I think I’m on my fourth. I don’t have especially bad teeth — my mother did, and she spent lots of hours in a dental chair — but over my 71 years some of the big molars toward the back have developed stress cracks. I’m quite sure I used to grind my teeth — don’t think I do any more, but the damage was done. Crowns are not only expensive — they require up to two hours to grind down the offending tooth, make a perfect impression to send to the lab for the permanent crown, then to gin up a temporary crown that is supposed to stay in place until the new one is available. My dentist is fanatical about getting the bite just right, which I’m sure is important even as the tape runs unspoken through my head: “are we done yet?”
Dental patients in this office are offered a variety of distractions — CNN on the flat screen, headphones with music, a hand massage — but I tend to just retreat into my own mind. As a default I always go to the business of what’s happening, and I found myself calculating the total cost of the new crown against the office overhead, the dentist’s time, professional insurance, cost to her of the new crown which is done by an outside lab, and any other miscellaneous expenses. I decided general dentistry is a good living but not a spectacular one, and that to be a good dentist you have to develop a comfort level with drilling people’s heads. I never even considered it as a career for myself.