Last year my mouth was falling apart. Specifically, three of my molars were in various stages of decay since my last visit to the dentist some six years before. One tooth was slowly crumbling and a filling fell out of another molar. The third and most problematic tooth was my top left molar. It was really really hurting - the kind of toothache that prevents you from falling asleep and otherwise dominates every thought and sensation. Sometimes I'd pinch myself to divert the dull and constant pain from my jaw towards other localities - an arm, a toe, a lip. I would bite down on the tooth to maximize and sharpen the pain hoping that when I released my jaw the original pain would then be more manageable. And of course I would talk incessantly about my toothache with others, usually unsolicited, to provoke sympathy and in some cases, empathy. It was through one of these conversations with my friend Jeff that I finally settled on paying a visit to a dentist. Jeff's dad makes false teeth in a false tooth laboratory in suburban Westchester. His laboratory is located in the basement of a dental office, and Jeff explained to me that the dentists upstairs owed his old man, and that he would "hook me up" with one of them to take a look at my teeth. Of course, the reason I hadn't taken care of my problem sooner was strictly monetary. I was without dental insurance and the money to cover what would surely be a massive dental bill. This wasn't a hundred dollar filling after all. I was in too deep. Jeff made a call, explained my dire situation, and returned with excellent news - the dentist would fix me up for "half off" and/or "pay what you can." I thought it reasonable to take the deal, as any practical person would, so Jeff and I drove out to Westchester one beautiful June afternoon.

Upon my arrival at the dentist's office I was greeted by my new dentist, Dr. Sullivan, who took a full set of x-rays after peering into my mouth. "My main objective is to stop the madness," he said. He went on to specifically elaborate that my comfort is paramount and that he'd do everything in his skill to ensure any pain I may feel be minimal. For some reason Dr. Sullivan was under the impression that the reason I hadn't seen a dentist in six years was because I was afraid of the pain - the drill. I suppose this is a plausible reason one might elect not to visit the dentist, but it wasn't my reason. I was too cheap, that's all, and didn't speak up otherwise. I was just too embarrassed to explain that I didn't have the money, so I allowed Dr. Sullivan and his staff to believe I was terrified of the pain. Not knowing which was worse of them to think of me - frightened or poor - I went with the former. This is my lie through omission. And through this lie I appeared to be a very brave boy. A real trooper. Dr. Sullivan went on to fulfill his promise, however, and kept the pain to a minimum. Over the next twelve months in some fifteen separate sessions I would undergo a root canal, three fillings, and a temporary crown. Personally, pain from dental procedures doesn't bother me like it does a lot of people. I'm fascinated with these procedures and actually enjoy the experience - the numbness, pressure, tools, sounds, smarting, etc. So it's my little secret. I still don't know how the dentist got the idea that I was afraid of the pain, but I suspect Jeff had something to do with it.

 

- Bill Talsma