Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dentists I Have Known

There's no two ways about it - getting a tooth drilled is creepy. Sure, the hygienist can laugh and say that she and the dentist hear it as "opera... or a cantata" but it's shrill and metallic and loud and in my mouth. It sounds like many things, but music just ain't one of 'em.

As a kid on Long Island, we had a family dentist. His office was a short bike ride away; going to appointments on my own was my first really grown-up experience. Down Benjamin Road, then cut through Ellen Terry Drive, which was named for the actress, not some builder's daughter. I liked knowing that. Ride under the giant poplars hiding the too-big-for0-the neighborhood, gated, wonder-who-lives-there house and then cross Brower Avenue. Carefully, very very carefully, looking left then right then right again because there was a triangle one block down that way and cars came from both sides of it and merged in front of the office. For a while, there was a little farm on that triangle, and that made crossing marginally easier. I came home from college one Thanksgiving to find 3 houses blocking the long view of the furthest right angle.... but I digress.

His office had crisp copies of Children's Highlights (or was it Highlights for Children? I just searched to find out and now it's just Highlights. This really didn't start to be a post about change...... anyway..... ) The magazines were fresh and plentiful and there were pencils to use for the games. There was a clean medicinal smell that made me relax and smile. I was sitting in the office all alone, without any parents or babysitters. I'm sitting up taller right now just thinking about how mature I felt.

His patient's chair was adjustable and I never felt too small. He himself had broad, flat, cool fingers. He'd finish his exam and then gently pat my cheek, lugubriously wondering aloud if I knew that he had children who would need college educations and with perfect mouths like mine he'd never earn enough money to pay for them. I was proud of my teeth and so was he.

Years later, one of those children cleaned my teeth just before my wedding. He'd taken over his dad's practise and most of the patients and their children were still around. It was one of my first experiences with a peer as a professional and I think it was odd for both of us. Well, I know it was odd for me. I got over it soon enough, and he listened when I told him that the smell the drill made was brown. Apparently, there was something called synesthesia and I wasn't crazy to smell it or to know that 8+6=14 is numeric but also pastel. Yes, the 8 and the 6 are pink and yellow Cray-Pas and the 14 is peachy, with a bit of violet wisping through. I kid you not. This is true. And the new young dentist knew about it. How cool was that? Then we started laughing about his dilemma : what to reply when our-parents-age-patients asked him if nitrous oxide was like smoking marijuana. Oh, how he didn't want to go there.

TBG had awful experiences with dentistry, many involving pain and blood. It seems that since their dentist was also their next-door-neighbor Nannie was loathe to find less daunting dental care elsewhere. Once we were married and settled for sure in Chicago, we needed a dentist who would understand TBG's dislike, distaste, distrust, dis-inclination..... he wasn't going to show up unless there were incentives.

It took some doing, but I found one. The office was close, had convenient metered parking and he had incentives. Headphones with great tapes - remember that this was in 1975, and portable personal music was a rarity. A view overlooking Lincoln Park with great trees to watch. Mobiles overhead and interesting flavors of toothpaste for use when he'd polish your teeth. Nitrous oxide, even for cleanings. He didn't last in the dentistry business for very long; he became a general contractor in the suburbs after a couple of years. But for the time that he was around we had very very clean teeth.

The kids' dentist in Marin wore tie-dyed lab coats and once worked at the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic. Everyone went to him and no one had ever seen him angry. Things got a little testy when the Big Cuter showed up for 4 extractions, and decided that he'd had enough after one-and-a-half teeth had been dealt with. The dentist had to use his very loud "Stay in the chair" voice, and the whole office became silent. There were no hard feelings as the second half of the second tooth came out and we all agreed that, perhaps, this particular kid should be sedated before anything like this ever happened again. Ah, like father, like son.

We can't remember how we found the world's coolest dentist for grown-ups, but we did. He was our age, and so was his hygienist. His music was our music and it was playing just loud enough to distract you from the sounds of the drilling. He was a big reader of non-fiction and could wax eloquent on a range of fascinating topics, while explaining exactly what and why he was doing in your mouth. It's a testament to his wonderfulness that TBG looked forward to seeing him, even though he didn't use nitrous oxide.

Then, of course, we moved and had to find another dentist. We were on our own, since no one in Marin had a recommendation for Tucson. Amster has been raving about her guy ever since I've known her, and with annoying nagging messages from the current-but-I'm-not-crazy-about-her dentist wondering where I've been for the past 14 months piling up on my machine I called and made an appointment and today I had a filling replaced.

Now remember, I have great teeth. This cavity is very old and, as was patiently explained to me, nothing lasts forever. It was a good thing that I'd come in because it was almost getting to be a real problem. Fine. I got it. There was something wrong with my perfect teeth. This is NOT supposed to be happening to me. And, I missed the turn onto Ft. Lowell which made me 6 minutes late. They were waiting and I was in the chair before I'd finished apologizing and then, as she was clipping the paper bib around my neck, I heard the most lovely words: "Would you like the gas?".

With my I-pod in my ears and the grey pig-snout mask over my nose (it still looks the same as it did decades ago in Chicago) I breathed deep and began to boogie. My feet must have been moving along with my hands, because he stopped to be sure I was ok. "Oh, yes....... legally high in public," said I.

The sounds were still creepy, there's a dull ache that's a little bit annoying, and chewing isn't much fun on that side right now. But TBG is motivated to call and make an appointment. That is a recommendation.

I suppose I ought to join Amster at Aquatica in an hour.............nah, I had a tooth drilled.

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