I’m guessing that most of us share unpleasant memories from childhood of going to the dentist, especially if we can recall those times during the 1950’s and 1960’s of antiseptic smelling waiting rooms with tables strewn with issues of magazines like “Field and Stream,” “Readers Digest,” “Humpty Dumpty,” and “Your Journey to a Happy Smile.”
The equipment in the the actual inner sanctum always looked as though Dr. Goodman had purchased it from the torture chamber of some medieval castle. The long arms of shiny, robotic-looking creatures loomed over our heads and above the little sinks into which we spat blood, chips of old teeth, and whatever saliva that might have remained. The old dental drills made smoke of tooth enamel, and sounds that could make most people flee screaming into the streets. Unlike our family GP, our dentist didn’t offer us kids suckers or other candy as bribes or blissful distractions from what was about to happen in that inner chamber. In those days injections were not buffered by numbing gel or by little theater screens playing DVD’s of Peter Pan that now take our minds away from the trauma of the dental experience.
Those images linger still in my psyche, where they remain haunting reminders of the terrors, real or imagined, I have saved from childhood, including those dark remembrances of Mr. Tooth Decay wearing his black cape in pictures provided by Miss Fowler, my kindergarten teacher, whose dental dictum of “Up and down…and all around” was the daily message about the proper way to brush our teeth. The happy tooth was our goal.
Also, there is something intimidating about the usual quizzes we endure, which generally begin with questions like, “Have you been flossing regularly?” or “Are you brushing at least twice daily?” I always feel disappointed in my answers and often come perilously close to downright lies to cover my disgraceful negligence. However, considering the fact that for teeth cleaning sessions, I usually arrive with enough plaque and tartar to start a ceramic factory, lies would prove too embarrassing and transparent. Whenever my teeth are cleaned the place sounds like a sculptor’s studio or workshop, scraping and chipping as though with a big chisel, more stuff chipped off than Michealangelo discarded in creating his statue of David. No, it makes no sense for me to enter the dentist’s office in any other way but sheepishly, regretfully, penitently as though preparing for confession before an ordained priest.
In the end, it’s probably simply mind over matter through my creating imaginings far worse than anything that reality brings. I now have a wonderful dentist, Dr. Mullins, who has never once exposed me to the slightest pain. Everything is done with tremendous courtesy and the most advanced technology. My visit to his office this past week was for teeth cleaning and a temporary crown, which will be made permanent in two weeks. Dentistry has come a long way, but I can still see my mother before those ordeals of my visits to the dentist, and I can hear her saying, “ It’s mind over matter, but of course, if you don’t have a mind, it doesn’t matter.” Then she would simply smile.