Something Truly Amazing Has Happened
I am still in shock, I did not think such a thing was still possible in this day and age. It seems however that I was wrong, one can still have a dental appointment that is a reasonably pleasant experience. I had been experiencing an increase in sensitivity to heat and cold in a few specific areas of my teeth and was nervous that I might have the beginnings of one or several cavities. No doubt my crippling Mountain Dew addiction had taken its toll and I had not had a regular cleaning since moving in with my parents over a year ago. Even though the take home pay at my current job puts me squarely in the bottom 10% of persons with my level of education and experience the company makes up for it with a benefits package, including dental insurance, that fall squarely in the much more respectable bottom 25%.
Clearly it was time to take advantage of those sweet, sweet, insurance benefits and make an appointment. A very good friend of mine called around and was able to get me in with a well reviewed practice not too far from my work. As I pulled into the parking space in the street just outside the building I could already tell this was going to be a unique experience. A single small wooden sign bearing the name of the dentist and the word “Dentist” in large white all capital letters was hanging just above the entrance. The small doorway faced the street and fronted a large 1940s style house abutted on both sides by other small businesses along a relatively busy street in a very small town. The door was extra small, like doors were back in the day when people were just generally smaller, and it opened into a landing which immediately led up a long, steep flight of stairs in a very narrow hallway. At the top of stairs there was a door which led into the lobby of the office.
Immediately as I stepped through the door everything felt different. It was as if had been magically transported to the 1950s. The decor, the architecture, even the people, they all seemed straight out of an episode of Happy Days or one of those Twilight Zone episodes of that era. The only thing assuring me that it was indeed still 2017 was the small flat screen monitor just to the right of the receptionist who greeted me with a warm hello and a big smile. That flat screen monitor was the only screen I could see in the entire office. To my right there was a single, large, old school 1950s style dentist chair in a room I took to be the main dental procedure area where cavities, fillings, and such would be handled. It really did look like something out of a museum but amazingly it was still in use and even though it was old you could tell it had been treated with the utmost care as it’s chrome parts gleamed as if they had just been polished and the vinyl glistened like the sidewalls of the tires on a freshly detailed show car.
After filling out the requisite paperwork and making a little small talk with the receptionist Laura I took a seat in the waiting room. Laura had informed me that the building we were in used to be a four bedroom apartment where the father of the woman dentist currently in charge once lived with his wife and young children including the current Dr. [Redacted]. He was a dentist himself and converted the apartment home into a work space over the course of several years. It officially opened for business as a dentist’s office sometime in the early 1950s and continued to grow until he passed it on to his daughter in 1988. The waiting room where I was seated was a marvel of 1950s style with ceiling to floor chestnut wood paneling, all wood coffee and end tables, and even some 1950s artwork which I thought must be reprints or knockoffs but now am wondering if might be originals hung at the time Mr. [Redacted] first opened for business and have simply remained where they were ever since. The only small detail giving away the current date were the few modern magazines splayed across the coffee table. One other patient sat in the room with me and boy did he ever fit right in. He was a big man wearing those super thick black rimmed eyeglasses that everyone seemed to wear back in the 50s, denim overalls pulled up way to high, and reading a local print newspaper, not some Ipad or Kindle or shit like that.
After a short time I was called to the back and taken to the room where my cleaning and exam would take place. Again the chair and instrumentation were ancient but clearly well cared for. The view when seated in the chair was really nice. This room had been the kitchen of the house and from the chair you looked out a large bay window from the second floor across the rooftops of the small city. You might be wondering if seeing all of this old medical equipment gave me pause at all to reconsider, after all we are often told that if it is old it must be inferior, particularly when it comes to things like health care. I have to say in fact it did, particularly when I first laid eyes on the X-ray machine and its apparatus bolted to the wall. I had never seen anything like it and it appeared to be the box containing the actual radioactive source material and it was huge, probably 2 feet by 2 feet, thick black metal with warning signs all over it. It had a giant knob for adjusting the radiation delivery level and some other knobs and buttons and switches (all analog) whose function I could not discern. Although I was a little taken aback I figured how bad could it be really and decided I would gut it out and just go with the flow. The chair itself was a thing of beauty, comfortable but not exactly elaborately padded, it even had this old fashioned spit cup on the left side which rose up automatically in a manner that must have been awe inspiring to the dental patients of 1952 but today just seems so quaint. The dentist, rather than using a hose to squirt water, instead kept a small cup chair side which she diligently instructed me to use to rinse out my mouth at regular intervals. The water she poured was the perfect mild temperature and contained just a hint of mouth wash. The way she refilled that cup when needed was so practiced, so flawless, so artistic, you could tell she had been doing it that exact same way for years upon years.
Which brings me to Dr. [Redacted] herself. First of all she did both my cleaning and my examination. Wtf? Who does that anymore? Nobody that is who. She told me she doesn’t have any hygienists on staff and only one other helper who came in one day a week for few hours. She sort of mumbled to herself softly as she worked, I could not quite make out what she was saying but it seemed as if she was tracking her effectiveness at various different approaches she was using during my cleaning. Some persons might be put off by this sort of thing but I found it endearing as hell and reminded me of myself when I am at work engrossed in a task at which I have expert level skill. I also often invent little games where I try to best my previous best ever ”score”, and yes I often mumble to myself too. The cleaning itself was old school too, scrape and polish, no fancy fuckin sonic water pick that generally hurt like hell and makes a horrible racket, just that trusty metal pick which she wielded with the precision of a true master. I have very sensitive gums and I always dreaded the hygienist working with that pick and scraping the gumline. I swear I felt not one second of pain or discomfort and the end result was as good or better then I have ever had anywhere else. When it was time for the polish she asked me sweetly what flavor I would like, there were like five choices and I went with bubble gum. It was fucking delicious and she stopped halfway through to ask me if it really tasted like gum. It felt like a line she had used with hundreds of other patients but genuine nonetheless.
She was so gentle in both her tone of voice and approach in general. I mentioned previously that I had not had a cleaning in over a year so I had some serious plaque and tartar build up going on. I was prepared for a big time lecture on my bad habits but instead she made only one short comment which she said twice. Guess what it was? Nice job brushing and flossing, you are doing good. Again, wtf? When was the last time a dentist complimented you on your brushing and flossing? For me it was never until just then though I had been taken to task for my slacking on several occasions. Finally there was no sales pitch. Every freaking dentist I have had an appointment with in the past ten years has been like a damn salesmen for cosmetic dentistry shit. My last dentist on the very first visit, the very first piece of paperwork he had me fill out was not my medical history or insurance information, but rather a brochure with a quiz to find out if I “liked my smile.” I fucking failed it big time as I am sure most people do and the bulk of the rest of my visit was spent rebuffing him and his staff’s repeated offers to set me up with a whitening or schedule a procedure to file down my frontals, etc. I left that office with sort of clean teeth but also a complex about how nasty my teeth must be that I still have not gotten over.
I mentioned my sensitivity issue to Dr. [Redacted] a few times and she wrote me a prescription for some higher strength sensitive teeth toothpaste that you can’t get over the counter. I did not even know there was such a thing. None of my other asshole dentists had ever mentioned though I bitched to them every time about this problem. She also talked about some treatment she could do sort of like a filling for the outside of the teeth that can provide some protection for sensitive gums. Not only could she do the procedure but she was skilled at getting insurance to pay for it. Overall she kicked serious ass in every way, the office was bad ass, and the best news of them all, no cavities! I am not giving up this dentist no way no how.
Authors note: Thinking back on it as I wrote this piece caused me to reflect some on just how unusual that sort of practice has to be these days. I can imagine many people upon walking in to that office taking one look and simply turning around and walking out. Everything was just so….. old. I do not know how they manage to compete with the modern high tech dentist office. Actually, now I do know how they do it. The highest quality customer service, expert staff, and repeat customers like myself. They do not make ’em like that anymore.