Chamber of decay
I feel very defensive about my dental due diligence of late, because cross my heart and hope to die, you guys, the dentist said none of this mess was my fault. Or at least it wasn’t consciously my fault. Apparently while I sleep, I host a molar hoedown in my mouth, and those pearly whites dance all night long. (Translation: I’m GRINDING MY JAWS, Y’ALL.) This, in turn, has wiggled around some existing fillings (that, OK, might have been my fault) making just enough room for nefarious bacteria to worm its way behind them and start whittling away at my enamel’s integrity. On five of my teeth. Fuh. Ive. Of them. Luckily, the problem seems to have stopped just short of the nerve in all the teeth, meaning I don’t have to have any root canals. Having never had one, I picture a root canal to be a process in which they tie you to a table and pour molten lava into the pathways where your poor, dead nerves used to feel things, and then you are bionic. I never want to find out if this isn’t true.
At the initial discovery of my oral state, I asked the dentist how soon we could get the cavities taken care of. He explained that it would probably require two separate appointments to fill all the problem spots (and then an Rx for a night guard would be in order), and when I inquired about maybe pushing on through in one appointment, he said it depended on my threshold. MY THRESHOLD FOR WHAT? (My inner voice said.) “Oh.” (My outer voice said.) And when I joked about it being no problem, having birthed three babies sans painkillers and all, he laughed a little, but then told me that just one filling might take half an hour, so maybe I’d want to pace myself. That’s when I realized that laboring and delivering a fully formed Rosie human body had required less time than it was going to take to fill up five microscopic holes in my teeth. And then my brain exploded.
What all of this really meant, though, was that somehow my mental health has been haywire enough in the last year or so that it was causing disruption in places I hadn’t even considered, like the undersides of my bicuspids. This is disconcerting, just like having a sore throat for two weeks and discovering I’d been trucking back and forth to work with a full blown case of mono is. Clearly, my body has been trying to send me signals about the state of my life while I have been plugging my fingers into my ears yelling LA LA LA LA and growing more decrepit by the day. And that ain’t good. It ain’t good at all.
On the day of my (first) filling appointment, the dentist was 45 minutes in to his drill-a-thon when he must have caught a glimpse of the haunted look in my eyes, because he paused, whirring metal instrument halfway to my gaping maw and said, “You know what? Why don’t we let you take a break. We’ve drilled down into the chamber of decay, so it’s a good place to stop for a few minutes.” Let’s name a phrase you don’t want associated with your body. What’s that? Oh yes: CHAMBER OF DECAY. He and the hygienist left me there with my paper bib and dry cracked lips and some HGTV renovation reality show on mute while the phrase just hung there in the air, like a thought bubble over my exam chair, silently admonishing me for the damage I had let myself do to my health. I lay there watching a young hip couple show off their tiny closet space and hideous wood paneling and thought about the too many hours on the interstate and the too many nights up late trying to meet impossible deadlines. The too little sleep, the not enough time. The old refrain I sang every day for the past couple of years, growing more tinny by the day.
And so, I decided right then and there, this appointment was going to be my turning point. A physical clearing away of the muckity muck of a sexy job that, while exciting, was draining me dry at every turn. In a lot of uncomfortable ways, the schedule I had developed while working there had begun to resemble the hours I kept in medical school—a gig I left all those years ago for the explicit reason of having more time for my life.
But hidden behind the shiny veneer of my daily doings had been secret caverns of an eaten away self. And now I was presented with the opportunity for healing in the unlikeliest of forms: dental work. Here I was, finally taking care of business. Filling myself up. Bridging the gaps. Shortening the commutes. Expanding with the stuff that would sustain a solid life. Repairing my teeth, rethinking my time. Not many revelations happen in a beige plether plastic-covered chair in the dentist’s office, I’ll bet. But as I lay there, mid-procedure, illuminated by the glow of the adjustable arm of light, I felt redeemed.
I let my tongue drift over the too-big freshly-drilled holes that awaited sealing in the crevices of my bite as the dentist and hygienist returned to their positions beside me. “Are you ready to go on?” the dentist asked. I nodded gamely and opened wide. On the TV screen the smiling host opened a door for the young couple, revealing a brand new house inside.