Opinion: The whole tooth


It looked like a car battery charger to me, which seemed like an odd thing for my dental hygienist to be toting around the office. She told me it was the newest thing in dentistry, which is code for: Here’s another high-tech addition to our office, but now we desperately need to find a way to pay for it.

When it comes to dentistry, I’m very old school. I look back fondly on the giant needle they once used to inject the Novocaine. I liked sitting straight up in the chair, not reclining like a sunbather. Bring back the days when I didn’t have to make small talk with my dental hygienist about my big plans for the holidays. I also liked it when the dentist stayed in the same room with me when he took an x-ray and didn’t hide around the corner. Yes, going to the dentist was something real men did. Hey, that’s where I learned how to spit.

So what was this monstrosity the hygienist was carrying?

“The doctor will explain it you,” she said, which meant things were really going to get expensive now.

“It’s called DIAGNOdent,” Dr. Jones said. “Have you ever heard of it?”

“Is that the new app from Apple that lets you calculate how much a fender-bender is going to set you back?”

“No, Dick, this machine was developed because cavities have found new hiding places.”

I thought I addressed that problem when I began diligently flossing several years ago, but my plaque just up and headed for my arteries. When I started taking Lipitor, my cholesterol went down, so now I have no idea where all that build-up went, although I do have trouble hearing lately.

According to Dr. Jones, the traditional way of poking teeth with a dental probe to look for tiny holes actually caused cavities. And x-rays have never been very effective, he told me, especially for detecting some cavities that are protected by the enamel veneer, which is even stronger nowadays due to fluoridated water. Dr. Jones explained that with a laser light beam, DIAGNOdent locates cavities before they grow. Then some of these little guys will be subjected to minimally invasive preventive therapy. I bet that’s okay with them. They know the drill.

Dr. Jones took the laser probe and started scanning my mouth. I heard him say four, then seven, then 10. When he got to 14 he stopped. That frightened me because I have a general sense of how many pearly whites I have and this number seemed a bit low, even for a man my age. I heard a lot of beeping during the process, but finally Dr. Jones informed me that “there is no evidence of decay in your pits or grooves.”

Good news for me but it would have been even better news if I were an English muffin.

Before I left, Dr. Jones educated me about another new procedure he offers (this one for his dental-phobic patients) called NuCalm. You chew a few herbal pills, put a patch behind your ears, slap on some ear phones, and before you know it, you are tension-free. I told him I didn’t feel anxiety in his office, but he said, “The stress is always there; it’s hiding.”

Yeah, possibly in those little holes in my teeth.


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