Ervolino: Dentistry Is so Much Better Than It Used to Be — so Are My Teeth

I kept putting off the dentist, but he gave me something to smile about.
(Photo: Bill Ervolino/NorthJersey.com)

My niece suffered for days last week after having four wisdom teeth removed.

“Four? All at once?” I asked.

“Yes,” her mother replied. “That’s how they’re doing it now.”

Ouch.

My wisdom teeth came out, two at a time, back in the Golden Age of Dentistry. (And yes, that was the 1970s, also known as the Golden Age of Disco.)

Did I have any problems with my procedures? Not that I recall. But that doesn’t mean two at a time is better than four.

Like my niece, I also went to the dentist last week, for the first time in two years.

I’m always behind when it comes to doctor checkups and dental exams. I also miss trains. Nine years ago, I missed a flight from Detroit to Newark.

I’m never late for dinner, though. I love to eat. Maybe that’s why my teeth are constantly struggling to stay bright, sturdy and in my mouth.

Anyway, my dentist’s receptionist called two weeks ago to say I was overdue for a cleaning.

Ugh.

I hate cleanings.

Not that they’re painful or anything. It’s just that when I know one is coming up, I go into overdrive at home.

For days, I brush my teeth 12 times a day. And I floss constantly. And I gargle and spit and gargle and spit and gargle and spit.

Warm water. Listerine. Coconut oil.

“Hey Bill, it’s Steve! What are you doing tonight?”

“Gargling and spitting. You?”

I do all this for the four or five days before my appointment and the hygienist still manages to find a pound of broccoli back there.

It’s annoying.

And, naturally, it makes me suspicious. Was that really in my molars? Or did she plant it there, like those magicians who pull quarters out of your ears?

Then, once the cleaning is done, she brings up X-rays.

More aggravation.

“Would you rather come back for them?” she asks.

“No, no,” I mutter. “Let’s get them over with.”

I should note that X-rays are a lot less annoying than they used to be.

The old machines were so big and clunky, during the Big Clunky Golden Age of Dentistry.

And they were scary.

“Are you sure this thing is safe?” I’d ask the hygienist, as she moved it to the side of my face.

“Of course it’s safe,” she’d reply, before pulling a switch and then dashing off to some lead-lined bunker in the basement.

The machine made an ominous noise. (It really didn’t sound like anything else.) And you had to wear this 10-pound thing on your chest — the dental equivalent of a bullet-proof vest.

Then, when it was all over with, you’d have to lie there, uncomfortably, while the dentist looked over the results.

He’d hold up the X-rays, knit his brows, make “hmm” noises and never let you see what he was looking at.

“Hmm. Hmm … ”

“What do you see? More than three cavities?”

“Hmm … ”

“More than five?”

“Hmm … ”

“Can I look?”

“No.”

Despite all my brushing and flossing and gargling and spitting, I always seemed to get cavities.

Why?

Bad genes? Maybe. By the time my parents were in their 40s, they were being fitted for false teeth.

(In my father’s case, the teeth were fine, but the gums weren’t.)

I never liked getting fillings. But that was before I had my first root canal. After that, fillings were like birthday parties.

My most memorable afternoon in the chair was 14 years ago. In fact, I can tell you the exact date: Aug. 14, 2003.

Shortly after 4:10 p.m.

My dentist had given me some Novocaine, but it didn’t quite take hold. I was staring at the ceiling, listening to the Muzak and as soon as he began to drill, I leaped out of the chair.

“I think you need another shot,” he said, shoving a second hypodermic into my mouth, just as the Northeast Blackout of 2003 began.

Within seconds, the overhead lights began blinking, the Muzak went on and off and then, suddenly, power went out across North Jersey, New York State, Baltimore, Cleveland and Ontario.

Dude! This was like Novocaine from the ‘60s!

I drove home with my swollen mouth and sat on my stoop for a couple of hours. (I even met some new neighbors, who couldn’t understand a word I said.)

Bill Ervolino (Photo: Anne-Marie Caruso/NorthJersey.com)

I’ve had a million fillings through the years. And a few years ago, all of those black fillings were replaced with white ones. So, naturally, I was shocked last week when my dentist said, “No cavities!”

HUH???

“You’re kidding,” I said.

“Nope,” he replied, eventually attributing my lack of cavities to “all that aluminum siding you have in there.”

Most of it acquired, I might add, during the Big Clunky Golden and Aluminum Siding Age of Dentistry.

Email: ervolino@northjersey.com

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