No Laughing Matter.

I walked into the dentist's office with a bit of trepidation - I'd had a hot/cold sensitivity in one of my chompers for a few days, and figured I had a cracked filling. Both hot and cold food would cause a dull ache in my brain, and sometimes biting down on something hard in just the right way would shoot an ice pick into my eye.  I hate the dentist with a passion, even though I realize the necessity of it. I floss and brush twice a day and never miss a cleaning because I know that's all easier than having major work done.  Prevention is key and all that -- especially when it comes to your teeth.

I've just started going to a new guy closer to home, and I'm not sure about him yet.  The first time I went to him, he said he found a cavity.  I haven't had a cavity in probably 30 years, so I was skeptical.  I wasn't entirely sure he didn't just need a new widescreen TV for his kid's room, but I let him fill it anyway, and I continue to reserve judgment.

This time, I wasn't sure what was going to happen -- I figured it could be anything from a new filling to a root canal and crown; or god forbid, an implant.  My wife had an implant done there 6 months ago and we're STILL paying it off. I could have bought a nice used car for what that fake tooth cost.  That was a nightmare for her. Bone grafts, socket wrenches, hydrocodone, lasers... it was a mess.  And then after it was done, she was having trouble with it, and we thought for sure it was going to need to be yanked out again.  Eventually it settled down, and everything is fine now. I hated paying for it, but it's nice not being married to a hillbilly anymore.

 They are punctual at this place, I'll give them that. I arrived about ten minutes before my appointment, and they don't generally take you early.  You will sit there until the exact moment of your scheduled appointment, and then they come and take you into the back where the rooms and chairs are.  I was sitting in the waiting room, coughing like a TB patient.  A few months ago, I had gotten a head cold that moved to my chest.  Unfortunately, it took up residence there like so much Michael Keaton in Pacific Heights. I'm STILL coughing, and it's maddening.  At any rate, I was coughing, and they have complimentary water and flavored seltzer in this little glass-doored mini-fridge. I didn't want to be belching in anyone's face, so I grabbed an ice cold water and drank it down, hoping to stifle the cough a bit. That rang my bell a little because my tooth did NOT like the cold water.  I still finished the bottle though, doing this weird thing where I covered my tooth with my tongue and sort of stuck the bottle on the other side.

This office is fairly small, since the entire practice is shoehorned into an old Victorian house that has been turned into a business. The waiting room and the main reception desk are basically in the same 12x15' space, with a small bathroom directly across from the desk. To the left of the bathroom door is the entrance to the examination areas. Immediately after I finished the water, the hygienist/assistant came out to get me.  I stood up and started to follow her to the back, but then took a detour to use the bathroom while she waited. Better safe than sorry.

I am no fan of their bathroom, mostly because there is no fan. There is absolutely nothing to mask the sounds of whats going down in there, and it's right on top of the waiting room and reception desk due to the layout. It's like that guest bathroom at your in law's house that is three feet from the dining room table. Nobody wants to use it.

So to set the stage, the office is so quiet you can hear the house creaking, and the waiting room has about 4 other people in it, all just silently staring at their phones or reading magazines.  So I do what any self-respecting guy would do.  I aim for the side of the bowl to avoid making noise.  This is the classic NP move (ninja pee), and it takes some skill, depending upon the toilet.  Sometimes it's easy -- the newer low-flow toilets usually have lots of porcelain real estate to aim for. Unfortunately, this toilet, like the rest of the house, is fairly old and that means it uses approximately 40 gallons of water per flush, and the bowl is round and deep, like an ornamental koi pond that you pee in.*  Still, if you are an expert, there's a slice of about an inch between the edge of the bowl and the water that you can hit and still execute a perfect 10-point NP.  So I threaded the needle, scored a solid 9.0 (lost a point for flushing before I was done, so the noise would cover up any sloppiness in execution), washed up and followed the hygienist to my chair.

Sitting down, I immediately realized the other thing I hate about this particular dentist office.  The chairs don't have arms. It's awkward, and I don't like it. I always end up sort of sitting there with my hands in my lap, trying not to dig my nails into my palms until they bleed.

I could feel myself getting nervous.  I was away from work on my lunch hour, I had no idea what was going to happen, but I knew there would be drills involved.  I am a big wimp when it comes to the dentist.   Even if it's just a cleaning, I tense up like I'm being electrocuted and I stay that way for the duration.

The assistant took some X-rays and she apparently found a crack in the tooth, which she showed me with a digital camera and some kind of funky outlaw ROKU app on the widescreen TV in the room. The doctor strolled in and glanced at the screen, then told me to lie back so he could take a look.  He poked around in there for a few seconds, and said, "I'd suggest taking out that old filling, and putting a crown on that tooth to hold the crack together.  There's a good chance that section of tooth will fall off anyway when I start cleaning it up, since the crack goes around the base."

I didn't want to hear that, but OK.  I asked him if that meant a root canal, and he said, "Not necessarily. I can prep it for the crown right now, and we can put a temporary on and see how it does. If you are OK for the two weeks that it takes to get the permanent crown back from the lab, chances are you'll be fine without a root canal."  I liked this answer because I've never had a root canal and I'd like to continue not having one for as long as I can manage it.  I never had my wisdom teeth taken out either, and that's because I was born without them. That makes me some sort of genetic freak - or (as I prefer to think of it) just vastly more advanced on the evolutionary scale than all you poor bastards who had to go through having those fuckers dug out of your neanderthal jawbones with a chisel.

So out comes the ginormous Novocaine needle, and I tense up even more as he jabs it into multiple areas of my face from the inside. Then he left, and it was just me and the assistant waiting for the numbness to start. She asked me if I was nervous, and I said, "I hate the dentist. You are going to put power tools inside my head and grind away at a part of my body that has a giant nerve bundle just under the surface. Of course I'm nervous."

She laughed.  "Do you want the nitrous?" she asked. " It'll take the edge off. Laughing gas. You know."

I did not know. I didn't even know that was an option.  My old dentist never asked me if I wanted the nitrous.  I entertained the idea. "I dunno," I said. "I've never had it before.  What's it like?"  She said, "The doctor made us all try it when we started here so we'd know. She paused and then added, "Um...I'd say it's like having a couple of drinks."

A couple of drinks sounded like a good way to break the deathlock my left hand currently had on my right, so I told her to sign me up.

She strapped this rubber thing over my nose and told me to start breathing in.  She said after a few minutes I'd start to feel it.  I didn't feel anything. A minute or two later, she said, "Still nothing?"

"Nope." I responded. She reached over and tweaked a knob on the tank, and then looked at me again, questioningly.

I got as far as "Still noth---" and then I felt like I was already on the business-end of five martinis.

"Whoa," I said. Then I felt the irresistible urge to laugh.  I know, that's a cliche, but I immediately got the giggles. On the inside.  I managed to keep it together on the outside for appearances, but it was close. I almost went full Joker.

"How are you doing now?" she asked.

I grinned stupidly. "Pretty....pretty.....pretty... good." I said, giving her my best Larry David impersonation. I don't think she got it though. "Hey, you know what I hate?" I asked, as a random thought pinwheeled through my brain and came out of my word hole.

Without waiting for an answer, I pointed at the chair and made grabbing motions with my hands. "How'm I supposed ta white knuckle this bitch with no arms to grab onto?" I asked.

"Is that Novocaine working?" she asked, ignoring my question.

I touched the side of my face and it felt like I was drooling a little. Classy.  Something else funny occurred to me, and I sang a quick chorus of Two Tickets To Paradise, but I don't think she got that either. She was young. Or maybe it was because it came out sounding like "Two tits, a pair a dice" and she had no idea what that meant, and wisely chose to ignore it.

By then, the dentist was back, and they were going over the plan. The told me to keep breathing through my nose. I did. And I liked it. I think I started huffing it a bit because I could feel it cut off the feed from the tank if I breathed it in too deep.  It was metering me, and I hated it a little.

The assistant kept asking me questions, but I don't think she really wanted answers. I think she was just gauging how high I was and whether they could start drilling. I decided to ask her some questions, too.  Funny things were occurring to me, but I couldn't get the words out.  They were playing Christmas tunes over the in-room radio, so I asked the assistant about it.

"Sicka crimmas moozik?" I asked.

"What did you say?  The Christmas music? Do you want us to put something else on? Did you say you were sick of Christmas music?"

"No YOU," I said.  No, Butch Walker."

"Sorry we don't have that. It's just Pandora," she said.

"No. K-N-O-W." I spelled.  Butch. KNOW'im?"

"Ohhh, do I know Butch Walker?  No, who is he?" she asked.

"Producer. Artist. New CD. Christmas. Good."  My brain wanted to explain, but my mouth only knew how to speak in single word sentences.

Then the music changed to some instrumental piece that sounded familiar.  In my addled state, I could only identify it as some form of fast tempo classical.

"Carfoon Moozik," I said.

"Cartoon music? Yeah, it does sound like that," she laughed. "OK, we're going to have you lie back a little further. Are you good?  You don't feel sick or anything?"

I shook my head no, and then the dentist said, "I think we're good to go."

While they were getting ready to drill, I could hear the other hygienist talking to someone else in one of the other rooms, and the way she was talking struck me funny.  I started laughing, and they stopped again to make sure I was ok.

I tried to tell them why I was laughing, but the idea was a little more complex and I wasn't sure if I was making my point, which was that they were talking to all their stoned patients like they were a bunch of five year old children.  I tried to explain it to them, but finally gave up. It was too much work.

Right about then, they stopped talking to me, and started talking to each other, but I didn't realize that I wasn't in the conversation any more.  She was reminiscing about her first day there, when she had taken a face plant on an icy ski slope a couple of days before and scraped most of the skin off her forehead and nose and had to show up for work looking like a giant scab.  The dentist was telling her he was a snowboarder and used to do the parks and ride the halfpipe and do that thing where you jump up and slide down the rail, and the same thing happened to him once.  My eyes were ping ponging back and forth between them, and I desperately wanted to inject some of my hilarious snowboarding stories into the mix (of which I have none) but for some reason I had all these hands and tools and drills and stuff in my mouth and it was making it hard to talk.  I finally raised my hand, and they stopped.

"Are you in pain?" the assistant asked, concern in her voice.

"You fuckinwimme?" I asked her, pointing at my dentist. "He snowboards?"

She stifled a laugh and he said that yes, indeed, he did snowboard, and that I would have to be quiet now and let them finish up so we didn't cause delays for other patients. I knew I was definitely out of the conversation at that point.

That was the weirdest thing for me -- I couldn't clearly tell who they were addressing when they spoke.  It sounds ridiculous, but it was confusing as hell.  The dentist would say something like "Hand me the spoon excavator" and I'd be like, Hell yes! Anything you need! Just tell me what it looks like, and I'm on it! Then other times he'd be like "OK, sit up and rinse. You can spit into the funnel," and I'd be just laying there thinking It's pretty weird that he wants her to spit into some funnel.

The other freaky thing is, for me at least, time was stretched. I kept looking at my watch after what I felt like a really long time had gone by and it had been about five minutes.  They were probably wondering what the hell I was late for, I was looking at my watch so much.

They were about half way done, and had been drilling in my head for about four hours (30 minutes) and I realized that I had to pee so bad my entire body was tensed up because my bladder felt like someone was standing on it. It had apparently taken the signal a while to get through, because I had to go.  And the assistant is telling me "Relax, just keep breathing through your nose." I wanted to tell her that the last thing I should do is relax, because if I did, there'd be a cleanup in aisle five.  Finally I raised my hand again.  They stopped drilling and I said I needed to go to the bathroom, which I am pretty sure I heard come out of my mouth as "baffroon" but they got the idea.

I stood up and immediately felt ten times drunker than I did before.  I stumbled out of the room with the assistant's hand on my back.  She was talking me through it.  "OK, just go straight, watch out for the door jamb, don't trip on the rug, it's the first door on your left. Your other left, that's it."  I was bouncing off the walls, and the hallway looked lonnnnng, and all I could feel was this giant, warm hand on my back.  Finally, we were outside the bathroom door, and I went in.  I looked in the mirror and opened my mouth and was immediately grossed out by the little bloody nubbin that had once been my tooth.  I closed my mouth and staggered in front of the toilet.  I briefly thought about threading the needle, or maybe even sitting down, but I figured if  I sat down I might not get back up.  So I did what any drunk guy would do.  I aimed center mass and took no prisoners.  I peed for about 30 minutes (one minute) and I made a racket the entire time and gave no fucks.  It was the longest pee of my life.  I finished, washed up, made sure everything was back where it was supposed to be, and walked out of the room and into the waiting giant hand of the assistant, who ushered me back to my armless chair, whereupon I began huffing again in earnest. 

After that, things went pretty smoothly.  I'm not sure if they had upped the gas again or what, but the rest of the grinding and the mounting of the temporary crown was basically a blur. A few requests to bite down, that's it, no, not on my finger, and it was done.

When it was all over, they sat me in a chair for about 20 minutes and pretty soon I was back to normal. It's kind of amazing how quickly the nitrous leaves your system and you're not drunk anymore.

I have to go back in about a week to get the permanent crown put on.  I think whatever they did solved my problem because even with the temporary crown, my temperature sensitivity has gone away.  I'm not sure if they'll let me have the nitrous next time or not. I doubt it.  I probably don't want it anyway because I found out that it's an extra hundred and twenty bucks that isn't covered by insurance. Oops. Merry Christmas to me.  I have to admit, being stoned off my gourd did help with the anxiety. They probably could have pulled all my teeth out and played a game of jacks with them and I wouldn't have given a shit.

Totally worth the money.

* In unrelated news, I'm still banned for life from the Japanese area of Epcot. 


  1. Laughed so hard the tears flew down my cheeks.


  2. You're welcome! Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Wonderful story, I have missed your wit and ability to create a vivid story!

  4. you always make me laugh my ass off and if you saw my ass before I read this you'd be thoroughly impressed with your writing skills. Thanks I needed that.

  5. Loved this. Thanks for making me laugh so much again, Johnny.

  6. I have worked in the Dental field since 1983... this was, by far- one of the funniest dental stories I have ever read.
    Thank you so much for the Monday funny - this Dental Hygienist really needed this!

  7. Your writing put me right into your story. Wonderful!
    I always check and I'm so glad to find a new post.

  8. SO HAPPY to find a new post and you're right back to me having people asking if I'm laughing or crying, while my shoulders shake and I'm half-lying on my desk. Hysterical.

    If my dentist offers nitrous I'm not aware of it, but that's okay as I'm a cheap date and numb right up to the gills on a wee bit of Novocaine. I'm still kind of nervous but they haven't killed me yet so I persevere. Thought there was the time my jaw muscles seized up... that was interesting. The dentist got kinda mad at me because I was throwing off his schedule but honestly, it was NOT under my control!

    Anyway, also wanted to tell you that I had a tooth crack around an old filling. A piece actually fell off, leaving a jagged stump. Needless to say this was rather unpleasant so I made tracks for the dentist office. I too have never had a root canal and am in no hurry to join that club, so I was most relieved I could go the route of temporary crown/see how it feels/permanent crown. Fortunately it worked great. The tooth was still a bit sensitive for a year or so afterwards, but that's gone away and five years in I'm enjoying my lovely and expensive fake tooth-topper. Hope yours works out well, too!

    1. Rider! How are you? Good to see you still follow my dusty old blog. I had the same thing happen on a bottom tooth, but that was a different dentist so no nitrous oxide.

  9. P.S. I *HATE* peeing in public when other people can hear so I think I'd have to ditch this dentist purely because of the unfortunately-located bathroom. That sucks!

  10. Stumbled upon this blog about three weeks ago, don't even know how. Laughed out loud at one of the stories. Kept it as one of the 24 or so browser tabs I keep open. Now it's 6 in the morning. Been awake since 3 for God-knows-what reason. Want to go back to sleep but also bothered by this tense sensation in my back that keeps making me want to Google heart attack symptoms. From past experience that never turns out well. So I decided to close some of these lingering browser tabs and when I got to yours I saw a new post and said what the hell... Not only did I thoroughly enjoy this, laughing until I cried, especially around the part about the Larry David impression and two tickets to paradise, and the laughter was just as uncontrolled and sustained as I've ever had and no more pain. Now I remember some report on NPR from last month about this nonsense called laugh therapy. I think they are on to something. Thank you dearly for writing this, it's the best gift I've even received.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. Never google medical symptoms. You can turn a mild sore throat into esophageal cancer in like three clicks.

  11. My late father was a dentist and once when he got a new dental chair he used me as a test patient. I may have been 11 or 12 at the time. It was a fancier chair than what he used to have, electric controls to adjust the whole thing instead of turning knobs or foot pedals. Well he finds a small cavity to fix and he breaks out the brand new nitrous setup to use - new nose mask, new tanks, mixing valves, etc. He also numbed my gums with some gel then gave me shots in those numb spots.

    So after a few minutes of “take deep breaths through your nose” I was floating and couldn’t feel half my face. My dads words kinda echoed and reverberated when he talked. The whole room seemed to be swirling around. So he starts working on me and for whatever reason I decided to bite down. He had his finger in my mouth adjusting some gauze and something in my brain fired off a “chomp” command to my mouth.

    My dad yelled out a stream of four letter words as he yanked back his hand, I instinctively pulled off the nose mask and ran outside because I was absolutely sure I was about to get a belt across my ass. He comes out after a minute or two, asks me if I’m ok, and then asks why I bit him. I shrug and say “I dunno” , then we head back in.

    No nitrous on the second attempt and my dad never offered it to me again after that when I had any work done.

    1. Nitrous makes you a biter. Who knew?

  12. Oh my gosh, this happened to me three months ago! I had to get a filling done (no cavity, just a weak spot in my enamel) and I'm petrified of needles, so they gave me nitrous instead of Novocaine. I'd had nitrous before and it didn't affect me at all because the hygienist didn't hook it up right, but this time it sure did.

    The first two minutes were awesome. Like being under a warm, thick, vibrating blanket, and I didn't feel any anxiety or worry or anything. But I was TRIPPING hard after four minutes. Sounds kept repeating in an endless loop; I couldn't feel my body anymore; my hands and feet were tingling like they'd fallen asleep; my vision split; it was crazy.

    It started freaking me out. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to get out from under it, or that at any moment someone was going to ask me "How can you have any pudding if you don't eat yer meat?" It was some crazy Pink Floyd-esque stuff. (Also, it made my voice all low and manly. I'm a small-framed gal, but I sounded like James Earl Jones when I was on that stuff.)

    Eventually I ripped the mask off right before the dentist came back in, gulping in air to try to get my brain back to normal. I asked the dentist how long it had been and he said "about five minutes." In my head, though, it had been forty-five. Time has no meaning in the land of nitrous.

  13. Reminded me of a favourite movie bit as a kid from _The Pink Panther Strikes Again_, and just as funny :)

    Nitrous makes me paranoid and fight it, so I now decline if offered. Not a fan of dental work, but three years in braces with monthly checkups made me a model patient. (Also, sometime in junior high we were taught relaxation techiniques for upcoming standardized testing--useful but strange.) Once spent ten minutes talking an oral surgeon out of administering nitrous, promising I wouldn't flinch as long as he numbed me up "real good" and he could gas me if I did because by god I was not paying $120 out of pocket to feel paranoid for twenty minutes. He was done in ten, and grudgingly admitted I'd been a cooperative patient. I should have bitten the S.O.B.