Something in the air

Story by Sarah Clower

Illustration by Cliff Thomas

More than 50 percent of Americans are afraid of the dentist, and more than 70 percent don’t go as often as they should. Unfortunately, I fit into both of these categories.

Growing up, my parents were sticklers about dental visits, and we rarely missed a cleaning. To date, my mother has yet to get a cavity. But I didn’t get her good teeth genes, and instead have been plagued by cavities my entire life even though I brush, floss and Water Pik my teeth twice a day — every day.

Last week, I went into the dentist to have a root canal and to be fitted for a crown on a molar that I had chipped while eating pork rinds. I was nervous. I had never had a root canal or a crown before.

I really like my dentist, and I think he and his staff do a really great job at making their patients feel comfortable and relaxed during their visits. When I first walked in, I was greeted by their sweet receptionist and waited in the lobby until I was called back. Seconds after I walked in, another patient arrived and checked in at the front counter with the receptionist.

A few moments later, my name was called and I was escorted to one of the back rooms by a friendly dental hygienist. She got me settled in and made me feel a little better about my procedure by making small talk while I received the lidocaine shots. She checked on me before she left the room and said the dentist would be back in a few minutes to see how well my mouth was numbing up.

The same hygienist then brought the other patient from the lobby into the room across from mine. The hygienist got her settled, and it appeared she was maybe getting the same procedure I was. Before the hygienist left the room, the woman asked if it would be okay if she could wear headphones and listen to music during her appointment, explaining that it really helped her relax because she had terrible dental anxiety. The hygienist told her that it was no problem. The woman put her headphones into her ears, leaned back in the dental chair and closed her eyes.

I wondered why I didn’t think of doing that.

As my mouth numbed over the next 10 minutes, the woman across the hall looked as if she had nearly fallen asleep. I caught myself thinking about how envious I was when the dentist walked in.

“Hi Sarah!” He greeted me. “I’m just going to —.“

A loud sound interrupted him and made me jump. We all looked in the direction of the woman in the other room. She was still lying in the dental chair, seemingly cool as a cucumber with her eyes closed and headphones still in.

My dentist cleared his throat and continued. “I’m going to check your mouth really fast and see how well the lidocaine is working.” He wheeled his stool closer to my chair, and I instinctively opened my mouth. Right about the time he went to peer into my mouth the loud sound erupted again. Even with their masks on, I could see that the dentist and the hygienist were both blushing.

He confirmed the numbing shots were working well and said he would begin the procedure in about 10 minutes. He left the room, leaving the hygienist in the room with me. She began to ask me how business had been when…

“Bwhuuurrrrk!”

She and I just looked at each other, and although we tried to hold our laughter in we both erupted in giggles.

“Surely she doesn’t know she’s passing gas, right?” I asked, feeling embarrassment by proxy.

“No, I don’t think she does because she has her headphones in.” The hygienist replied.

About that time another hygienist walked into the room that the other woman was in and began talking to her and prepping her for whatever dental procedure she was there for. The dentist came back into my room and leaned my dental chair back and signaled to the hygienist that he was ready to begin.

Over the next hour or so, there were many other very loud and equally curious sounds coming from the room across the hall. My chair was tilted back so far that all I could see was the extremely bright light from the dental lamp and the white ceiling in my peripheral vision. I so badly wanted to lean up and glance over into the other room, but I restrained my nosiness.

After a particularly loud toot that ended in a curiously high octave, my hygienist couldn’t contain a comment. “My goodness… what in the world did she eat that could be producing such toxic fumes?”

When my dentist had finished the procedure and gone over all the dos and don’ts of what I could eat until my permanent crown was put on, he slowly inclined my chair until I was sitting fully upright once more.

Curiosity got the best of me and I glanced over into the room across the hall. With my mouth packed full of gauze and one side still very numb, I let out the loudest yet stifled laugh. Both the dentist and the hygienist in the other room were wearing something akin to gas masks and an oscillating fan had been placed in the corner. I could hear that it was running full blast.

My hygienist caught my eye. “Believe it or not, this happens pretty often when patients come in wearing headphones,” she said. “I really don’t think they have any idea about what is going on.”

I instantly thought back to all the places where I regularly wore headphones: the gym, the grocery store, anywhere I know I will have to wait a while… and suddenly I could feel my face getting very hot.