Dental appointments…don’t you love them? I don’t have great teeth, they’re just average. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not British-never-seen-a-dentist bad and they’re not Miss America white either. They’re ‘just teeth’. Up until the age of 30 or so I think I must have had like a hundred cavities. Ok, so maybe it wasn’t 100, but my dentist used to drive a Yugo when I started seeing him as a kid and then quickly moved up to a BMW. It just can’t be coincidence – I was helping to keep America working.
They say that your teeth say a lot about your bones. I guess that’s why perhaps I wish I had better teeth – on some level, I worry about being one of those old thin, frail little men who breaks a hip just from sneezing too hard. My wife….now there’s a great set of teeth. She’s never had a cavity in her entire life! Oh sure, if you ask her, she’ll say she had one, but I was there. You’d need an electron microscope to find that teeny cavity. She must have strong bones – I bet she never breaks a hip.
Let’s talk about dentists for a bit. Want to know my litmus test for a great dentist? How tiny of a needle can you use on me and can you put it in my gums without my feeling it? Oh, and can you get it right the first time or do you need to come back and shoot me again and again like I’m a heroin addict? That’s my test – if you can do that, I’ll be like the lion who had a thorn removed from his paw by the mouse, loyal forever.
Luckily, my teeth are naturally very straight. I’ve never had braces and never really needed them. Whiteness though, now that’s a different story. My teeth aren’t Hollywood white, they’re more like Folgers yellowish white, what I’d call very average. Let’s just say that I like my coffee.
The first time I was taken to the dentist was maybe in 6th or 7th grade. I had asked my mom to take me because I had become self conscious about the discoloration that was appearing on them. Have you ever heard of an old song by the Charlie Daniels Band, a song called Uneasy Rider? Well there’s a mention in the lyrics about kicking ‘old green teeth’ and I was beginning to become afraid that someone might one day write a song about me! I’m not sure why my parents hadn’t taken us earlier, but they hadn’t. I’m not knocking or finding fault. My guess is that they just weren’t informed or perhaps it was just that they themselves grew up in another time when dental hygiene was not necessarily a priority.
My first dentist was a nice man named Dr Stitsinger who had a family practice for more than 30 years in Hamilton where I grew up. His office was just down the street from where I lived on Prytania, maybe just six city blocks. On my very first appointment, I remember being 13, almost 14 so the year would have been 1971. The office was located in the basement floor of a small commercial building and his practice took up the entire basement level. Upon seeing me enter the reception area for the first time, a couple of young mothers shrieked in horror and quickly grabbed their children, fleeing for safety. We now had the reception area all to ourselves and I was quickly ushered in.
As I was walking in beyond that little door that separates the waiters from the workers, I looked over my shoulder and noticed the receptionist locking the front door and turning out the lights. I thought that was a bit odd since it was only 9 o’clock in the morning. The next thing I saw as I looked down the hall was two dental hygienists. One was flipping a quarter and I watched the other one flinch when she saw what came up – the flincher ended up being my hygienist. These were the days before AIDS. No one wore surgical gloves or masks or eye protection but before my hygienist came to see me, I overheard her asking a coworker where the “special gear” was. The receptionist ushered me into a lounge chair and shortly thereafter, in came the hygienist, looking like she was ready to cook crystal meth, carrying a Black and Decker heavy duty drill with a large metal circular scraper attached to it.
You’re not going to use that on me, are you?
Don’t worry, I’m a trained professional, I do this all the time…though I’m wondering if I shouldn’t go fetch a new scraper. Oh wait, first let’s go hit you with some radiation.
After strapping me down with the 100 pound lead jacket, she put a giant camera next to my face and then ran behind a wall when next I felt a green penetrating heat searing through my jaw. Quickly then I was pulled back down the hallway, attendants ducking behind doorways as I passed, I felt their peering around the edges as I was led to the sandblasting room (and I swear I heard someone whisper – is that Ole Green Teeth’s son?).
And then it began, sand flying every which way, the room quickly filling up with sand and green specks. When it was all said and done, I had a new mouth. But wait, who’s this guy? His name was Dr Stitsinger and he explained to me that he was going to need to see me again next week as I had several hundred cavities he would need to fill.
All of this is true, I swear….at least, that’s how I remember it while growing up on Prytania. I now had a new mouth and a new dentist, (my first dentist), and I was able to help a starving dentist buy a new car.