Some people who can skirt precipices without a tremor have a strong dread of the dentist's chair, whereas I was born without any prejudices against the dentist's chair; when in it I am interested, and not in a hurry, and do not greatly mind the pain. Taken by and large, my style of make has advantages over the other, I think. Few of us are obliged to circumnavigate precipices, but we all have to take a chance at the dental chair.
People who early learn the right way to choose a dentist have their reward. Professional superiority is not everything; it is only part. All dentists talk while they work. They have inherited this from their professional ancestors, the barbers. The dentist who talks well--other things being equal--is the one to choose. He tells anecdotes all the while and keeps his man so interested and entertained that he hardly notices the flight of time. For he not only tells anecdotes that are good in themselves, but he adds nice shadings to them with his instruments as he goes along, and now and then brings out effects which could not be produced with any other kind of tools at all. All the time that such a dentist as this is plowing down into a cavity with that spinning gouge which he works with a treadle, it is observable that he has found out where he has uncovered a nerve down in there, and that he only visits it at intervals, according to the needs of his anecdote, touching it lightly, very lightly and swiftly, now and then, to brighten up some happy conceit in his tale and call a delicate attention to it; and all the while he is working gradually and steadily up toward his climax with veiled and consummate art--then at last the spindle stops whirling and thundering in the cavity, and you know that the grand surprise is imminent, now--is hanging in the very air. You can hear your heart beat as the dentist bends over you with his grip on the spindle and his voice diminished to murmur. The suspense grows bigger--bigger--bigger--your breath stops--then your heart. Then with lightning suddenness the "nub" is sprung and the spindle drives into the raw nerve! The most brilliant surprises of the stage are pale and artificial compared with this.
It is believed by people generally--or at least by many--that the exquisitely
sharp sensation which results from plunging the steel point into the raw nerve
is pain, but I think that this is doubtful. It is so vivid and sudden that one
has no time to examine properly into its character. It is probably impossible,
with our human limitations, to determine with certainty whether a sensation
of so high and perfect an order as that is pain or whether it is pleasure. Its
location brings it under the disadvantage of a common prejudice; and so men
mistake it for pain when they might perceive that it is the opposite of that
if it were anywhere but in a tooth. I may be in error, but I have experimented
with it a great deal and I am satisfied in my own mind that it is not pain.
It is true that it always feels like pain, but that proves nothing--ice against
a naked back always passes for fire. I have every confidence that I can eventually
prove to everyone's satisfaction that a nerve-stab produces pleasure; and not
only that, but the most exquisite pleasure, the most perfect felicity which
we are capable of feeling. I would not ask more than to be remembered hereafter
as the man who conferred this priceless benefaction upon his race.
- "Down the Rhone," Europe and Elsewhere
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