Dentist trip leaves permanent tattoo, memorable experience

New culture exhilarating for correspondent

New culture ‘exhilarating’ for correspondent

Rita Forbes

I open wide and search the dentist’s face as he attempts to drive a sharp, pointed tool into the chewing surface of each of my molars. His eyes brighten.

“Ah, hier ist das problem!”

I noticed something disconcerting last week: a hole in one of my teeth. Since no pain was involved, I considered this a rather pleasing development. Going to the doctor in a foreign country is always interesting (an orthopedist once mistakenly told me I had no kneecap), and this is my first opportunity to try out my deluxe German health insurance.

Pulling his hands out of my mouth, leaving me free to swallow and speak, Dr. Heintz asks, “Would you like me to repair it in white? It will cost a little extra.”

I shrug. The color seems fairly unimportant. My question: what exactly are you going to do?

“Oh. I am going to have to drill. It may be unpleasant. You can decide for an anesthetic now, or we can try it without.”

I pause, speechless. This choice has never been presented to me before.

Local anesthetics are a given at my dentist in the U.S., and for the particularly fearful, laughing gas is available as well.

Just minutes earlier while filling out paperwork, I had energetically answered “ja” when asked if I place value on örtliche Betäubung.

But now, I hear myself saying, “Oh, we can try it without anesthesia.”

And I lean back, implicitly trusting Dr. Heintz and his array of tools.

As the drilling begins, I try to visualize a happy, peaceful picture.

Nothing comes to mind… Scrambling to come up with a happy thought, any happy thought, I picture my dog Brandy bounding through a field of daisies. But her panting doggy face quickly fades, leaving me with nothing but the image of a raw nerve.

I can feel the drill shredding off particles of my tooth now. “Uhh,” I gargle to the dentist. “I know, I know,” he croons back. “We’re almost done.”

And sure enough, 20 seconds later the drill is put away, my tooth is filled, and the pain is vorbei – over.

Running my tongue over the surface of the tooth, I can feel a difference. It’s a permanent reminder of these days in Germany, my answer to a tattoo or piercing. Perhaps 50 years from now, my thoughts will travel from my tooth back to Germany, my memories sharpened by the brief pain I encountered today. Forgoing anesthesia allowed me to experience the procedure fully, with nothing deadening any of my senses.

That’s the way I want to live, both during my study abroad and through the rest of my life. I have to admit I usually take the path of less resistance, the one that promises the least amount of pain. Avoiding risk and pain can be instinctive. But that life is artificial. I’m here in Germany for the experience, both the ups and the downs.