-by Rick Wilson DMD and writer extraordinaire Tom Bentley
"Whatever you are trying to hide by wearing a feed sack only looks worse than it actually is." -Stacy London
With the change of seasons, it's time to take a look at fashion and the attire that we wear to dental visits, with an eye (and perhaps an eyetooth) to practicality too.
So, why wear white to a root canal, no matter the smart set's season? Well, until we use a room-temperature plasma torch to cleanse the insides of infected teeth (see July 5th 2009's "A Plasma Torch For Dental Treatment. Really."), we are compelled to irrigate with the only thing that works: sodium hypochlorite, the same chemical found in bleach. This substance is effective at both killing germs and dissolving organic debris. We use long plastic drapes in addition to the traditional blue dental napkin—what they might lack in sartorial splendor they make up with a fabric fortification. We also have our patients wear safety glasses for this and all procedures where aerosols are created or chemicals are used. This eye protection is essential—you really need to insist on it or bring your own if your office doesn't provide it. Reese demonstrates with a rather sultry look...
Even with all these precautions—and "caution" isn't merely the name of my iguana, but an office watchword—it's just possible that a little NaOCl (as it's called in the chemistry department) might splash on your clothing. So, Labor Day or nay, throw fashion dictums to the wind at your dentist: if at all possible, white it is to all root canal procedures—it can only get whiter.
On the other hand, if the purpose of your visit is to remove some old amalgam fillings, Basic Black would be the thing. If this ugly old metal gets flung around a bit and you're dressed like Morticia Addams, your wardrobe will never suffer a stain. Do be careful if you're rushing through the airline security checks though; you may be literally alarming.
For periodontal surgery or wisdom teeth removal, do I even have to state the obvious? Red. (We will do our utmost to keep the highest percentage of your life-force within you, however.)
Did you know, by the way, that red clothing was always the most difficult to manufacture, and in fact there was only one way to do it for a very, very long time? The best red dye was cochineal dye, and the Spanish Empire had a monopoly on this fantastically expensive commodity for most of the Renaissance and up until the 1800s. Cochineal comes from crushing tiny female Dactylopius coccus: scale insects that live and feed on the nopal or prickly-pear cactus in South America. The production of cochineal constituted a significant part of the Spanish Empire's economy. In order to keep its monopoly on the substance, Spain encouraged misinformation about the source of the pigment—they called it granilla or wheat grains in order to hide its insect origin. Further, anyone caught smuggling cochinea from the Spanish colonies faced the death penalty.
Red clothing was thus very expensive.
In fact, for centuries only aristocrats and nobility were allowed to wear red clothing. In most European countries, peasants caught wearing red clothing were severely punished. Those bright coccus bugs sacrificed their eye-catching essence, and even the canny middleman might lose his life playing with the noting of "better red than dead." In the chair, you probably won't miss the few drops of your vital fluids sacrificed for the greater dental good.
Nice summary of cochinea here:
This leads us to think about how the significance of clothing has changed over time. Even as recently as in our days as young lads, the social conventions regarding clothing were much more rigid than they are today, and also much more indicative of one's social status. Nowadays, our anything goes attitudes mean that wealthy businesspeople often dress like slumming college students and no one, regardless of socioeconomic status, will be punished by the force of law for owning a few nice sets of clothes.
It's wonderful social progress, yet it's also highly confusing, as so many visual social cues have been removed from our ken.
Let's look at a window into our more formal past. In the 1941 film Broadway Limited, Victor McLaglen plays an engineer on the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad. Here he is just before a Chicago to New York City run, bantering with the barista in the company coffee shop:
In the film, McLaglen's character is a pampered passenger for this particular run, as he has a few days off. Like all travelers in those days, he was wearing a coat, tie- and a hat when outdoors. He enters the dining car and finds it far more swank than he had imagined- ironic, considering that he normally has the one job on the train with the most responsibility to the safety and comfort of the passengers. However, unused to being out of his work clothes, he forgets to remove his hat "indoors"; the look of deep chagrin on his face when he realizes his faux pas is funny and touching at the same time, and impossible to conceive in our laissez-faire couture culture of today:
We wonder, then- have we gained, or perhaps lost something, as a result of our boundless informality?
In sum, whether you wear your top hat or Topsiders on your visit to your favorite dentist, be aware that certain procedures might call for attention to your attire. (And always remember what your mother said about clean underwear.)
PS Oh, the GG-1 is here because it's just about the most beautiful piece of Art Deco engineering there ever was. Another post...