Saturday, August 5, 2017


Hygienist from Hell 
Spring, 1991

    When I made an appointment to have my teeth cleaned, I forgot something crucial:  I did not want Patty to come anywhere near me.  Her hands were large; she used them roughly and clumsily.  My new dentist (the former one had retired) had two hygienists, and I intended to make sure my cleaning session was with the other one.      
     When I walked into the office and saw Patty, my heart sank.  A thousand times in my mind I have turned around and walked out.  If only I had listened to the instinct that urged me to avoid her, no matter how embarrassing it might be for both of us.  But we're brought up to be polite, so I sat down in the chair and hoped her technique might have improved since my last visit. 
     Then I committed another error: I asked the young lady to please try to be a little gentler than she was the last time.  She cleaned my upper teeth in her usual inept way—nothing like the technique of the hygienist I had enjoyed for twenty years. 
     Patty progressed to my lower left jaw, and as she was cleaning, she stretched my cheek out with the mirror much further than seemed necessary.  I was rigid with nervousness but said nothing, wanting only to get the procedure over with.
     When she reached the last area, Patty suddenly began pulling so hard on the mirror, it was as if she were trying to yank me bodily out of the chair.  I don't think I could have avoided the damage even if I had reacted with what I have fantasized again and again—shoving her hand away and saying, "What in hell are you doing?"
     But we're brought up to be courteous and refrain from making scenes, so I sat there frozen and silent. When she was finally through I left, sent Dr. Thompson a check, and vowed I'd never return.
     Soon after this dental mayhem, I began to notice something strange happening below my mouth whenever I ate a meal.   As I brushed my teeth, I could see an odd, bubbly looking ridge under my lower lip. I figured Patty had damaged my salivary glands. 
     It was several months before I told my daughter what had happened. Kathie was insistent that I report the incident to the dentist, saying he'd want to know; it wasn't fair to other patients not to tell him.
     So I called Dr. Thompson and began describing my experience.  Far from being grateful, Dr. Thompson was hostile and defensive.  There was no way my salivary glands could have been damaged by Patty.  If they were blocked, I'd know it; my whole face would swell up. 
     I kept saying, "Doesn't it seem coincidental that I walked into your office with my skin looking normal?  And after I left, this problem arose?"
     It had absolutely nothing to do with his hygienist, Dr. Thompson said.  But if I’d come in, he had a special machine that most dentists don't have.  He could test me and see if there was anything unusual going on.  Would he have said, "I see what you mean.  That hard tugging with the mirror obviously caused the problem." In my dreams.
     This was the summer of 1990.  My son-in-law gave me the name of an ear, nose, and throat specialist at Mass. General.  I demonstrated how the bubbly area became worse when I ate a handful of raisins.  He had never seen or heard of such a phenomenon.   There was nothing he knew of that could help it.  “Just live with it,” he advised.
     My root canal specialist gave a sigh and said, "This is what every dentist has nightmares about—that someone who works for him will injure a patient.” 
     Having introduced the hygienist from Hell, I’ll fast forward to the spring of 2010 to a new dental disaster.  I regularly ordered from Roche Brothers their Food Club Bran Flakes. The product kept the old broad regular, all right, but on three different occasions, I bit down on a hard, Grape-nut like granule. Twice, I simply removed it, assuming this was an aberration unlikely to occur again.  The third time, I saved the object because it had broken one of my front teeth. 
     Not to worry, my older son reassured me. I should go to his Marshfield dentist, who had mended a similar mishap. “You’ll go in there, be there an hour and come out with your tooth as good as new.”
       Dr. X’s office was located 40 minutes from my home but only ten minutes from my Wednesday duplicate bridge game, so I made an appointment. 

Roche Brothers
70 Hastings St.
Wellesley, MA 02481
Att. Customer Service 
Dear Sir or Ms:
     Enclosed is a copy of the letter I sent you on May 20th concerning my chipped tooth.  Food Club’s insurance company paid the $171.00 for my dentist’s repair after requesting first that I sign a form agreeing that this would be a final settlement.  I signed the waiver, not knowing how much this chipped tooth and subsequent attempts at repair would cost, and out of fear that I would get no help whatsoever from Zurich Insurance Company if I did not sign. As you can see from the attached bills (which in no way measure all the trauma and inconvenience), my financial losses have far exceeded your original settlement. An attorney friend assures me that I can petition you to help with these additional bills. . . .

     The first repair soon broke, leaving me gap-toothed until Dr. X. could fix it again.  That one also broke.  On July 6, 2010 I went to Dr. M. in the same office, since Dr. X’s day off was on Tuesday.  [The substitute dentist stuffed so much gauze under my upper lip that an inch-long varicose vein appeared—something else for this whiner to live with.}  Dr. M. filled the gap for $300.  When that one also broke, Dr.X. repaired it again at no charge.  He said he was making it stronger, but if it didn’t last, I’d have to have a porcelain cap for $1000. The fee is usually $1300, but he gave me a credit for one of the three-hundred-dollar repairs that kept breaking (a total of 4 times).
      On July 23rd, Dr. X. installed a temporary plastic cap, using a metal instrument in the process.  I was aware of a little click, and sure enough, when I looked in the rearview mirror of my car, there was a chip on the tooth next to the one the dentist had worked on, leaving a narrow space between the two teeth involved.  Meanwhile, I had left a $500 check for half the cost of the porcelain cap.  Rather than return to the office and give the poor man a hard time, I decided I would instead settle for the temporary plastic cap.  It wasn’t quite the right color, but I didn’t want to spend another $500.  Moreover, I was very much afraid that the metal instrument would create further damage. Further damage would necessitate another rigmarole of appointments and charges.  I called the office on August 2nd to cancel the appointment for installing the porcelain cap.
     Dr. X called my home and said emphatically, “You can’t do that.  The tooth would rot and die.” When I said I would check that statement with another dentist, he amended it to, “It would last only two or three years. You absolutely must have a crown made of porcelain.”  I told him of my fears and said I still wanted to talk to another dentist about my options.  He then declared that this latest damage had nothing to do with him.  “You must have chipped it on another hard piece of cereal.”
     I felt uncomfortable with the idea of consulting my own dentist in Hingham, after having made the terrible mistake of abandoning him. Looking in the yellow pages, I found Dr. Jeffrey Anderson, whose office was nearby on Route 3A.  He generously gave me a free consultation, during which he assured me that the porcelain crown could be easily installed without danger.  I made a new appointment with Dr. X. for August eighteenth.
     As he began the procedure, he told me how foolish I was to have worried about that little space between my teeth. “This porcelain cap is large enough so that there will be no space.  You’ve been worrying over nothing.”
      When he was finished, he held a mirror up so I could look at the result.  He was right, there was no space because the porcelain cap was so wide, it didn’t match the front tooth next to it. If he had discussed the situation with me, I would have much preferred leaving a small space.   
      My total expenditure since the $171 reimbursement from Zurich Claims Management was $2490.  The cost in stress was immeasurable.  I wished I had never switched from Peapod to Roche Brothers for my deliveries.  The Stop and Shop didn’t carry Food Club products.  If I had remained with Peapod, I wouldn’t have suffered the trauma of failed repairs and repeated 40-minute drives and the huge expense.    
      I also wished I had consulted a psychic who might have told me to ask immediately for the porcelain tooth-capping procedure.  If I had done that, I wouldn’t have been in the pickle I was now with Zurich Claims Management.  When I signed their form, I had no idea how much this injury would eventually cost. 
     I decided to report my case to the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. In response, I was referred to the authority that regulates dental licenses.  Also in the response was this suggestion: “If you haven’t already done so, you might consider speaking directly to the dentist, to give him a chance to make things right.” I sent a copy of my report to Dr. Anderson., who went crying to my son about how embarrassing this would be.  Ted called me and said his friend was the finest man he had ever known, and I was NOT to file the complaint.   When I called Dr. A.’s accountant in March of 2011 to ask for tax purposes what the total bill was for 2010, Joanne exclaimed, "My, you had a lot of work done!"  The figure was $3,075.
     The fact that the accountant was startled by the size of my bill reinforced my impression that I was taken advantage of.  Dr. A. could have told me after the first couple of composites broke that the only sure way to repair the tooth was to install a crown.  I believed he kept having me return for more composites in order to profit by this strategy.   

    About 3 months later, I was flossing my teeth and out came the porcelain crown. Fashioned wide enough to fill the gap, Dr. X’s installation was too tight to withstand daily flossing.
May 27, 2011
From Kathie  
Hi, mom.
     I am about to go stand up and watch tv so if you reply I won’t reply right away.
    None of us are going to live forever, and I think everyone loses when people pass on when at war with their family.
     I believe everything you have told me about the dentist; I heard about the problems as they were happening.  So where do we go from here? Is the most important thing in the world to prove that the dentist is bad, and you have been unjustly harmed, or to forgive, to love yourself for being able to move beyond the frustrating and wounding circumstances that have hurt you, and invest yourself in the things you love to do and that give you pleasure—as you did for most of today with your blog.
June 1, 2011
To Dr. A's accountant
Dear kind, supportive Joanne,
     The other blessing in my life is my daughter Kathie, who has been privy to all my dental difficulties of the past year.  She is aware that I did not, as Dr. A said in your office today, “want that little space filled.”  He knows very well that to the contrary, I had canceled my appointment for the crown, wanting to just go on living with the space and the transitional crown. I wish I’d had a camera when I said to him, “You lucked out when I didn’t come back in to discuss that chip.” Did you notice that twitch on his face?  He couldn't control it and it spoke volumes.
      I have not shown Ted what happened, fearing that I would lose it if he continued to insist that his friend was totally honest and honorable. If we were to get into an argument, he might have another stroke.  After the crown fell out, I’m sure Dr. A assumed I would rush to show Ted what had happened.  To protect himself, I have no doubt that he repeated to Ted the falsehood about my wanting the space filled. He might even have embellished it by saying he had warned me that filling in the space with a wider crown could be dangerous.  In truth, Dr. A. was the one who very much wanted that space filled, knowing full well it had happened in his office. 
      I consulted with my former dentist, Dr. David Shelsy of Hingham.  He discussed various options and explained that if I were to choose the most logical one, a partial plate, the ailing tooth adjoining the space would have to be extracted. 
      I thought about this for a few days, then decided that I wasn’t up to facing the extraction.  I asked Dr. Shelsy if there was any reason why I couldn’t just live with the gap.  He said this would be all right.
      I am enclosing Kathie’s feedback on all this.  She has begged me to stop focusing on this negative event and be happy with my blog.  When I think of the wheelchair life she has lived with so gracefully and successfully since the auto accident in 1965, I realize my experience is indeed not worth obsessing over.
     Thank you, sweet Joanne, for the sympathy that shone from your eyes the last time we met. 
July 1, 2011
To Diane, duplicate bridge friend
      About my Tooth Troubles, clearly there’d be Family Trouble if I breathed a word of criticism about Dr. A.  Ted’s friend did refund the $1000 for the crown.  Meanwhile I went back to my own dentist, who said he could give me a partial plate, but I’d have to have another front tooth extracted because it isn’t healthy enough to be part of the partial plate.  I couldn’t bear the thought of that, so I’ve been living with the situation, calling myself “Fang” and trying to laugh about it.  At my next duplicate bridge game, Gail Bunten said she couldn’t do that, she was too vain.  I decided I was too vain, too, so I’ll probably go ahead with the partial plate. 
July 3, 2011
From Diane
    What a story and the awful part is you still don't have a front tooth after all this time, money and energy. Good heavens it's even become a family issue. Sounds like a case of "fraud of senior" to me. I know all dental work is now expensive but for you to have spent all that money and still not have a smile is appalling. .  Happy 4th, where is the sun ? oh well shouldn't complain. hugs, Diane
July 28, 2011
From: Margo Bendery
Subject: Vision Problem
     I’ve decided to start using a walker before I really need one, the price to pay for a fall is too high.  I will just disguise it with flowers, red velvet cupcakes and a basket of kittens.
     Arrrrgh, I pray your visit to Evil Dentist Guy went well.
July 28, 2011 10:52 AM
To: 'Margo Bendery'
Subject: RE: Vision Problem
     Your walker’s disguise sounds enchanting, as is the walkee, so bravely trying to minimize unhappy events.  I will try to have the same attitude toward this fucking partial plate.
July 28, 2011
To Timmy
     Margo showed such bravery about the possibility of losing her eyesight, I want to be brave and accepting of today’s partial plate installation, a far less dire challenge.
     I just tried eating my lunch with this damn thing in my mouth, couldn’t do it, will never get used to it, will insert it only when in public, will never have dinner with anyone for the rest of my life.
     I’ll do my darndest never to complain to Kathie and will definitely not complain to Ted, who only wanted the best for me when he referred me to his dentist. 
July 29, 2011
To Kathie
     I’m going to spend today and the weekend without using the contrivance in order for my gum to heal.  The area of the root extraction began to bleed after Dr. Shelsy had to make a number of adjustments so the plate would fit properly. It was pressing uncomfortably hard against my gum and felt so tight on the molar he was snapping it onto, I was afraid I’d have another extraction any minute. 
     I’ll simply do without the thing except in public. To use Dad’s and blessed Margo’s mantra, it could be worse.
     I’m sorry I unloaded my anxieties on you, poor dear! Please forgive.
July 29, 2011 
From Kathie
Of course you should let me know when you are dealing with discomfort, pain, anxiety.
There is nothing to forgive.
What are daughters for?
Seems like a good idea to let your gums heal, and take things from there.
I agree there is no need to bother with it except when you want to.
Frank is so used to his that I think he’d feel naked without it.
Dad and Margo’s mantra is good, as is Frank’s—one day at a time.
Hang in there.
December 9, 2011
To Kathie
December 14, 2011
To Diane
     “. . .because I spend so much time in my bedroom.”  Me, too, Diane, including having my meals there.  I have done this since I moved in almost 40 years ago.  Sitting alone in the dining room would have felt too lonesome.
     I have a two-hour appointment with my dentist tomorrow.  I think he’ll be filing down the teeth adjoining the gap and will install a temporary bridge. 
December 18, 2011
To Sandra  
     I visualized that damfool dentist’s head being mashed between the dueling cars of the menopausal women in your attachment.  The “permanent” bridge I’m paying $2500 for has a first step, a temporary bridge made of plastic.  It fell out tonight for the second time.  I’m attaching a picture of my darling Vonnie years ago, the tomboy, toothless and topless.  Except for the topless part, she and I bear a strong resemblance.
     Dr. Shelsy told me to come in at 9 tomorrow.  He added that I could put it back in myself.  I said, “You mean with Fixodent?”  He said sure.  So I gave it a try, first without the Fixodent, and it broke into 2 pieces.  Another emergency call. He said not to worry, he could still fix it.
     It took a 4-hour appt for him to fashion it in the first place.  Had to file the two teeth adjoining the gap way, way down.  
Excuse my venting.
May 29, 2012
      The latest on my Tooth Troubles is that the fixed bridge doesn’t meet my lower teeth.  In fact I have so few teeth that meet, chewing takes forever and I end up with a lot of food stuck between upper lip and gums.  The only way to be comfortable is to swipe a finger across the area, which means I’ll never share a meal with anyone again. A good attitude tells me things could be a lot worse at 90.
     Left out of this narrative was the mishap that occurred when I made an appointment with Dr. Jeffrey Anderson, choosing him as my new dentist since he had so kindly given me a free consultation.  I can't think of a more appropriate cliche than jumping from the frying pan into you-know-what.  First, his hygienist painstakingly checked every one of my teeth, dictating to her note-taking assistant all the while.  Then Dr. Anderson came in and followed exactly the same procedure.        "Why is he repeating this?" I asked the hygienist at a moment when my mouth was unoccupied.          "He's very thorough," she explained.
     Next came X-rays with an instrument that was new to me.  It wasn't as large as a rolling pin, but it was big enough to necessitate opening my mouth as wide as Edvard Munch's portrait of The Scream.  I didn't scream but I was terrified enough to keep saying Oh my God while the device banged around on my teeth.
     Not long thereafter, I felt a small hard object in my cereal--a lower front tooth.  I knew better than to put it under my pillow.  

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