted wisdom teeth surgically removed; two gum surgeries, both to aid said braces in said smile perfection; fillings; and a whopping six root canals (two on the same tooth) and seven crowns, all thanks to a quack dentist who put lawsuit-worthy fillings in most of my molars when I was in high school. Pretty soon I’ll be an honorary member of the British royal family with all the crowns I’ve amassed.
I should qualify all of this by saying that I’ve found a fantastic dentist who is just the kind of person you want if you must have someone fiddling around with your teeth. He’s an incredibly kind and caring person, and an absolute anal retentive perfectionist. If something isn’t right, he’s going to fix it or manipulate it until it is, and that’s fine by me. I don’t really want to join the legions of toothless people wandering the world gumming their way through life eating nothing but mashed potatoes and applesauce. I enjoy having teeth very much, so I’ll take whatever steps I have to in order to keep them in my mouth. Going to the dentist is not foreign to me, but still, every time I go and endure some kind of procedure, I can’t help but feel like I’m on another planet as I’m reclined in the chair. If aliens were poking and prodding me, I would expect to 1) Not be able to understand what they were saying; 2) Have all kinds of weird sounds and smells going on around me; 3) Have a big spotlight shining on me; 4) Be put into weird positions so they could get the best view; and 5) Be just a little freaked out about what they were doing. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but these are all the same things you experience when you’re sitting in the dental chair, no?
When I’m at the dentist, especially for something like a root canal, I lie in the chair for a couple hours spending that entire time wondering what the hell is going on. My dentist and his assistant are both American and speak crystal clear English; however, once they get to work, they may as well be conversing in Chinese as far as I’m concerned. They throw terms back and forth like “distal buckle” (Do I have some kind of belt on my teeth that I’m unaware of?), “20-14 blue cones” (Please tell me my teeth will still be white when this is all over!), and “endo” (This one I’ve figured out to mean endodontic treatment, the fancy-pants term for root canal. Score one for me!). They send each other cryptic messages, like “Pass me the viscous, I want to clear out this mesial area” (What?!? You’re putting couscous in my mouth because I have measles?), and “The lingual measures 18 and a half” (Is that a good thing? Bad thing? Do I have an abnormally large lingual or an inadequately small one, and what in the world is a lingual?). This goes on during the entire procedure, and my mind never stops trying to figure out what they’re really saying. I’m a curious person by nature, and if there’s something I don’t know I usually try to figure it out one way or another. But so far, I’ve restrained myself from delving too deeply into what these foreign words and weird phrases mean. Part of me really wants to know, but a bigger part realizes it’s probably better if I don’t know exactly just what is happening inside of my tooth while the dentist is at work. I think it would make me dread the experience that much more to know he was going to do such and such at this stage of the procedure. I’ve convinced myself that I’m better off being left in the dark, even if my brain does concoct its own bizarre translations of what’s being said and done.
A lack of understanding the language isn’t the only reason I often feel like I’ve been teleported to Mars when I go to the dentist. The sounds and smells alone make me feel like I’m having some type of close encounter of the third kind. First, there’s the bizarre suction/light/mouth guard that’s shoved into my mouth to suck any and all moisture out of my oral cavity, illuminate the area where the dentist will be working, and protect my airway from any flying enamel, metal, porcelain, what have you. It’s a good idea. It is. And I appreciate the safeguards, but it just feels and sounds so weird. Here I am, lying down with a big hunk of rubbery plastic in my mouth that has a suction hose trailing down the side of my face as it does its job and turns my lips and tongue into shriveled up raisins. Meantime there is a constant whooshing sound reverberating in my ears as all the water and spit is being sucked down the hose. Then there’s the drilling. Ooooohhhh, the horrible drilling. I’m not sure there’s any worse sound on earth than a dental drill. Maybe because it’s so close to your ears, I’m not sure, but it’s awful. And whatever kind of drill is used during a root canal is loud and high-pitched enough to leave my hearing fuzzy in the ear closest to the tooth that’s being worked on. I’d rather go to a heavy metal, headbanging concert if I’m going to be leaving with hearing damage. And then there’s the smells that are emitted from your mouth and swirl up to your nose. The worst ones for me are the weird burning smell when a tooth is being drilled or a metal filling is being removed and the bleach smell of whatever antiseptic is being squirted into my tooth. When that one hits my nose, I can’t help but think, “Hey doc, if you’re going to be bleaching things in there, spread some over to my front teeth so I can get some tooth whitening action while I’m here.” He never listens to me, though. Probably because anything I try to say just comes out as “Aaaahhhh, aahh ahhhhaaha.” There’s a plethora of dental smells, a robust bouquet that’s enough to make me throw up in my mouth. Good thing I have that big suction-y thing hanging off my face to prevent any possible aspiration/asphyxiation.
When it’s all said and done, I get up out of the chair and try to make my jaw function normally again, feeling a little bit dizzy and a lot numb. (Thankfully my dentist lets me go home whereas I think the aliens would probably keep me.) I stop by the front desk to have an unintelligible conversation with the very friendly receptionist who makes my next appointment and doesn’t laugh at my attempts to speak like a normal person without sounding like a drunk with cotton balls shoved in her cheeks. “How’s next Tuesday at 4:30 for you?” she asks. “Thath thould be fline, I cahm wuk my lunf howa an be hewa at thath time” I clumsily say, trying not to spit on her as I try to figure out where my tongue is in my mouth. I make my way out to my car, take a sip of water that dribbles down my shirt, and apply soothing balm to my raisin lips, even though I can’t smush my lips together enough to spread the balm around. I go home, return to normal, and mentally prepare myself for my next visit. Now that I think about it, maybe an alien probing would be easier than going to the dentist. I’m pretty sure it would be a one-and-done for the Martians. There’s a reason they always say, “See you next time” as you’re walking out of the dentist’s office. At least you get some freebies on your way out, though, as proven by my growing collection of toothbrushes and travel size Colgate. I bet the aliens wouldn’t be so generous!