I just had my introduction to Utah dentistry. And a startling introduction it was.
High tech. Sophisticated. Classy.You see I came from a Massachusetts background that was profoundly simple. Even though my dentist was very near the urban metropolis of Boston, he was decidedly low-key - even small-town. No fancy gadgetry.
When I went there he engaged in some predictable conversation about my family, my job and how old I was getting. He always laughed about it because we were the same age.
Then he took X-rays, checked my mouth and did some mild polishing while talking about the kids he was glad were away at college and wondering if they would ever leave home for good.
Then he interpreted the X-rays for me and spotted two tiny cavities and said he'd see me one more time to fill them.
When I came back he used a high-speed drill while I gazed at his painting of a New England shoreline on the wall.
I was sorry to leave my dentist. He was comfortable. Old shoe. I guess that's why it took me so long to line up a new dentist in Salt Lake City.
But I finally did it, beginning by filling out an extensive dental and medical history. Then I was ushered into a room that afforded a panoramic view of the Wasatch Mountains from the dental chair. Exquisite.
No sooner than I was settled into the chair checking out the view than the hygienist called me over to a panoramic X-ray machine that seemed capable of taking a dynamite picture of my entire body. Then I was back in the chair for another more-predictable, standard X-ray. Afterward, the hygienist gave my mouth a once-over, observing certain strange things as she did so - such as an old filling that seemed to need replacing.
When she was through, the dentist himself arrived for his part. Complete with rubber gloves and face mask, he said to the hygienist, "You realize that Dennis is always looking for interesting things to write about - maybe it will be YOU!"
Then he raced through my mouth with a probe, checking the health of my gums and identifying in detailed dental jargon the various evidences of plaque buildup, potential fillings, and who knows what.
The hygienist dutifully made notes of his rantings.
"Clear evidence of grinding on one side."
"One older filling that calls out for a crown."
"Did he say he flossed regularly? Better teach him our approved methods of brushing and flossing just in case."
And so on.
After he left, the hygienist took over again and did some cleaning. I told her I had not had Novacaine in 20 years and liked dentistry much better without it. She was stunned.
"It's not even called Novacaine any more - and you'd be amazed at how easily the shot goes in. You don't even feel it."
"I'll feel it afterward," I said.
She didn't deny it. She took pains to explain my X-ray and some of the terminology used by the dentist. She taught me the correct procedure of brushing and flossing.
When the dentist returned they both told a horrifying story about a nice man who was just in yesterday - a man with nice-looking teeth and hardly any cavities. An examination revealed that he suffered from "advanced periodontal disease - which will cost thousands of dollars and require extensive surgery."
I should be happy - they both agreed - that I was in such good shape. Another couple of cleaning sessions and some time to do the fillings and I'll be as good as new.
"Make several appointments as you leave."
I was supposed to be thrilled, but for some reason I wasn't. As I drove home, nursing a major headache induced by dental trauma, I longed for my simple, small-town dentist back in Massachusetts.
Not high-tech. Not sophisticated. Not classy. Maybe not everything my teeth needed. But sometimes you just don't want to know.