MAD DOG: Dental Lasers and High Tech Sadism

Next to listening to Alan Greenspan give a speech on the state of the economy an hour after you sunk your entire inheritance into the stock market, there's nothing quite as anxiety provoking as a trip to your local neighborhood dentist. Okay, there's the thought of being forced to sit through another mind-numbing O.J. trial. Or watching more than 2 minutes of McHale's Navy, the movie. You know, the one that sank faster than a navy sub filled with 100 Tom Arnolds. Or .... okay, come to think of it maybe a lot of things are as nasty as going to the dentist, but that doesn't make it any easier to wake up in the morning to the realization that in a few hours some guy's going to be poking around your mouth with suction hoses, high powered water jets, all the fingers of one hand, and an assortment of sharp instruments that would make Josef Mengele proud. All in the guise of good dental hygiene.I'm not sure exactly why people hate going to the dentist as much as they do. It could be a reaction to the movie Marathon Man, the film which single-handedly caused more dental appointments to be canceled than all the tubes of Crest in the world. But the truth is, people have been apprehensive about going to the dentist since the day the first caveman looked in another caveman's mouth and thought, "Damn! Now I know how I'm going to pay for that new two-seat dinosaur the wife's been dying for!"The problem starts the moment you walk in the dentist's office. No one else in the world uses formaldehyde as air freshener. Not even the coroner. This smell has the same effect on you that ringing a bell did on Pavlov's dogs, except Pavlov didn't feel the urge to stick a bilge pump in the dogs' mouths to suck out the saliva. The next problem you run into is the wait."Doctor, your first patient of the day is here.""Thank you nurse," the dentist says, putting down his cup of coffee. "I'll be leaving the house in a few minutes. Why don't you let her read a 4 year-old copy of Double-wide Domesticity magazine and get her to fill out a couple more insurance forms. That should keep her busy while I fight my way through rush hour traffic."For some reason nearly all of our country's 120,000 dentists are men. I don't have any statistics to back this up–and really aren't in the mood to go through the trouble of trying to find them–but the more I rack my brain the more I can't recall ever seeing a female dentist. This could be because of genetic predisposition. Or it could be a manifestation of a patriarchal society's sexist channeling of women into other careers. But I suspect the real reason is that most women just don't have the sadistic streak necessary to be a successful dentist.Face it, being a dentist is pretty much an extension of a typical male childhood. Playing with tools. Probing with sharp instruments. Drawing blood and inflicting pain whenever possible. These are pretty much boy things. And at heart, dentists are just sadistic little boys who now get paid handsomely for doing the same things they did as children for pure pleasure. It's what's known in psychiatric circles as a Dream Job.But now it appears that the federal government, always searching for new ways to increase our quality of life while sending elected officials on bigger and better junkets, is trying to make our trip to the dentist just a little more pleasant. That's right, they've approved over-the-counter sales of morphine lozenges. Just kidding. Actually they've approved the first laser dental drill. Lasers, for those of you who slept through 10th grade science, Mr. Wizard, and every space invasion movie made in the 1950's, is an intense beam of highly focused, amplified light that's been harnessed to better mankind. It's revolutionized surgery, allowed for the invention of the compact disc, and let anyone with more money than sense aim a pointer beam at a friend and watch them cringe because the red dot of light between their eyes looks just like a laser gun sight.Supposedly the high-tech erbium-YAG laser system (which incidentally is an anagram for "Yea, bum rig") zaps the dental decay without harming the tooth, burning a hole in your tongue, or playing that Yanni CD you embarrassingly left in your jacket pocket. Oh yeah, and the best part is they claim you don't need anesthesia.That's right. For once you won't have to leave the dentist's office drooling out of one side of your mouth. You can go right to a McDonald's without worrying that more of your Big Mac will dribble out the numb side than goes down your throat. All that plus you can get a suntan while he's drilling.But there are a few drawbacks to the system. First, the laser hasn't been approved for use on children, and that includes their teeth. So far only five dentists are qualified to use the new lasers, and so far they're using them mostly in place of their paintball guns on Saturday mornings. And worst of all, this could spell the end of the only thing that made going to the dentist's office an enjoyable experience–nitrous oxide.But this is progress, and I won't be the one to stand in the way of it. Especially until I'm damned good and convinced that they know how to aim those things. Anyone for a game of laser tag?

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