Mom’s six-year molar suddenly started to hurt. Gently tapping her teeth together sent an eye-scrunching zing through the molar. “It started to hurt a couple of days ago,” she explained. “I’ve been chewing only on one side.” The next morning, I saw her moving around earlier than usual. “The dentist office said they could see me at 9:30,” and off she drove in her treasured Subaru. Mom texted me later in the day, “I am without a tooth!” The early molar, with deep amalgam fillings and a crown, had cracked in half and was not reparable. “It’s got to go,” the dentist declared. As he pulled the tooth, it came free of its roots and shattered, so he had to find and pull the roots one at a time. But Mom was not unhappy. She told me how gentle and kind her dentist always is. I do not know anyone else who would come home from a tooth extraction praising, “I love my dentist.” I think it is Mom who is gentle and kind, grateful for her dentist even as he sent her home toothless (well, without a tooth). In the evening, with her face fully back to life, and the gap stuffed with gauze, Mom was pleased to tell me she felt no pain.
Mom and Dad drove themselves to the dentist office for their annual checkups and cleanings. They came home happy to report that they had no cavities or other problems. Dad’s first visit to the dentist was at age 15, circa 1951, by which time several teeth were in bad shape. His mother sent him to the dentist with a $5 bill, which the dentist took, along with four teeth. “Going to the dentist was a luxury,” he explained, a luxury his single mother, emptying waste baskets at night in the Kearns Building downtown Salt Lake City, could not afford. More than a decade later, when he had a job and dental insurance, “Doc” Nicholas made bridges to fill the gaps—implants weren’t a thing. Mom took her first trip to the dentist at age seven, by which time she had several large cavities to be filled. She remembers the agony of the dentist grinding for what seemed forever with a slow rotary tool, and no Novocain. She had to just sit there, a prisoner in the chair, and suffer through it—what was the alternative? Thereafter, Mom was taken to dear Uncle Harvey, a new dentist who always smiled and laughed and made you feel good about life. Today, Mom and Dad came home cavity-free and in good spirits. Mom reported how kind the hygienist staff were on this visit. “Sometimes they just jab you, and it hurts, but my hygienist today was so nice and gentle.” Next month it is my turn to see the dreaded dentist. I wish “Doc” were still around.
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