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When I was 27, I finally got dental insurance through my job after not having coverage for years. If you’ve been there, you know where this is going: I had to go to the dentist. I have a lot of dental trauma from years of orthodontia nightmares in my teens, which included things like projectile vomiting on my orthodontist and his serial-killer glasses during a particularly harrowing retainer fitting, and sleeping in a medieval torture device to fix my overbite.
Coverage issues aside, I hadn’t had much motivation to go to the dentist. Nothing good has ever happened to me there, and if something has always been an invasive ordeal, you’re not going to be excited about it. But now there was no getting around it: I had insurance, and I would have to go. So I did. The X-ray bitewings triggered my gag reflex, the cleaning made my gums bleed, and I took it very personally when the hygienist gave nearly all of my teeth embarrassingly poor ratings on a scale of 1-4. But the worst was yet to come: In came my new dentist, who looked like he was about 12 years old, and he had terrible news. I had six cavities. SIX. CAVITIES. And I would have to get all of them filled. I felt like I should be starring in a cautionary PSA: Megan didn’t think she had to go to the dentist. Now she’s almost 30 and has six cavities. Don’t be like Megan!
The fillings took place over the course of a year, because I couldn’t pay for them all at once and also didn’t want to deal with a monster marathon of bloody numb gums and chapped lips while the hygienist lied through her teeth about how I was “doing great.” You know when you know you’re NOT doing great? When you’re 27 years old and getting three cavities filled, facing the encroaching drone of the drill, and it hurts a lot more than you remember from when you were a kid, and you’re simply counting the minutes as they pass, wondering if it would be possible to have an out-of-body experience, because the pain is so excruciating you’d like to briefly exit your own skin. I would return home from each of my dental torture sessions to cry in the bathroom and chase ibuprofen with chocolate milk, feeling deeply wronged by the dental-industrial complex, as my then-boyfriend looked at me as if I were a wounded baby rabbit, which is exactly what I felt like, and gently said, “I hate seeing you in pain.”
The worst part was that I had to pay hundreds of dollars for this cruelty. Think about it: If someone on the street punches you in the mouth, that’s terrible, but at least they don’t bill your insurance, which then charges you a “patient responsibility” for your suffering. When one dental hygienist admonished me for not flossing enough and told me I would have to spend hundreds of dollars on a special electric toothbrush, I wanted to punch her. I also listened, because I never wanted to see her again. When my ordeal of regular drillings was over, I began flossing every day and bought the cheapest Sonicare available. I keep up with my regular cleanings, even though they still make my gums bleed. The last time I went to the dentist, a new, much nicer hygienist complimented me on my at-home care. If you only knew, I wanted to say, that my dedication to dental hygiene was hard-won. In blood. And snot. And torture.
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