Years past when our 2 children were young, we were very attentive to regular dental care. I recall making those all important appointments and keeping them, regardless of the whining. That would be my mental whining, not theirs! You see for every visit where we missed school time and I missed my work day there was a bonus for them, not me. After a successful, no tears event, there would be the prize chest to visit at the dentist’s office. Yahoo! Free gifts galore in that substantially-sized box. At the time it was a welcomed relief as it softened a mother’s pain and suffering through the occasional nasty visit with fillings or X-rays.
Years later it occurred to me that my children, and most likely all children were choosing the best gifts in the box. They were the little packets of candy. Yes! Candy given out by a dentist. They were small packets but the presence of a sugary treat gave this cynical mom’s brain a twist. Why would a dentist hand out candy? Well, to feed the desire for more sugar and promote more tooth decay and keep the customer base. I now believe as years have past and my children have children, the sugar patrol flagged the dentists. No more sugar kickbacks to keep customers as now the prizes are sugar free! Monitor job well done, Millennials!
The Dentists in my Life
I have always had a serious fear of dentists. It doesn’t matter how often I see the dentist, my fears are undeniable. My blood pressure goes sky high, the heart starts pounding, and my hands become very sweaty. Once in the chair, I become extremely chatty compared to my normal. My hands automatically clasp over my stomach while one foot twitches.
The first dentist I ever went to just happened to be my next door neighbor. His name was Bill Rose. Dr. Rose was really a thorn as a dentist. His office was just off the main avenue. He didn’t have a secretary nor a hygienist, he did it all. At the age of 8, I was told by the Nun teaching my class as she called my name and announced that I needed to walk down the street to the dentist office. Being the obedient child, I walked down to have a tooth filled. I shook with dread and fear the entire two blocks. I was also mad at my mom for working and not being there.
Dr. Rose worked on me for over 2 hours. During that time, he struggled getting the tooth filled. The novacaine wore off and he had to give me more meds. While drilling, he slipped and hit my lip. I ended up with a really big sore on the inside of my lip. During the entire event, he told me to be good, sit still, and that he would tell my grandfather what a good girl I had been. I was so scared. My grandfather was my hero. So of course I was going to be a good girl.
That evening, Dr. Rose announced at the school board meeting that I had been a model patient.
Years passed and every dentist that peered into my mouth wanted to know who did the work on my mouth. Dr. Rose’s work was often compared to a butcher. It seems that most of my family members suffered and continue to suffer from Dr. Rose’s work.
After college, I found a dentist that like to sing while he worked. He made my experience better until “the event”. The college years were really bad on my teeth. I was scheduled for a long appointment ( over 2 hours). He was working on the lower left side of my jaw. A dam was placed in the back to keep my mouth open. The brace was on the last tooth to be filled and things were going smoothly. The secretary entered the exam room to announce that the next patient was waiting. It turned out that it was a child that I babysat, and had very bad behaviors. The dentist groaned, my jaw trembled, the dam popped out, the brace flew along with the new filing. I started crying as did the dentist. We had to reschedule for the last filing. Oh, I also bit the dentist during the chain of events.
10 years later, new dentist and I’m having more work done. A substitute dentist is in the office. We are talking and he asked me if I was the Phyllis Prodan that bites…….
The Family Dentist
The family dentist scared me right from the first moment I met him. His balding head, large frame, perfect smile, and the constantly disappointed look at me over his glasses were just too much for a young girl.
I’d have the sweats before we went to his home/office. My mother took to never telling me where we were going because I’d lay down in the foyer in a fit of crying, begging her to leave me home.
I didn’t eat a lot of sweets as a kid. We never had soda or other sweetened drinks, but I had a mouth full of cavities. Of course, as an adult, I have a mouth full of silver, and a few crowns when the silver accounted for more space on the tooth than enamel.
A visit to his office comprised of me sitting in the chair, him wrapping that horrid towel around my neck, and his fat hands shoved in my mouth. Within minutes, he found his next cavity to fill. He never used numbing agents ~ never. He would have to stop drilling every few moments so I could sit back up in the chair. I would unclench my fists, grab the arms, and push back into place. I do the same thing now; only I’m usually numbed or drugged.
I don’t go the dentist as often as I should these days; maybe once every two years is all I can handle. Also, there’s no ice cream afterward like my Mom used to treat me to.
The Dentist’s Secret
I like dentists. That’s surprising, because I almost never like doctors. (Why? That’s another, or actually another bunch, of stories.) Dentists, in my experience, are friendly, reassuring and pleasant. Even when they are yelling at you (why don’t you floss more! why haven’t you had a cleaning in three years!) their tone lacks the exasperation and condescension that can characterize doctors.
My favorite dentist treated me and my family long ago, when I was a teenager, living at home. He was a large man, with hands so huge it was hard to believe they’d fit in your mouth. During treatment, he and his young, bright-eyed dental assistant kept up a cheery banter that distracted me from what he was doing to my teeth and gums.
Then one day my mother got some news. The dentist had tried to commit suicide, right in his office. I don’t remember if we ever knew what method he used.
He survived. A month or so later, we all were back in the dental chair as if nothing happened. He didn’t mention it, and we certainly didn’t.
There was one big change. Instead of the cute dental assistant, he was now helped by his wife, a pleasant, middle-aged woman. There was some chatter back and forth between them, but nothing like the comedy we’d heard in the past.
Of course my sisters and I thought we had it figured out. He’d been having an affair with the assistant, and something happened. She’d left him, or his wife had found out, so he tried to kill himself.
I think it was my mother who pointed out that it might just have been that his wife wanted to be there, in the office, in case he tried again. His reasons might not have had anything to do with the now-missing assistant. My sisters and I held out for the more dramatic/romantic explanation.
Dentists have a reputation as being suicide-prone, although apparently doctors are actually more likely to kill themselves. I’ve heard that dentists find our dread at visiting them depressing. This dentist never seemed sad or defensive, but lots of people are good at hiding despair.
What fascinated me about this situation was his ability to come back and face people who knew what had happened, without any explanation. As far as we could tell, he just dusted himself off and went back to work. How could he do that, I wondered. Didn’t he know we were dying of curiosity? How could he just go on? Now that I’m older, I realize that he had no choice. Still in his forties, he had to earn a living; what else was he going to do? He was a dentist. He had a successful practice.
It was scary. He seemed like the same guy. How could that be? Of course I had no idea if anything in his life changed, but it made me wonder. Do other people have those kinds of secrets? Can we ever be sure about the people around us? Life was more mysterious than I had previously thought.
The Winner of our Challenge!
Dr. Paul, the Puller
In a quaint little town in the south end of the county, there lived an elderly dentist. He was known to all as the jolly, good-natured, albeit no-nonsense dentist extraordinaire. He had been the only dentist in the little town for nearly 50 years. He was fondly referred to as “Dr. Paul, the Puller.” No doubt this moniker came from his no nonsense approach to dentistry. Cavity? “Just pull it.” Toothache? “Just pull it.” Chipped tooth? “Just pull it.” Loose tooth? Well, you get the idea. Although this approach seemed a bit extreme to some, the locals accepted it and embraced it.
They loved this portly old man, who greeted his patients with a nod of the head. They loved how he shuffled around in his crisp white dental coat, hands deep in pockets, greeting even the smallest of clients. If you listened carefully when seated in the dentist chair, you could hear him coming down the hallway. It was almost as though he made a clinking noise as he walked.
Not only was Dr. Paul known for his one size fits all approach to dental work, he also had a penchant for designing delicate tea cups on his pottery wheel. He was a talented artist, and spent hours painting delicate floral patterns on the one-of-a-kind cups. There wasn’t a family in town that didn’t have at least one of Dr. Paul’s tea cups proudly displayed on the kitchen shelf. He often worked late into the night creating and decorating his beloved cups. But one night, the pottery wheel spun no more. Dr. Paul had passed quietly in his sleep at the respectful old age of 86.
Now you may think that this is the end of the story, however, it is far from over. Because Dr. Paul had no family, the local auctioneer venue was asked to prepare his house and belongings for sale. Upon entering the small, brick house, the team of auctioneers was surprised by the lack of clutter. Everything was neatly organized; the furniture barely worn, knickknacks placed intentionally in each room. It wasn’t until a team member curiously took a peek inside the cookie jar sitting on the kitchen counter that a hush fell over the room. The jar was not filled with cookies, crackers, pretzels, or even cheese curls. Instead, it was filled with teeth. Some of the teeth were broken and some were peppered with little holes. Everyone just looked at each other in wonder. However, they were there to do a job and they began in earnest to assess Dr. Paul’s belongings. Among the many fine belongs, they found there were teeth stored in almost every possible vessel; the sugar bowl, the silverware drawer, a collection of bud vases, a candy dish. Moving on to the upstairs rooms, they found even more teeth in a box under the bed, in the bottom dresser drawer, in a large plastic bin under the freshly folded towels, and in the pocket of Dr. Paul’s crisp white jacket.
The team members began chattering among themselves. “What in the world was he doing with all these teeth?” “Do you think he brought them home from the office?” Once again, trying to stay focused on the task at hand, the team reached the basement level of the home and stopped in their tracks. Beside the pottery wheel and table lined with neatly organized paints and brushes sat a large, grinding machine. Located beside the machine were several large buckets filled to the top with human teeth. A gasp went over the group as they looked closely at the residue on the grinding machine. White, porcelain-like dust covered the grinding mechanism. Looking up from the machine, one of the auctioneer’s eyes fell on a shelf at the front of the room. It was lined with tea cups, freshly painted with dainty floral designs.
-Bev Stiffler Smith