Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dentists I Have Known

First was the father of my close friend whom I remember as a no-nonsense man masking a kind and gentle heart. The combination must have been the right mix since I’ve never had any phobia around drilling. However it took its toll on the driller more than the drill-ee. His kind heart stopped ticking when I was about 15. I can only hope my teeth played no role in his early demise.

My next dentist was a Saul K., a left-wing activist. I remember him at some Progressive Party rally in 1947-48 speaking as a fund-raiser before introducing Henry Wallace or was it Pete Seeger? He was a hell of a guy but perhaps either disinterested in dentistry or distracted by the issues of the day. I’d like to believe that my mouth was a sacrificial offering to the greater good.

When I came to California in 1954 G. Saltzman DDS took one look at my fillings and was aghast. Twenty-three teeth required do-overs. I had visions of all the Milk Duds, Milky Ways and Necco Wafers I had ever munched making a meal of my enamel. It could have been his way of buying a new Oldsmobile. Or my molars and bicuspids looked like dollar signs and a down payment on a five bedroom split-level house in Beverly Hills.

In 1959 I had all four wisdom teeth pulled on New Years Eve day, plastered before the crowd got partying. I ushered in the new decade with ice and gauze. Why my appointment was scheduled for Dec. 31, I have no idea. Maybe it had something to do with dental insurance or the oral surgeon did it for tax purposes. One doesn’t question the guy with the pliers.

The next decades are a blur. In 1980 I started seeing Mal, the dentist in the medical building where my pharmacy was located. Open after hours, he was my man for about twenty years. He meant well. I can’t imagine anybody having to stare into my oral cavity for that long. I wondered if he dreamt of fangs at night. I would make my appointment for 6 PM and get out of his office at 8:30. He ran on his own clock, schmoozing with patients in every room. I would get a shot of Lidocaine and he’d disappear. When he returned I might need another to boost the anesthetic effect.

He was in my face with one-way conversation and my mouth full of cotton and clamps, yaking mostly about money; how to make it, keep it and spend it. My strategy was to nod at everything. He had me. Any slippage could be my doom. I was there to fill his cavity. Finally I’d had enough.

For the past dozen years I see the dentist across the hall from him. I call him Homer. He is a simple man with simple life style. No frills. No dental assistant. No hygienist. Always sees me on time, never over-books. I imagine he sees my teeth as boy scouts lined up in a row. He coaches a soccer team on weekends. I saw him this past Tuesday. He started to talk about retirement. I asked what he plans to do. Optimize my variables, he said. That ended the conversation. It is perpetually 1950 in his office. I walk out with clean teeth and I pick up sixty years.

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