The title is misleading because I am writing not from the dentist’s chair, but from the patient’s chair, lying completely flat, head a little lower than my feet which is an excellent way of exacerbating a gastric condition known as reflux of which I have been suffering as late.
I am ‘in for’ a root canal, which in the formerly white city of Mérida is called by its much more elegant moniker endodoncia and can cost you between $1500 and $1900 according to the dentist and the tooth in question. I had one just a few weeks ago to celebrate my 47th birthday (thereby ensuring that there would be no birthday ‘lunch’ the following day) The $1500 was spent on what I believe is called a ‘canine’ tooth; it’s kind of on the corner between those front teeth and where the molars begin. Yesterday, the $1900 job, on a long-rooted molar located in the upper left hand part of my long suffering mouth.
I notice, as I am lying here, that the concept of dental hygiene with regards to my – ie the patients’ – hygiene, seems to be much more relaxed than I remember it having been in places like Canada, where I remember the dentist sitting like a surgeon, his gloved hands in the air while his assistant passed him tools and bits and pieces from a metal tray that had been removed from a micro-wave like contraption that apparently sterilized the equipment between patients.
Now before my critics pounce on me and tell me to just go home – and yes there are some out there who have a selective reading capacity and insist that everything I write is negative – I will have you know that I am not criticizing anything and that it is all observation. Note the preceding paragraph: “seems to be much more relaxed than I remember” This is not saying “those filthy third world swine”. Do you see the difference? Then, read on. If not, please leave now by clicking here.
So I am lying there, lightly coughing occasionally to keep everything in it’s place gastrically and thinking these little thoughts.
Now this is not the first time I have had thoughts along these lines. I have been to ‘the dentist’ on many occasions during my 20 year extended visit to Merida. This hygiene-related observation extends itself to all the dentists, from the general teeth cleaning visits to root canal specialists.
I have always wondered where the sterilization equipment is. I look for it and it is nowhere to be found (or seen, at least). I know it’s there, but I can never see it. It would make me feel so much better if i could see it, filled with a tray of shiny, sharp clean steel pointy things, ready to be used on me. Just me!
And when you are lying in the dentist’s chair, waiting for the next piece of steel to be inserted or perhaps the doctor is taking a phone call and you are unwillingly listening in like some inert piece of furniture as he plans his/her weekend or gives instructions to her/his maid at home, you have time to look up and observe that there are other life forms in the room with you, and their homes are the cobwebs in the corners. Perhaps you have a view of the air conditioning unit and you make a mental note to remind the doctor later to have someone clean the alarming volume of dust accumulating on the vents.
Then there is that tube that suctions your thickened saliva from your mouth. It’s hanging there from your lower lip doing it’s thing on auto-pilot, a little like those automated pool cleaners that roam about in your pool sucking up dirt and leaves. You can watch the saliva leave your mouth and travel along the tube. I always wonder: at which moment does the tip of that thing get changed and put on the tray to be sterilized?
This thought also occurs to me when the drilling starts. The little drill bits.
Then we have the whole glove thing, which seems to be for the dentists protection really. Watch the hands:
- Grab drill handle.
- Drill in mouth.
- Open drawer.
- Take out piece of film for x-ray.
- Place film in patients mouth.
- Move arm of x-ray machine into position.
- Insert fingers in patients mouth to hold film in place.
- Remove film.
- Move x-ray equipment arm.
- Turn off overhead light.
- Go to another room and do god knows what (with the gloves on the hands).
- Come back.
- Turn on and adjust overhead light.
- Take sharp steel thing from tray.
- Insert fingers in mouth.
- Poke around. Etc.
Then there is the assistant, perhaps a dentistry student from a local university (yesterday I had two, watching my open mouth and talking about their puppy). No gloves. No mask. Again watch the hands:
- Doctor asks for something.
- Open drawer.
- Rummage through stuff.
- Hold up different shiny steel things and ask doctor “this one?”.
- Put most back in drawer.
- Close drawer.
- Hand shiny steel thing to doctor who inserts it into where your root used to be.
- Scratches her chin.
- Grabs suction tube and sucks up some saliva.
- Goes next door for something.
- Comes back.
- Another look around the drawer.
- Another piece to the dentist, who inserts it into you.
- Scratches her head.
So these are my thoughts as I am lying there. Thinking of bacteria, of germs and things like that which I shouldn’t worry about really because nothing ever comes of worrying, right? And I haven’t caught anything really bad in all my visits to the dentist over the years. And they have all been friendly, accessible and inexpensive compared to the rigidly expensive system in Canada. Maybe I am just becoming more and more Mexican as time goes on and my immune system, like many Mexicans, is so much stronger than that of a recent arrival because of the resistance built up over time. Still, in the back of my mind, I wonder…