Going to the Dentist Bites

I’ve told the story about my Granddad pulling his own tooth with a pair of pliers and how he explained his actions by saying, “It was bothering me, so I pulled it.” I’ve also said that I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t just go to the dentist.

Now I understand.

I have had some good dentists and some suspect dentists in the checkered chronicle of my choppers. One, I think, was the inspiration for Steve Martin’s character in Little Shop of Horrors.  And when I was just a child, a horrible hygienist told me that chewing on my lip would cause mouth cancer that would mean I’d have to have part of my face removed. The woman successfully ensured that I would always chew my lip and the inside of my mouth when I’m nervous.

So it’s understandable that I’ve put off finding a new dentist since I moved to St. Augustine.  My son and I were long overdue for a cleaning, so this week, I found myself in the office of a new dentist.  I gnawed on my lower lip as I filled out the medical questionnaire prior to seeing the doctor.  Oddly, it was the questionnaire just as much as seeing a new dentist that made me anxious.

You see, I’ve gotten over my childhood fear of dentists, mostly because of the dentist I had when my kids were very little.  I always felt like I got special treatment in his office, and I never once got carelessly jabbed during a cleaning.  I bragged on this guy to everyone who would listen:  “He’s fast, gets me in and out within 30 minutes.  And he never tries to sell me $200 toothbrushes or convince me to let him redo all the silver fillings in my mouth.”  And it was true.  When I showed up at his office, his staff quickly took me back to a special room and cleaned my teeth with lightning speed.  Then the doctor would walk in, quickly check my teeth, and very kindly tell me I was free to go.

Two years later, I found out why I got special treatment when a new hygienist said to me, “So how long have you been HIV positive?”

“I’m not HIV positive,” I said, laughing at the absurdity of her question.

“But you checked ‘yes’ on your questionnaire under HIV,” she said, handing me the form.  I quickly recognized the checkmarks I’d made.  My signature was at the bottom.  And I had checked “yes,” to indicate that I was HIV positive.

To this day, I have no explanation for it.  Every other box on that form was checked “no.”  But it explained the fast service and the special room in the dentist’s office.

I was careful this week as I filled out the questionnaire, especially when I came to the question about HIV.  And I had a rather uneventful visit with my new dentist, happily noting that she tried to sell me an expensive sonic toothbrush and that my time in the chair lasted longer than an hour.

In my euphoria over a successful visit to a new dentist, however, I forgot to ask for an excuse note for my kid, who checked out of school an hour early for his checkup and cleaning. But here’s when you know you’ve found a great dentist:  the office cheerfully offered to fax a copy of the note directly to my son’s school.  And then they mailed me the original.

The next day, my son came home from school and said, “The attendance office said they won’t accept that fax.  You have to bring an original copy of the note to them.”  I told him we were waiting for the original to come in the mail.

This morning, he reminded me that the school needed the note, and he said, “If they don’t get it by today, it will be unexcused.”

I checked the mail, but I still hadn’t received the original note.  So I drove to the dentist’s office, picked up their photocopy of the original  and then drove it to my son’s school, nervously forming my response when the administration rejected it because it was a copy.  I signed in at the front desk and then proceeded to make my way to the attendance office.  The Dean of Attendance at Pedro Menendez High School in St. Augustine, Florida, looked that note up and down as if to check for evidence of a sly Photoshop job.  Then she said, “I remember this.  I decided to accept that fax because I finally determined that it came straight from the dentist’s office.”

You’d better wash your hands after holding that note, I wanted to say, because I’m HIV positive.  But I didn’t.  I simply thanked her for excusing his absence and headed for my car.

So like I said, I now understand why my Granddad just resorts to pliers.  It’s called the Law of Diminishing Dental Returns, which formally states, “A uneventful trip to the dentist is kind of like pulling teeth.”

And I also get why my little nephew Joe insists, “Santa’s real.  But the Tooth Fairy?  Naw.”

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