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Dental Adventures

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The following essay was published in Guilty Pleasures: True Tales of Erotic Indulgence, edited by M. Christian (Black Books, 2002). In this version the language has been slightly sanitized. Although authorities would probably quibble over it, I’d rate this version a G.)

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“Open,” he whispered huskily in my ear, and I obeyed, spreading my lips far apart, arching my neck to demonstrate my willingness to please the man, as he prodded the inner recesses of my body.

“A little wider. A little bit more. Thaaaaat’s it,” he said, as I opened even wider to win his approval.

The air felt rarefied, thinner than the air of ordinary existence. I floated in an atmosphere of finer and more frequent vibrations, where my senses tingled and shimmered, and pain magically vanished. The man continued his agonizingly slow journey, gently caressing my face as he explored territory deep inside me. Music was playing, but it was indistinct, the music of the spheres, a series of high vibrations that seemed to simultaneously surround and fill my body. I breathed deeply, inhaling the colors of ecstasy.

Suddenly everything shifted: the sweet air thickened, steadily blunting the blissful sensations. The voice of Tammy Wynette, mundane and whiny, screeched through a cheap speaker on the wall. I opened my eyes and there was my dentist, efficiently pulling instruments and cotton out of my mouth, telling me not to eat for a few hours.

I crashed to earth with a thud. This was not the first time I’d had ecstatic experiences under nitrous oxide in the dentist‘s chair, and it undoubtedly would not be the last. But in between visits to the adorable man who probed my cavities with such tenderness while I greedily snorted nitrous oxide, there would be months of ordinary life to endure.

I’ve had a long history of severe dental problems, beginning in adolescence, that have continued, domino-like, up to this day. I’ve encountered every kind of tooth doctor, from incompetents at dental schools to a New Age quack who treats “dentophobes” with hypnotherapy and psychobabble. The worst by far was a certifiable sadist who repeatedly struck one of my teeth with an electric prod; as he came at me for the fourth time I kicked him in the balls and was subsequently banished from the clinic.

But this is not meant to be a gruesome tale; rather, it is one of inspiration. The human spirit is remarkable in its ability to adapt, and my spirit found a way to overcome some extremely painful situations. Some folks might label me the ultimate masochist for deriving an erotic charge in the dentist’s chair, but while elements of S/M are certainly at play here, it isn’t the whole story. Yes, the pleasure-pain continuum is one obvious factor. And yes, the dentist’s white coat and position of authority puts him in the “master” role. But more significant, I believe, was my intuitive realization that by activating what we now know are endorphins, I could ease the pain of dental work. Early on, while prone in the dentist’s chair with my mouth forced open, I closed my eyes and thought about the wondrous source of pleasure I had only recently discovered–sex.

I was 16 when my career as a dental patient began in earnest, when X-rays revealed that two of my baby teeth had never fallen out and the permanent teeth were impacted beneath the gums. Treatment involved extracting the baby teeth, ripping the gums, and gradually pulling down the permanent teeth. This was in 1962: I was given no nitrous, no sodium pentathol, no ether–just Novocain. Lots of Novocain. Up my nose, down my throat, into my cheeks. The procedure was so brutal that the only way I endured was by taking refuge in trashy daydreams, as Joyce Carol Oates called them in a short story, so common to adolescent girls. During the long ordeal of freeing my impacted teeth I would mentally focus on my latest sexual discoveries with boys; this began with upper body petting, escalated to the lower body, went on to oral sex, and, finally, intercourse. My orthodontic work took two years; by the time it was over I’d lost my virginity, was married (not to the dentist) and a mother-to-be.

For every baby you lose a tooth may be an old wives tale, but in my case it proved to be pure science. The two teeth I respectively lost were, of course, those that had been forced from impaction–they’d never lined up properly, and they rotted away. By the time I was 22 I had two kids and two frontal bridges; as the years went by the bridges separated and were replaced with one six-tooth structure. Enamel on either side began to shift and rot, and in my 40s I sported a nine-tooth wonder of modern dentistry requiring vigilant care, including a cleaning every three months.*

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I never could have gotten through all these procedures if not for sexual fantasies combined with nitrous oxide. The first time I was given nitrous I had a psychedelic experience, with colors swirling behind my closed lids. The second time I had an orgasm.

I’ve had crushes on several of my dentists. It doesn’t matter what he looks like; simply by using his fingers to explore my mouth while I lie back passively he becomes, to my mind, a sex object. Should I grow bored with the dentist, I close my eyes and think about my boyfriend, or an ex-lover, or a hot celebrity—favorites include George Clooney, Jimmy Smits and Dolly Parton. The tools or fingers inside my mouth are magically transformed into flesh. The words “Open wide” or “Hold still” become sexual commands.

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My current dentist is an enlightened sweetheart 15 years my junior who firmly believes nobody should have to suffer physical pain in his chair. He gives me as much nitrous oxide as I need to rocket into the stratosphere; the front page of my chart reads DO NOT TOUCH WITHOUT NITROUS. (He knows about the dentist I kicked in the balls.) This goes not only for broken fillings, caps and root canals, but even for cleanings. For heavier work he gives me nitrous before injecting Novocain, and if I flinch even slightly, up goes the gas.

With pain removed from the dental situation, my altered consciousness is fully free to wander. Occasionally I enter a philosophical state where, like William James, a philosopher who regularly used nitrous oxide to explore his psyche, I glimpse cosmic truths. Still, my mind invariably drifts into the realm I discovered early on could save me: not above my head but below my waist.

Every serious pursuit, whether it be stamp collecting or scuba diving, involves setting and attaining goals. For years my goal as a dental patient was to repeat my one and only orgasmic nitrous oxide experience. Like everyone else, I’ve heard horror stories about predatory dentists who take advantage of their zoned out patients, but I’ve never encountered one. Even high on nitrous, I’m aware enough that I’d know if I were being fondled. When I climaxed it wasn’t from any hanky-panky on the part of the dentist–no, my climax was remarkable precisely because it occurred without any physical contact whatsoever. It arrived unbidden as a blink or a sneeze, the only assistance being a head full of nitrous oxide and erotic imagery. This was all the more startling since I’m one of those women for whom orgasm during sex, whether partnered or solo, is a long hard climb; thus, this event loomed large in my life as singularly unique. Until it happened again.

It was a big dental day: I needed two caps and a cleaning, so I’d be in the chair for over an hour. The technician moved the nitrous oxide tank into position, fetched my personal orange mask out of the drawer, and hooked me up. (I’ve come to regard these preparations as akin to primitive pre-nuptial rituals, like the village women preparing the bride for her studly groom.) Usually I get hooked up by the assistant, take a few inhalations, and am still fairly lucid when Dr. A. arrives on the scene. But on this day he was having difficulty with another patient, and I was left alone to inhale the holy nectar for what must have been fifteen minutes.

Fifteen minutes on nitrous oxide is a long time. Suddenly I found myself laughing hysterically, the receptionist and technician on either side of me, frantically removing the mask and asking if I was okay.

Okay? Hell, I’d never been happier; they don’t call the stuff laughing gas for nothing. But the technician told me she would have to lower the gas level.

“What’s wrong with laughing?” I protested.

“We have other patients,” she said, laughing herself, “and you were really crackin’ up.”

The lower level of nitrous frustrated me, and when Dr. A. stuck his nasty needle full of Novocain into my gums I let out a howl. He apologized profusely, and raised the gas, but it was still below my normal level. In a few minutes he began filing or scraping or whatever barbaric method they use to prepare a tooth for capping. I felt the pain, and let him know it with grunts and menacingly jerky limbs. He gave me more Novocain.

The situation was dire; I felt almost as desperate as when my impacted teeth had been ripped from my gums. I closed my eyes and began a steady inhalation; reversing the yoga technique of longer exhalations, I inhaled as much as I could manage and exhaled as little as possible. I conjured up a recent sexual memory and fully immersed myself in it.

Time disappears on nitrous, so I don’t know how long it took, but eventually I felt my body climb towards orgasm, and smoothly sail over the top. I must have made noise, because Dr. A. drew back, alarmed.

“There’s no nerve in that tooth,” he said, genuinely distressed, thinking he’d inflicted pain. “It shouldn’t hurt.”

“Uuuuuuuungh.” I grunted and nodded, forming an okay sign with my thumb and forefinger.

Dr. A, being such a considerate lover, turned the nitrous up full force. Fully relaxed after orgasmic release, my body entered an entirely new plane of existence. I saw everything in my universe as inextricably connected: pieces of my life flashed before me on a continuum, each event leading inevitably to the next. Every significant person in my life seemed to fit into this jigsaw puzzle, every one of them there for a reason.

I opened my eyes and benevolently watched Dr. A. working on my teeth, his movements  purposeful and caring. I felt a physical connection similar to my earlier emotional connections: there was a direct line from my teeth downward, through sinew and muscle and bone, through every organ and orifice. No wonder I’d always been turned on in the dentist’s chair–my teeth were connected to my nerves, and any stimulation in one part of the body induces a response in another.

A song popped into my head: Oh, the leg bone’s connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone’s connected to the foot bone…..now hear the word of the Lord. I began laughing hysterically.

Uh oh. Alarm all around. Down went the nitrous, off came the mask, worried faces peered into mine. My laughter turned into tears of joy–I wanted to kiss Dr. A, his assistant, and the whole damn world. Glory halleluliah, I’d found religion and sex as they were meant to be experienced. Of course, I couldn’t share this; if I did, they’d probably lock me up or, at the very least, never give me nitrous oxide again.

“I’m all right,” I assured them in a whisper. In a world where drug use, cosmic visions and “inappropriate” sexual responses are all considered signs of mental imbalance, mine must remain secret.

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