I went to a dentist about 15 years ago, who told me I had some new cavities and that he was going to use Novocain. I told him that I’d never had Novocain, and he said I had to be lying, given the number and type of cavities I had.
But it was true. In the 1960s, it was not unheard of for dentists to drill into children and teenagers without using anesthetic. It could be the reason so many people supposedly stopped going to dentists or were afraid to go in the first place, after hearing horror stories of primitive treatment and assuming not much had changed in the last 30 years.
My first experience with Novocain was not positive. My face swelled for two or three days, so I thought I had had an allergic reaction. Later, an endodontist told me that the dentist had possibly broken a blood vessel, but that an allergy to Novocain would be rare. I don’t know, but my current dentist also uses Novocain. A few years ago she told me that it wasn’t an option for at least one tooth because of how deep the cavity was. Because I could feel pain even under the Novocain, I concede that she was right.
Why the interest in dentistry? A month or so ago, the orthodontist’s assistant removed my upper braces and made a mold of my teeth, then gave me a retainer a week later with the instructions to rinse them in Efferdent or a similar cleaner. I didn’t think much of it until I was in Walgreens looking for Efferdent, and couldn’t find it at first. Eventually I located it on the bottom shelf, underneath all the whitening and brightening toothpastes. Bottom-shelf products are the ones that move slowly. Of course — how many people have dentures compared to how many have a need for whiter and brighter real teeth?1
This prompted me to think how different today’s generation is from mine and that of my parents. Both of my parents had full upper and lower plates. If I remember right, my dad’s teeth were removed courtesy of the U.S. Army Air Force. I’ve seen one photo of him smiling with his natural teeth, and it wasn’t pretty. They grew up in an era when the water wasn’t fluoridated, and country kids brushed, if at all, with baking soda. His youngest sister, however, did manage to keep most of her teeth.
My brother and I have many, many cavities, plus he had a root canal or two in his twenties. His are probably due to genetics because he took care of his teeth, while mine are due to poor dental hygiene. I didn’t want to brush when I was a child, and my parents didn’t push it. I can’t remember when I did start brushing regularly, but it was late in adolescence and then only once a day. No flossing. Surprisingly, I did not have bad breath, but I did get cavities. Now, of course, with braces, I brush and rinse twice a day and floss at night; gums deteriorate pretty quickly under braces if you aren’t fastidious, I quickly found out.
Most of the younger people I know are surprised to learn I have fillings because they have few if any. At first, this surprised me. I always believed that cavities were inevitable, that hygiene only staved them off or minimized them. Apparently, however, a combination of good genes and dental hygiene can actually mean a cavity-free existence. What’s it like never to have know the grating sound and feel of a drill chipping away at your teeth?
At this rate of progress, soon there will be a day when Efferdent will be needed only for retainers, mouth guards, and similar appliances. Dentures no more.