Do you know how a cow dies of old age? Its teeth wear out. When it can no longer grind up grass, its jig is up.
In ancient eras, many human beings also met their ends because of dental problems and complications arising therefrom.
I spent 11 1/2 hours with my dentist yesterday. Well, not continuously—off and on. We started with one long emergency appointment at eight o'clock in the morning, met again at 5:00 p.m., and finished up the first stage of a root canal at 7:30 last night. The hyperemic tooth which has been giving me fits in recent weeks had finally gone into its Red Giant phase. The level of pain was...impressive. I'm not intimately acquainted with major pain, thank you god, but the pain of that tooth at least makes the cut to the big leagues, I would guess. It was like a tungsten fire burning in my jaw. (One of his patients who had the same thing told my dentist she would rather give birth again.) When it spun out of control the pain made me sweat, and feel dizzy.
I have an outstanding dentist. Very skilled, and devoted to his work. A genuinely nice guy, too. He is Dr. Tarkis Barsamian, a.k.a. "Dr. B."—Armenian-American, as you can tell from the name (my college dorm-mate Greg Aftandilian taught me that names ending in "-ian" are usually Armenian). Very interesting guy, too—it was nice to get a chance to talk with him at length, even as he was depriving me of pain meds.
Blamed, stood up, and welched on
I would have thought that dentists would find their work fulfilling. They're relatively well compensated, and they unambiguously help people.
Not so much, it turns out. People don't like going to the dentist, and blame dental difficulties of their own making on their dentist. Dentists get stood up a lot—people avoid their appointments (I do that. I've long suffered from an uncontrollable fear of dental work, triggered by a bad experience decades ago). They get stiffed a lot, too. Tark told me that some people who treat him like their best friend when they're in distress in the middle of the night suddenly unpack a trunk full of excuses when it comes to paying the bill.
Which is an injustice, seems to me. Where would we be without dentists? Sure, having the work done is unpleasant—but not nearly so unpleasant as not having it done. Before yesterday, I had never looked forward to a root canal before. Last evening I was positively eager for it.
On the trail of a tooth
Much of what Tark did with me amounted to detective work. It was fascinating to watch him on the trail. A hyperemic tooth "refers" pain—the inflamed nerve is bundled next to the nerves that lead to other teeth, making them hurt too, even though they're not affected. I could have sworn the tooth that was giving me trouble was no. 19, and if if it wasn't, then it was no. 14. Through a series of diagnostic tests, including several rounds of selective anesthesia, plus X-rays, plus a careful collation of his notes going back several years, added to good intuition and 28 years of experience, Tark figured out that the culprit was really no. 15, which surprised me. It really didn't seem to me like that one hurt as much as the others.
But he was right. Today I'm pain-free for the first time in a month and a half, and I got a full night's sleep last night for the first time in a long time. And no longer do I have to bombard my poor sufferin' kidneys with ibruprophen every five hours. I feel great.
I'm determined to pay every penny of the bill with nary an echo of complaint. And I'm never saying another word against dentists who buy themselves Leicas, either. As far as I'm concerned, every dentist should get a couple of Leicas just as a general thank-you.
Dr. B. is a great doctor and a great craftsman, and I mean both as compliments. Oh, and did I mention that Friday is Tark's day off? He had been helping his son renovate some rental apartments, and he arrived at his cold, darkened office for our afternoon appointment in work clothes. Part of the job, he said. He quoted Telly Savalas with a laugh: who loves ya, baby?
Dentists are your friends. Treat 'em well. Here's three cheers for dentists, the world over, and all they do.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Dwight: "I'm not sure if he told you, but #15 is frequently the hardest tooth in the mouth to do a root canal on. A lot of dentists would have needed to refer that treatment to a specialist. I'm glad Dr. B. was able to help."
Featured Comment by DC Wells: "Ditto on the value and kindness of dentists, Mike. And glad to hear you are feeling better for a change. I sent this along to my dentist. She and her staff have taken very good care of my teeth for quite a few years."
Featured Comment by Anupun Sra-lum, DDS: "As a long-time loyal TOP reader and a dentist by profession, I feel so great reading your compliments to Dr. Barsamian. Your kind words to people in my profession make me feel so proud being a dentist. You just make my day. And after spending 26 years performing dental treatment, I still cannot afford a Leica."