A Letter to My Cousin’s Husband, Bob, Who is a Dentist

Dear Bob,

Don’t be alarmed that I’m writing a letter to you. You aren’t being visited by a 19th century Pride and Prejudice character. It’s just me, your wife’s cousin.

I’ve been thinking of you a lot lately, because I’ve been taking care of some dentistry problems. Nothing serious, just your average everyday stuff that people have to deal with when their “permanent” teeth stop living up to their nickname.

I have not skipped a biannual visit to the dentist since I was in college. And I take excellent care of my teeth. (I do, you know. I honestly do. Despite what you may have heard and the “little bit of perio” that one nasty-ass dental hygienist said she could see in my Facebook profile picture. Yes, that happened.) But despite all the  twice daily flossing, the $150 Sonicare toothbrush, toothpaste so expensive it’s behind lock and key in Walgreens, and not having popcorn since 1989, my teeth are being assholes.

I may have mentioned all this to you that time right before your wedding when we were sitting out on your back deck and you, having had a few pre-nuptial celebratory beers, said there was no reason why people should get dental checkups every six months, that that was just too many trips to the dentist and was bullshit; and I thought it was just the Stella talking, but then the day after the wedding when I brought it up again you said, no, that’s how you really felt, and I stood in awe of a dentist who calls it like it is. Although it’s possible that you were still, or again, drunk. It was an epic wedding weekend.

Today I was thinking of you while in the dentist’s chair. I had bopped in for the final visit of my Invisalign, expecting my doctor to look at my pearly whites and go, “You’re good! Let’s make appointments to take care of those minor things we talked about, and you can go resume the red wine binge drinking!”

It might surprise you that didn’t happen. Maybe it doesn’t surprise you. Maybe in your secret dentist clubs, you learned the Stealth Art of Filling Up a Day With Hardly Any Appointments.

She decided to take care of those minor things right now. Forty five minutes, she said. It’ll be fine, she said. Three hours later I was spitting out pieces of plastic, glue and Silly Putty, numb on both sides with Novocain, and referrals to specialists in my sweaty hand.

But I’m not writing to tell you about my last dental visit.  I’m writing because it occurred to me that as I was being poked and prodded with pieces of metal and plastic that cost more than my four-year degree from a public university, I wondered if patients ever tell their dentists what they hate about the whole process. Saying you hate the dentist or have dental anxiety has become ho-hum cliché. Dentists have become accustomed to it to the point where they don’t even stop and wonder why their patients fear and hate them more than the proctologist.

For me, it’s the little things that add up.

Did you know that sometimes the Death Rays from that light from Deep Space sometimes is at the exact wrong angle and would burn a retina if it weren’t for the fake Ray Bans that you hand out? Another thing you should know: We want to keep the fake Ray Bans. Take them home and wear them to wine country.

Also?  When you and your assistant are putting all those tools in a mouth, sometimes a little piece of lip skin gets trapped between a tooth and the plastic cocktail sword and it hurts like a mother.

Some other things of which to be aware:

When we say I HAN’T HREATHE we’re not being a dramatic baby.  Sometimes we have some sinus drainage and it feels exactly like our airways are being blocked. Having our mouths propped open by the rubber block doesn’t help, nor does hearing that sundry things aren’t going to fall down our throats. Stranger things have happened. We know. We read the Internet daily.

All of these things are so minor that we feel we can’t tell you, we can’t complain or we’d feel petty and overly sensitive. Also we can’t tell you because you keep putting things into our mouths.

I’m not trying to be a difficult patient. I realize it may seem that way, when during a particularly long, drawn-out dentist visit all these little things come into play,  gasping for air, pocketing the Ray Bans, spitting out pieces of a model airplane, and using my tongue to nudge your sword away from pinched lips. Speaking of tongues, we can’t help that ours move around in there while you’re trying to work. It just happens. They have minds of their own.

I used to think that you dentists would know all this, because you, too, are on the other side of the fake Ray Bans once in a while. But since that conversation at your wedding, I’m not so sure you even go to the dentist. So let me keep the tables turned and say

We like your smile!

It’s time for your checkup and cleaning!

Call the office today and schedule your appointment!

It will only take 45 minutes *

Diane Laney Fitzpatrick

Diane is a writer, blogger, humorist and author of the books "Great-Grandma Is on Twitter and Other Signs the Rapture Is Near" and "Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves." She lives in San Francisco.