Saturday, November 5, 2011

Lean Back and Open Wide

Last week I made my first visit to the dentist in Austin. As a graduate student on a stipend, I qualify for the medical insurance that UT offers to its employees and staff. "Graduate research assistant" is a tremendously blurry status, since the institution of UT technically views you as an employee, but for all social and daily interactions you are still considered a student. Alternatively, "minion" seems to work just as well during your first year of the Ph.D. program.

But I digress.

The dentist's office.

My particular insurance requires me to troll through a list of local dentists and then notify the insurance company of my preferred dentist. Having recently been introduced to the concept of Yelp, I typed in the first dentist on the list and hit enter.

Low ratings. Hm.

I tried the next dentist on the list.

And the next dentist.

And the next dentist.

Good heavens - maybe I should have gone for the more expensive insurance... At long last, I decided upon a dentist that had good reviews for dental work but poor reviews for getting appointments scheduled over the phone. "I can deal with the latter problem," I reasoned. "If all else fails, I will march into the office itself. " Fortunately, I did not have to resort to such drastic measures, and last Thursday I found myself staring up at the ceiling in an examination chair.

This particular dentist requires that all of his new patients come in for an initial examination before any other work is performed - even a routine cleaning! I have always had strong, healthy teeth, so I didn't much see the point. But whatever, I'll roll with it. Little did I know that the dentist had an entire system set up to take full stock of all of my teeth, complete with individual tooth numbers. His faithful nurse settled down onto a nearby seat as the dentist peered into my mouth. With a flourish of his tools, he began to dictate the exact position and orientation of each of my teeth, along with any other pertinent details.

"Number 1 is rotated outwards by 10 degrees. Number 12 has severe wearing on the inside surface. Number 24 is capped with enamel." And so on. Occasionally an interesting description would pop up, particularly with regard to my wisdom teeth.

"Number 17 is fully erupted."

Erupted?? Like a volcano?

"Number 22 is a bony impaction."

Something got impacted? Visions of football tackles are now running through my head, but no, no, that can't be right.

"The occlusal surface of number 7 is rotated towards the anterior region."

And the hip bone is connected to the thigh bone!! Right???

After my teeth have finished feeling like army recruits under scrutiny, the dentist begins to measure the gum height of each one. (At least, I think it was gum height). Each height is reported as a non-dimensional number, beginning with 1. A classmate later informed me that the scale goes at least as high as 6. As each of the reported heights came in as a "1," I began to relax and feel pretty confident in my oral hygiene. Then:


Wait, wait, wait. 2?!?! What does "2" mean? Do I have some debilitating disease? Are my teeth about to fall out? All of a sudden, I'm wishing I knew the dimensions on those height units... However, the dentist seems pleased with the results, so I mentally calm down and assume that a "2" is not the end of the world.

The final verdict on my visit was that I have excellent oral hygiene, apart from one small thing. The dentist hands me a mirror and indicates three of my teeth. "See that yellow part up near the root?" I nod yes, thinking that some helpful suggestion about cleaning will be forthcoming. "That is your actual root."

Say what?

Apparently, I am brushing my teeth TOO hard. My scrubbing motions have worn away the gums on several teeth such that the roots are beginning to show. The gum tissue does not regenerate at that point, so my teeth will become more sensitive if I continue my current habits. Fortunately, the remedy is simple: softer bristles and gentler cleaning. Well heck, if that's my biggest problem, I can deal with that!

I bounced out of the chair and out the door, leaving just enough time for me to schedule a cleaning for next week. Perhaps I will even throw some engineering terminology at him next time he starts spouting about "occlusal regions," just to see if that puts us on even footing. Have to keep these dentists on their toes, you know!

1 comment:

  1. Love this. You're amazing. This is basically my experience of the dentist's about a fortnight ago!