I was feeling pretty good when I went to see Stanley. Stanley is my dentist. I chose him because he meets the American Dental Association's single most important criterion for selecting a dental-care professional: He looks exactly like Willie Nelson.
If Stanley put on a headband and got on stage at a country-music concert, the audience members would absolutely believe that he WAS Willie Nelson, except that instead of telling them not to let their babies grow up to be cowboys, he would tell them to floss. I usually feel good about going to see Stanley for my regular checkup, because he hardly ever finds anything wrong.
What's my technique for achieving such excellent dental health? Simple: I don't let Stanley anywhere near my mouth. I happen to have a really, really, really sensitive gag reflex. If anybody tries to put anything into my mouth, my body immediately goes into what the medical profession calls Ralph Mode.
Everybody has a gag reflex: It's a natural biological defense that your body has developed over the eons to protect you from the danger that people will sneak up when you're not paying attention and put unlaundered socks in your mouth. Or -- to pick the worst-case scenario -- you're at the beach, you doze off lying on your back, and a crab climbs into your mouth and molts.
My gag reflex is so sensitive that it starts acting up pretty much the instant that Stanley walks into the dental-examination room. He has to conduct the examination by sticking just his head through the doorway, asking me questions, and trying to catch a glimpse of my teeth and gums when I open my mouth to answer. So usually I escape from my checkup with only a few observations ("Your right upper incisor has a small buildup of crab molt, but we can take care of that another time") and no threat of major dental care.
But this last time, Stanley, from across the room, was somehow able to spot something that caused him to say the most terrifying word in the English language: "periodontist." This word comes from the Greek words "periodont," meaning "guy," and "ist," meaning "who roots around in your mouth with what feels like a backhoe." Periodontists work on your gums, which are a specialized type of tissue brilliantly designed by Mother Nature to keep the roots of your teeth safe and healthy from the day you are born until the day you turn approximately 23 years old, at which point Mother Nature apparently thinks you should either die or switch to an all-grits diet.
My specific problem is that I have a receding gumline, which is similar to a receding hairline, except that, tragically, you cannot grow your side gums really long and comb them over the problem area. So Stanley sent me to see a periodontist named Ron, who does not look like a major musical star, although he does like to sing along to the oldies songs on his office sound system.
And thus I found myself lying in Ron's dental chair, my body as calm and relaxed as a bridge girder on a cold day, desperately trying to control my gag reflex while Ron leaned over me, holding a scary implement in his hand and singing, with the Righteous Brothers, "You've lost that LOVIN' feeling, who-oa that LOVIN' feeling . . ." Thanks to anesthesia, I had lost that lovin' feeling in my gums, which is very fortunate because Ron WARNING WARNING WARNING DO NOT READ THE END OF THIS SENTENCE took a piece of tissue off the roof of my mouth and sewed it onto the receding-gum area.
I'm wondering if this technique could be used on receding hairlines, as well. Granted, balding men would look pretty silly with little pieces of mouth tissue sewn onto their heads. But that would still look more natural than a comb-over. I'm assuming that the tissue that Ron took off the roof of my mouth will grow back. But maybe not.
Maybe I'll have to go to another health care professional, who will take a piece of tissue from somewhere ELSE and sew it on the roof of my mouth, and then send me to ANOTHER professional to replace THAT piece, and so on, with me being sent around the entire medical profession, like some kind of human chain letter, until all my tissue has been relocated to some other part of my body and I look like Jeff Goldblum at the end of "The Fly."
This has me worried, as I sit here waiting for these painkillers to kick in. I hear they can have strong side effects, but so far . . .
Dave Barry is on sabbatical. This column was originally published on Dec. 20, 1998.