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For the past three days, I have been pretending that that wee tooth on the left side with the funny filling and the jagged, blackish bit at the gum isn’t bothering me. I keep thinking that maybe, perhaps, it’s possible, that it’s just a passing discomfort caused by something I ate or the weather or the cats or the second glass of wine last night or stress. Doesn’t stress get blamed for everything these days?

I was sitting in the emerg with my friend, J, a couple of weeks ago and the useless doctor on duty said to her, in my hearing, “You do not have an emergency. This is stress.” Stress? Sure this intelligent, no-nonsense, prairie woman who hadn’t been able to walk on her own for weeks, just called 911 and went flat-on-her-back down to emerg  for the hell of it. Then she gets there and after hours of waiting is told that it’s “only stress!” Sure, doctor, like all her other symptoms that she’s had for the past two months don’t exist? Thanks a lot. At least he didn’t say that it was just a natural part of the aging process. I, and most other women my age, get that line all too often. If he said that, I may have had to bop him one on his 12-year-old-looking nose. I guess stress is the new jargon for “Lady, this is all in your head.” It riled me and made my friend feel hopeless that this doctor and all the others who she had seen in emerg and her own family doctor — who’s also mine who I love dearly — didn’t take her seriously. Then, in not so many words, this doctor, like an avenging god, banished her from coming to his emergency department ever again. “You do not have an emergency,” he repeated. Unbelievable! Stress my sweet derriere.

Ok, the tooth just sent me a little subtle nudge to get on with it’s story, please. I have always had problems with my teeth, always. I remember when I was 18 and working at Ohio State University, my sister, Susie, and I decided to take advantage of very long lunch hours and cheap dental care and go have our teeth checked at the School of Dentistry. It was all men back then. It was probably the most male “attention” that either of us had ever had in our whole young lives — albeit it with cold instruments rather than warm tongues down our throats, (We were not French-kissing kind of girls, believe me.) Susie, one year older than me, had one visit. One! Well, maybe two, one for cleaning, and she was finished. Perfect teeth, they said.

I, on the other hand, graduated two years worth of students with my imperfect, everything-wrong teeth. I had root canal and a pin fitted in my front tooth. I had dozens of those awful fillings where they put that big, black piece of rubber around the tooth and then, just for fun, secured it with a clamp that hurt like hell. And there I’d be for hours while the student worked, the professor lectured and, in some cases, where the tooth was an interest to the World of Dentistry, the whole friggin class would be looking in my mouth. It was unfair. Susie and I both have the same genes, we both drank Pepsis and ate candy bars, and we were both negligent tooth-brushers, so, why,why, why poor little me?

That was only the beginning. I have been a dentist’s dream ever since. They see $$$ when I open my mouth. Back in the days when I worked at the law firm, I had a Dental Plan. I always thought it sounded organized and that I should take advantage of it and get my teeth checked. As a result, I ended up with a bridge over my front teeth that I’m forever afraid will crack and expose the jagged, witch-like stubs of teeth underneath. I had horrendous gum surgery where the pony-tailed-blond bouncy doctor cut skin off the roof of my mouth (!) and, just like I was rose bush, grafted it onto my gums. For weeks afterwards, I had to wear a disgusting piece of plastic over the roof of my mouth. Then I had to go and do it all again on the other side. The only positive of the whole experience was I could eat as many mashed potatoes — Yum, my favorite comfort food — that I wanted.

It just goes on and on. Now, I have a dentist who resides on the 34th Floor at the corner of Bloor and Yonge Streets one of THE corners in Toronto. I got there by default when my in-the-hood dentist moved into practice with this guy and then, just like that, decided to retire at the age of 45 or something leaving all of his patients dentist-less. But by then I was used to the place and the staff and all that and, and this is the big consideration, I was still in not-so-marital-bliss with the Murmuring Ex-Husband who had a lovely, very rich Dental Plan which, alas, went bye-bye with the divorce.

But, I am a creature of habit and don’t particularly like to change my care-givers of whatever ilk at the drop of an insurance payment. So, many, many hundreds of dollars later, I’m still there. They are sweet enough and the dentist really does excellent work but, in reality, I can’t afford the 34th Floor view all the way down to the lake. The last time I went it cost more than $3000 for a root canal and a crown. $3000. He said it just like it was $3.57! I asked him if I could get a senior discount. He laughed thinking that surely I was joking. I wasn’t. I told him that even my vet — the second most money-grabbing-medical-profession around — gave me a senior discount. He did let me pay it on monthly instalments. I asked him one time that if money was not an object, what would he do. He said, “Well, that bridge in front needs to be changed.” “How much?” I innocently asked. He took a closer look and said, with a smile, he is a dentist, “$8,000 if nothing goes wrong.” Now it was my turn to laugh.

So I hesitate to call and make that appointment, even though the tooth is telling me to pick up the phone. Maybe it really is just stress. I think I’ll just deep breathe a lot over the weekend and see if it miraculously stops bothering me by Monday. Then I’ll check my bank account and call the dentist.

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