Wednesday, December 12, 2007

An infrequent dental visitor

My dad worked for the city water department for 33 years. In the days prior to intense watchdogs, worried about every possible way something could poison our existence, Harold put floride in the water.

My mother swears that's why I don't need to go to the dentist very often. While all my classmates were telling tales of Dr. Snedden (Angus, that is) and how funny he was, I was staying away, and my teeth were behaving.

The worst dental problem I ever experienced as a child occurred one day early in my elementary school days. That was when the Harneys still ran a dairy on their farm behind ours. It was the last day of school, and they invited us Brown kids up there for a picnic and games. I had just learned to ride a bicycle, but I'd ridden it only on the level.

The original driveway up there (eventually the Upper Tibbs place where Bill and I eventually lived our first three years of marriage) went downhill and crossed two railroad tracks before meeting Great Northern Road. That first downhill biking experience taught me to put on my brakes while going downhill and especially while crossing railroad tracks. I hit the first set of tracks, and my handlebars bounced up, smashing into my jaw.

The force caused my front teeth to bite a hole in my tongue. I rode home with blood dribbling from my mouth, and my horrified mother immediately took me to Dr. Hayden's office. He gave me some gargling stuff to fend off infection, and the tongue quickly healed. But the teeth had also chipped slightly with the handlebar impact, and no more could I drink cold water without covering up my teeth with my tongue.

The next time I even thought about tooth problems came when I was a senior in high school. One of my wisdom teeth abscessed. Rather than taking me to that funny dentist, for some reason Mother thought I needed to go to Dr. Malcolm McKinnon. I'd heard from my friends that Dr. Snedden was not only funny but that he also deadened a person's jaw before working on teeth. Dr. McKinnon did not believe in such things unless they were very, very necessary.

So, he told me the options, buttering me up and telling me he thought I was a smart person who would be intelligent enough to tell him if it hurt. He also told me something about myself, and he'd never even met me before. For some reason, maybe while telling me about pain thresholds, he ran his fingernail down my arm. When the area immediately turned red, he told me I had dermographia.

Having studied Word Clues, I knew that it meant he could write on my skin with his finger nail, but I wondered about its significance. He explained that if you have dermographia, you have intense emotions. When you laugh, you really, really laugh. When you cry, you're pretty darned sad, etc. Made sense to me because he had nailed me perfectly. I was really impressed that this older dentist could know so much about me and that he respected my intelligence.

So, I remained strong and allowed him to work on my abscess without deadening my jaw. I never did scream that day or even flinch, so I guess Dr. McKinnon knew what he was talking about.

I eventually went to Dr. Snedden as a full-fledged adult. He didn't get the balloons out for me, but he was funny as he deadened my jaw and yanked out one of my wisdom teeth which was giving me fits at the time. I've kept the other three in hopes of calling on them when I need some internal guidance.

I had a stint with Dr. Neuder. He was always lecturing me about coming to the dentist more often, especially when he'd look in my folder and see it had been five years since the previous visit. He treated me well and did fill a few cavities during my 30s and 40s.

Then, my classmate and our student body president Jim Miller came back to Sandpoint. He was Dr. Jim Miller, the dentist who'd been practicing over in the Seattle area. Since I was one of the senior girls who sat in the front row at school assemblies, drooling every time handsome Jim would get up there to open an assembly, of course I turned traitor to Dr. Neuder and moved on over to Jim's dental practice.

I still haven't sat in the dental chair very often, but Jim, like Dr. McKinnon, knew how to flatter me. He told me a while back (maybe that's been five years ago) that I had the gums of a teenager. I liked hearing that and figured maybe I could stay away permanently.

Well, over Labor Day while we were driving around up in Canada, I noticed a jagged edge on one of my back teeth. I figured it was the beginnings of a cavity, but it took me two months to make an appointment. Finally, I showed up in Jim's office in late October to learn that it was a broken filling.

While making the appointment to get it fixed, I learned that Jim asks for a two-hour blocs for his classmates so he can visit. Of course, most of the visiting involves Jim doing the talking and the patient grunting, with all those clamps and that rubber dam serving as handicaps. Jim also extends a few extras during those visits.

Yesterday, he had one assistant write down Gary Finney's cell phone number so that next time his big horses come visiting in the night, I can call him rather than his relatives. Dr. Miller also thought that both of us needed to know if our classmate Dennis James has retired as a Continental Airline pilot.

The receptionist was asked to call Dennis, wherever he was and find out. Sure enough, Dennis did retire in August, but, as Jim says, Dennis and Candy have a lot of kids so it's taking them a while to wind their way back from Houston to Sandpoint where they'll permanently plop. Jim's probably looking forward to that because he can add a few additional two-hour blocs to his appointment schedule.

I also learned that he's been going to school for the past two years and has recently been certified as a full-fledged tooth implanter. He says that's his passion and that he has no plans to retire soon.

With my infrequent dental visits, that means I may never ever have to cross over to another dentist in my lifetime. And, that's okay with me.

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