Beverly Godfrey column: Relaxation found in the dentist's chair
The scrape of a pick, the whir of a polisher, the slurp of a saliva ejector.
The sounds of relaxation, in my opinion.
I'm not the only one who finds a dental cleaning akin to a spa treatment. Teri Maas, who cleaned my teeth recently and has been a dental hygienist for 19 years, said lots of people feel that way.
"People either find it relaxing or they're really tense," she said. "There isn't really an in between."
She went on to explain a subcategory of tense people, however: "Then there's those who are tense but won't let on. It's a lot of reading body language."
Her experience was to my benefit recently as I lay in her chair, eyes closed, listening to an odd mix of "easy listening" music. It had been awhile since I'd heard "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."
I like dentist appointments because while I'm there, I'm 100 percent busy, isolated, inaccessible. "Back in 20 minutes," so to speak. It's Mom Time, something I don't get even when I'm asleep. All night, in the back of my brain, I know that somebody could yell "Mom!" and need me. Do moms ever really sleep?
Of course, my teeth get cleaned too, which is a benefit, but mostly, it's about getting a chance to rest.
At my job, I receive press releases sometimes about dental health. It's a topic that comes up more often than I would have expected. "It's estimated that about 40 million Americans get anxiety about getting their teeth cleaned," one said. "Maybe you've been avoiding the dentist for a long time. You're not alone," said another.
A more recent press release provided more pointed information: "According to the CDC, 96 percent of Americans over the age of 65 have a cavity, and 20 percent have untreated tooth decay." It continued to paint the bigger picture: "Poor oral care can contribute to a host of other health issues, including strokes, heart disease and diabetes."
How sad, I thought, that people are at risk of such serious problems because, perhaps, their anxiety keeps them away. The visit that I find so relaxing is a thing others are avoiding.
My dentist, William "Dr. Bill" Bellamy, has been seeing patients for more than 30 years. I asked him about the "relaxation factor." He compared the feeling to being on the golf course — back in the day.
"Used to be when I'd be on the fifth hole at Lester — it's the farthest away from the clubhouse — I was away from everybody, won't be back for an hour," he said. "This was before cellphones. Now, you get guys trading stocks out there."
I agreed that it is harder to get away from things these days. He found a positive spin to the change, however: "Of course, I don't need as many magazines in the waiting room. Everyone has their cellphone."
I returned the next week to deliver a couple of the magazines I edit. You know, for his waiting room.
I appreciate finding a dentist I like. Years ago, I had a young dentist tell me out of the blue that he would file down my front teeth next time I was in, round them off. "I think you'll like the results," he said.
Mind you, I had not inquired about any cosmetic procedures. As far as I'm concerned, if my teeth have no cavities, they are fine. I laughed out loud at his suggestion.
It bugged me, though. For weeks, I'd catch myself looking at my square, edgy teeth. Who knew they were square and edgy? Not me, until he said something. And I know he wasn't suggesting he do that work for free. I don't appreciate having insecurities planted in my mind at the hope of making a profit.
I never went back to that dentist. I like dentists who let me rest, tell me my teeth look good, give me a toothbrush, send me on my way. Dr. Bill does that. And maybe next visit, my magazines will be in the waiting room. In case I forget my phone.
Beverly Godfrey is features editor of the Duluth News Tribune. She also edits The Woman Today, Duluth.com magazine, and Moms & Dads Today, a couple of which may or may not be in the lobby of Chester Creek Dental.