By Harvey H. Jackson
When I was young and just a bad little kid,
My momma noticed funny things I did.
Like shooting puppies with a BB gun.
She said, “My boy, I think some day
You’ll find a way to make your natural tendencies pay.
You’ll be a dentist.
“You’ll be a dentist.”
Little Shop of Horrors
Dentists often get a bad rap.
I can say this now.
In my youth I could not.
The dentist I went to in my youth was, well, sadistic.
He was also a distant cousin.
Today, I believe he was our dentist because he gave us a discount.
I also believe that to recoup the money he lost treating us, he cut corners in various ways – like not giving me Novocain before drilling and filling.
A visit to him was, well, painful.
His crowning (no pun intended) achievement was the in-house root canal he performed on me when I was in college. I had a fraternity party to go to the following weekend, but after packing the tooth with something that was supposed to kill all the bad stuff (memory supported by a lack of dental knowledge comes into play here) my dentist-cousin assured me that it was safe to attend the event, which was to be held in Birmingham, 150 miles away.
The tooth abcessed, and as I cursed dentistry and dentists, a fraternity brother drove me across town to his dentist who opened the office (it was Saturday night), shot me full of Novocain and with my friend acting as his dental assistant – at one point he stuck the suction-thingy to my tongue and nearly pulled it out – the dentist saved my life, or at least I felt he did.
At that point my whole opinion of dentists changed, and over the years I sat in the chair of many a talented tooth master.
But it was not what a dentist did to/for me that confirmed my high regard of the profession and those who practice it. It was what one did for my son.
When a lad, my boy was, to put it mildly, rambunctious. At the tender age of five, he was at the height of his rambunctiousosity (it ain’t a word, but it will do till I think of another). One day, playing “George of the Jungle,” he attempted to leap from one part of the sofa to another, lost his balance and came crashing down, mouth first, on the one part of the furniture that was not heavily padded. When he came up, two or three of his front teeth were missing and another hung by a thread.
Blood was everywhere.
My wife called me at work.
Now usually my helpmate is far more competent than I at handling a crisis, but having heeded the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, we had a babe-in-arms at the time so she had her hands full, so to speak.
I rushed over and took the bloody, bawling boy to his T-ball coach, who was also his dentist.
(One of the advantages of small-town living is that you come in contact with people in many guises, so finding a dentist through the Recreation Department is not out of the ordinary.)
The good doctor rushed the boy past waiting patients who, seeing the blood and hearing his whimpering, made no protest over our breaking in line.
Calmly he assured my boy that he was not going to die, then, with fears quieted, examined the situation, removed the remaining front tooth and told his patient (and his anxious father) that since they were “baby teeth,” there was no permanent damage done. Instead, he would be the first among his friends to lose his teeth – a mark of maturity at his age.
He also (looking at me) observed that when all the teeth were collected, the “tooth fairy” would have to take out a loan to cover the cost.
Sure enough, in the fullness of time, the “permanent” teeth came in and today, thanks to yet another dentist – the one who braces and straightens – my son’s toothy smile brightens my day.
So, consider this column my tribute to dentistry and those who practice it.
I recently saw on a Dentist’s “patient questionnaire” a list of “how do you feel about being here” responses. Included in the choices was “I’d just like to get up and run away.” I suspect some people, scarred for life by a sadist like my dentist-cousin, did not see the humor in that choice, but I did.
So, let’s pay tribute to the person who puts their hands in your mouth. And remember to brush after every meal.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.