Cowboy Dentist

Little Legs watched Minnie Mouse on the screen on the wall, while reclined on a green, plastic covered chair with a paper towel clipped to his shirt.  He was quite pleased with the situation. He had just eaten all the pink, cake flavored toothpaste from the dental hygienist’s silver toothpaste nub and was watching cartoons before noon.

Life was pretty good.

I corralled Baby Brother in the corner and watched the patient revel in his excellent fortune. He smacked his lips and turned around in search of more toothpaste.  

“Ok, Doctor Too Tall is going to take a quick peek in your mouth,” the hygienist explained.

“Where is Doctor X?” I asked.

“She got a job offer that she couldn’t refuse,” she whispered.  

“Howdy, partner,” Doctor Too Tall (and loud) swaggered into the cubical.

The cowboy-dentist wore jeans with a crease down the center of each leg, white from being re-ironed after every wash. I imagined he was the kind of man who also insisted that his underwear was ironed, folded, and shelved, instead of tossed into a pile and shoved into a drawer.

Doctor Too Tall leaned down and pulled Little Legs’ mouth out to one side. He poked at his teeth with a shiny, mirrored instrument until Little Legs clamped his jaws shut with a “humph” of finality. As far as Little Legs was concerned, the peek-show was over.

“How do his back teeth look, Doc?” I asked, distracting Baby Brother with a sample toothbrush.

On a nightly basis, we wrangled with the boy to brush his teeth. It was logical that a few were missed in the wrestling match, especially the hard-to-reach ones. Out of sight, out of mind.  

“Well, it is hard to tell which is why he should be with a pediatric dentist.”

I felt like the words were knocked out of my mouth, I was temporarily speechless.

“We like coming here because its only a few minutes from our house,” I ventured weakly, trying to make peace.

 “And that’s the difference between doing the easy thing and the right thing.”

With that, he breezed out.

Not another word was mentioned.

He was off to rope a horse and some bedside manner.   

A King Without His Crown

We stood outside, watching our toddler race down the hill, trip and roll forward through the grass. The boy sat up with a confused look at ending up on the ground. Laughter burst from both of us, unstoppable and refreshing, on an otherwise bleak day.

Suddenly, Daddy Longlegs gasped and put his hand to his mouth.

Instinctively, I looked to Little Legs, happily rolling on his back in the grass, ensuring another complete outfit change. Certain that the boy was safe, I looked in question at his father.

“What is it?” I asked.

“My tooth, something is wrong with it. It’s actually my crown,” he mumbled.

I stood up on tiptoes to peer uninvited into his mouth. Since having my boys, there is nothing about the human body that bothers me, except for blood. The sight of it makes me woozy.

“I think it is loose.”

“Let me see,” I said.

He pulled his lip back like he was caught by a fishhook and wiggled the tooth in question with his tongue.

It was not only loose; it was no longer connected to anything in his mouth. A free-floating bit of resin impersonating Daddy Longlegs’ tooth came off onto his tongue.

“Oh God,” I said feeling queasy.

“It is bad?”

“Well, as you may already know, the crown is no longer connected to your tooth nub and you are going to swallow that very expensive crown if you don’t take it out and store it until you can get to the dentist.”

Daddy Longlegs thought about this information with a closed mouth to keep his little treasure in place.

“Do you know what the dentist who put this in told me to do if it came off?” he asked.

I felt concerned that the dentist gave him a back-up plan for the crown and wondered about the credentials of this so-called dentist.

“He told me to get some superglue and stick it right back in place.”

It was my turn to gasp.

The horror.

Then, instead of calling the so-called dentist for an emergency appointment, he situated his crown next to the bathroom sink, where it remains.

“It is where people keep their teeth,” he explained.

Or in this case, his tooth. We are in Tennessee, after all. 

In the clutches of a dental man

dentistHe’s really into teeth.  Especially insured ones.  He asks how you are without listening for the answer because he is already snapping on a pair of blue latex gloves.

“Let’s lean you back and see what’s going on in here.”

This is your second appointment.  You mostly trust him, the professional, to do the right thing by you and your teeth.  How could you know that he spends a week each summer panning for gold in California and that every weekend he combs the local beach with a high-end metal detector in search of coins and jewelry? He’s a treasure hunter and he has discovered the mother lode.

His mouth stretches into a grotesque grin, hidden by his mask, as he counts off the cavities with a long, hooked metal instrument.  You can only see his eyes behind protective plastic lenses as they sparkle with an unnatural brightness.  He glances up at the hygienist who is peering down at you with pity and a furrowed brow.

“Are we ready?” he asks.

“Oh wait, I forgot to…” she trails off as she runs from the room.

At this point, you should be concerned, but you are having a hard time breathing because the runner/hygienist, injected your jawbone with a syringe of foul poison that burned and subsequently paralyzed half of your throat.  You want to say something about being too numb to swallow, but you find you also can no longer speak intelligible words.

The dentist revs up his drill like a hotrod car and you squeeze your eyes shut in fear and focus on controlling your breath.  You try to remember the litany against fear from Dune, face the fear, let the fear pass through you.  

Unfortunately, you are too far gone to reign your panic back in and you resign yourself to a certain death as it seems unlikely you will survive this experience.  When you return to your body, you are surprised.  Obviously.  You are alive.   

When the receptionist asks, “Would you like to schedule your next appointment?”

You politely decline. Obviously.

Tough Enough

I have never been much of a risk taker. I assume it is somehow related to having an impulsive mother. Growing up, when other kids hopped stones to cross a creek, I built a bridge for a safer crossing. If the water was too deep or fast for an impromptu bridge, I traveled along the muddy bank in search of a less potentially harmful way. I found that there is almost always a better way if you take the time to look for it.

However, avoiding risks is very time consuming. It’s a constant task to assess the amount of risk in day to day decisions and pick what is least likely to cause harm, injury, or death. For example, I rarely take left turns on two way streets, speed, or forget to wear sunscreen on cloudy days.

Yesterday, I decided that I have lived in fear of the unknown long enough and threw caution to the wind.

I went where no woman should willingly go. If you don’t already know to where I’m referring – it’s to the same dentist who just cracked my husband’s tooth the previous day when filling a small cavity. To the same person who caused the love of my life incredible pain and suffering? Yes, I guiltily admit, that is just where I went less than 24 hours after the incident.

It was described to me like this; my husband was leaned back in the chair, relaxed in the safe hands of the dentist. His mouth and half of his face was numb as he stared out the window. The dentist was casually drilling and chatting about the upcoming World Cup game when she suddenly stopped with an “Uh-oh.”

Generally, this is not a good thing for a dentist to say.

The dentist peered into his mouth through a tiny pair of magnified glasses. Her lashes, thick with mascara, batted up and down, as she assessed the situation. A pair of pursed lips and increased heart beats told him the news before she announced very matter-of-factly, “Your tooth has cracked in half.”

She said it in a way like she wasn’t the one holding a drill that had just been running inside of his mouth. It was as though the tooth had a mind of its own and decided to split from its current place of residency and to make a break from its brothers.

It was just a few hours later that my husband shuffled out of the office, with a newly rebuilt tooth and an aching jaw. The secretary stood up as he reached the door, and called after him, “Don’t forget to remind your wife she has an appointment tomorrow.”

Fearlessly, I arrived ten minutes early to have a cavity of my own drilled.

Drill ’em and bill ’em


My first dentist always called me ‘sis’.

He was tall with a full head of hair and a perfect smile, of course.  His hygienist always took too long with the fluoride treatment.  I’m not sure why she felt it was a good idea to leave a child with so many cavities alone in a room with shiny curiosities in every drawer and cabinet.  Clearly, with that many holes in my mouth, I did not have a history of good decision making.

Nonetheless, it was not totally on my account that a new family dentist was necessary.

The breaking point was over a bill that was not unlike other bills for cleaning, x-rays and cavities.

“That dentist is ripping us off! How can she have so many cavities, year after year?  There’s no way.  I’ve seen her brush.”

“Yes, I’ve seen her brush.  You’ve seen her brush. That dentist is a hack!”

They went back and forth, egging each other on in their dental self-righteousness.  Really, how dare that dentist tell them what they needed to do with their swarmy kids.

My next dentist was deaf.

He confirmed my parents’ worst fears; the first dentist wasn’t ripping them off.  I was a bad brusher, a lazy flosser, and a secret late night candy eater.

The chairs in his office faced a wall of glass windows towards the woods where 6 or 7 different types of bird feeders were set up.  I watched cardinals, wrens, and finches hop amongst the feeders with an occasional blue jay swooping in to scare off the little birds.

While preparing her tools for a cleaning, his hygienist noticed me watching the birds instead of the tv hung in the corner of the office. “Those are the doctor’s birds,” she said with a smile.  “He feeds them the best seed that why they are so bright, that what he tells us anyways,” she finished with a laugh.

One time a deer wandered up while I was in the chair and looked into the window with sad, brown eyes.  “Why so many cavities?” she seemed to ask without judgment.

That dentist will always hold a special place in my heart for those birds and that he never caused me to give a shriek of pain that he couldn’t hear.

From there, I went to Aspen Dental for a cheap, fast exam and treatment.   Much to my surprise, it was not a nice experience or cheap or fast.  No one called me sis or took the time to feed the birds outside.  It was like sitting in the BMV waiting to have my license renewed.  I was just a number with a set of good teeth to drill and bill.

Now, I’m back to an independent dentist with a no fuss, no muss approach to dentistry. I’m going in tomorrow for a check-up that is just a year overdue.  Toothfully, I’ve going in because the old familiar pain is back and I suspect a cavity.  It reminds me that I’m alive, even while my teeth are experiencing a slow death.  Tooth pain gives me a reason to reflect on dentists of days-gone-by and an even better reason to floss, at least until my new cavity is drilled and filled.