“Look, Ma! No cavities!”
You might remember this loud boast. It was shouted by a kid I really came to hate every time I saw him in a television commercial many long years ago. The kid’s face seemed split in two, the upper and lower halves separated by a wide row of perfect, pearly teeth. His was the smile of one who had never known pain.
I also envied that kid. Not just because of his check-up results, but because he would never need to face the needle, the drill, and the pick. For him, the dentist’s torturous tools were virtually unknown.
Today, there are cavity–detectors available in the modern dentist’s office. Through the use of a small, micro-electric current, the device locates cavities at the earliest stage of their development, thereby enabling the dentist to employ preventative medicine, rather than restorative piecework.
Alas, this news comes as no great comfort to me. I usually receive good reports when I visit the dentist—but not because I’m using the miracle toothpaste that kid on television was hawking. For whatever reasons, I haven’t had a new cavity in several years; however, the operative word in that statement is new.
It’s the old ones that cause me the problems.
When I was a small boy, the age of that other kid, I suffered from what my mother called ‘soft teeth’. That meant I was going to have cavities despite all the safeguards she could set up. It was in no way reflective of her parenting. I just had ‘soft teeth’!
Every six months, I was trundled off to have my mouth opened unnaturally wide, and stretched, probed, and pulled by my dentist, a kindly, grandfatherly gentleman. He always seemed genuinely glad to see me.
“This isn’t going to hurt, young fella,” he’d say, as he tied the drool-bib around my neck, my mother hovering nearby. “Just lie back and relax, while we see how you’re doing in there.”
Of course, he’d always find something wrong, something to fix. Out would come the needle to freeze my mouth. Out would come the array of picks and hooks. And, worst of all, out would come the drill.
Mostly, I guess, my dentist was right. It didn’t really hurt in the classic sense of pain. After my face went numb, he would insert both hands into my yawning mouth (or so it would seem), and begin his excavating. I used to imagine I resembled an old-time comedian named Joe. E. Brown, whose trademark was his oversized mouth.
My dentist’s drill was a far, far cry from the high-speed marvel of today. Back then, it droned along at a leisurely pace, sending vibrations on a journey up and across the bony structure of my skull. I used to close my eyes and go with it—until, that is, I would smell the smoke. When the drill got that hot, when I could smell part of me burning, I invariably began to gag.
That usually signaled the end of the heavy drilling. The rest of the visit would be taken up with packing, shaping, and tamping a new filling in place—an amalgam of mercury mixed with silver, tin, zinc, and copper. Then the ordeal would be over, at least until the freezing came out.
Fortunately, aided by fluoride in the water, my own children never had a cavity. Nor, to my knowledge, have my five grandchildren ever had one. Cleaning, yes. Orthodontic work, yes. Whitening, yes. But nary a cavity.
And today, happily retired, I am just like them—no new cavities. When I visit my dentist, a young woman, it’s to have my original fillings, some more than sixty years old, replaced with porcelain, tooth-coloured fillings. I lie back comfortably on her contoured couch, breathe sedating-gas deeply through a nose-piece, cleansing me of all fear and anxiety, and listen groggily to her talking through her mask about her latest trip to Europe.
Occasionally, I drift off during the monologue—happily mellow, free-floating, with not a care in the world. And sometimes in these reveries, I dream about that kid on television. I wonder, if he were still that age now, what he would do in a world of no cavities, a world where teeth are ever-perfect, a world where regular cavity check-ups are a thing of the past.
And I find myself hoping the little braggart will grow up to become a dentist, only to find himself with nothing to do!
I really didn’t like that kid!