Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Tooth for a Tooth

This is not an appetizing blog entry, but I hope you find it entertaining!

Things are expensive in Italy, so when  I found a dental appointment for €39 I had to go for it. I was due for a cleaning after all the coffee and wine I drink to “research” for my food tours.

Also, I had decided it is futile to wait for visits home to North Carolina, where my dentist is so gorgeous I end up spending fortunes on nice outfits to look glamorous when I swing into town and book dental cleanings…

My appointment was on a Wednesday at 5pm in the historic center of Florence. I arrived a few minutes early, where I found a seemingly nice office: front desk with two secretaries, a large waiting room with certificates of the Dentist’s studies in London and in Northern Italy.

After filling out the standard first-timer’s forms I waited about 15 minutes in the room, alone, realizing I was the only person in the place. In the meantime, I heard the two secretaries gabbing away about everything and anything but teeth in the front room. I wondered how much longer it would be.

Finally, one of the two secretaries walked in and said “prego,” as in "welcome, you’re up".
I headed into a rather sparse room with a legit dental chair and the classic sink in the corner, mouth diagrams on the walls, and blinding light with swing arm base.

Next thing I knew, the two women I had thought were receptionists (they had been at the front desk for crying out loud!) were on either side of me.

The elder of the two was apparently the dentist, even though the certificates on the wall had the name of a guy who was never present during my appointment.

Keep in mind, I’ve been in Italy over 10 years, but have never had the courage to have my teeth cleaned in this country. I laid back and did my best to remain calm.

I’m not sure how to describe the noise that was emitted by the instrument being used on my teeth, but it was as unnerving as nails on a chalkboard, and seemed to go on forever. 

The second dentist (dentist? Hygienist? Secretary?) was  at the other side of me, gabbing away about someone the two knew. Her job was to keep and apply the tube meant for sucking away water. She was apparently new at it, as instead of keeping my mouth dry she mostly sucked my lower lip - like a vacuum to a pillow- completely failing to succeed at the one task she’d been given.  By the time the cleaning was over, I had toothpaste in my hair!

Have you ever left a dental appointment and felt the need to take a shower? Until this appointment, neither had I! But wait, the appointment, let’s not skip the good stuff:

The chair was stationary, it did not have an up and down switch or reclining option. As my hair filled with dental products, my body was gradually sliding down the chair. 

I began practicing abdominal core stabilization far more strenuous than any Pilates class I’d ever taken, and even considered doing some Kegel excercises. Anything to keep my tush from sliding down the chair as they chatted above my increasingly wet head.

After retiring the squealing, scratching device, the more classic metal dental tools were brought out. To my relief, they were taken out of a paper, sterilized-for-your-safety type bag.

The elder dentist (Hygeniest? Secretary?) had a look of disdain on her face.

“Will you look at that!” she said to the other girl, who was now sucking my tongue with her air tube. “Francesca thinks she can switch out my good tools with these old, crooked things! As if I wouldn’t notice! Go and dig around in her drawer and see if she’s tried to hide my tools again.”

The younger girl, clearly glad to be relieved of her duty of suctioning every part of my face but the part she was supposed to, stood up and disappeared for at least 10 minutes. In the meantime, the older lady continued to scrape away at my teeth with the “old, crooked” tools this mysterious Francesca had slipped on her table.

I tried to speak, to say “hey there- I really need to spit or rinse or something! Help!” I thought I was going to choke to death. All the while, I could hear the younger girl in the front lobby talking to a man about a set of keys and a helmet. The older lady kept scraping...

I began imagining myself, in my golden years, with prosthetic teeth. I’d be sitting on a porch somewhere in a rocking chair, shaking my head as the pain caused by drinking an iced lemonade would be too much to bear. “I never should have made that discount dental appointment,” I’d say…

“We are going to have a good talk about proper brushing!” she said with a sadistic look on her face. At this moment I swore to myself I would become the most devout flosser ever known to man. I would floss so well I would only need a dentist once a year- long enough to keep going to my dentist in NC who was not only dreamy, but who I’d taken for granted for so many years. Appointments with him had been relatively painless, pleasant, and clean…

…The girl finally returned with a new paper bag of tools. The two discussed where she’d found the tools, that it was the millionth time this Francesca had tried to pull such a stunt, and then as if it were too much talk of teeth for them to handle, they returned to their original conversation about someone who was having an affair.

At this point I could feel water running down the sides of my face. After only a couple more minutes of scraping with the coveted “good” instruments, the older lady switched to the rubber spinning tooth buffer. I knew I’d survived , since this is always the last part of a standard cleaning.

The younger lady left the room again, leaving me in the deep end.  Knowing there were no longer any sharp objects in use, I decided I’d behaved myself long enough. I grabbed the older lady’s wrist lightly and demanded that I be given a chance to spit and rinse before continuing.

When the buffing began, the paste didn’t taste of cherry or mint as I’d always had. No. It was fennel flavored. Fennel. I love to eat fennel, but I can now proclaim that adding fennel to the array of unpleasantries in this dental visit was the last straw for me! I began plotting my complaint letter for Yelp, to the authorities (but who would that be in Italy?), about this insane dental cleaning.

Just then, as if she could read my thoughts, she began to speak to me in a soothing voice.

I generally receive some kind of free sample from my regular dentist. A toothbrush, a mini tube of the newest Crest product, a reel of floss. When the lady opened a drawer and said “Are you familiar with Super Floss?” I felt a glint of hope, thinking “Oh boy! At least I get a parting gift!”

But, she then pulled out an envelope, extracted one strand of unpackaged floss, and gave it to me with her bare hands, exclaiming “These are great! They’re even reusable!” I held the floss between my thumb and pointer and pondered where I should put it. I finally resigned myself and knowing there was no sterile way of keeping this floss, I shoved it in the pocket of my jacket.

I’d say “you get what you pay for.” but I don’t feel like I even got what I paid for!

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