A visit to the filling station

If you were educated in an Iowa school system in the 1950s you undoubtedly remember those little yellow dental cards. How could you forget?

Early in the school year we were given a dental card in need of our dentist’s signature confirming that our teeth were in good shape. Of course, that often meant that we needed some dental work first.

Our family struggled financially when I was a kid and there were some years when circumstances did not permit a visit to the dentist. However, we did get to the dentist when toothaches dictated.

When we did return the signed card to our teacher, she posted it in a conspicuous place along with the other dental cards which had been returned.

I hated those little yellow cards. Hated them with a passion. You see, when it comes to going to the dentist, I was a big baby.

Please don’t misunderstand — I don’t hate dentists. I have been a patient of some wonderful dentists. Some of the finest people I know are dentists and I’m grateful they have chosen their profession. The ultimate alternative to good dental care isn’t at all desirable. An excruciating toothache can make you actually look forward to a visit to the dentist.

I must admit that much of today’s dental care is virtually painless and I have become less of a big baby. And I’m grateful for my current dentist, Dr. Graham, who is intent on me keeping my teeth for the rest of my days.

Still, I’m apprehensive when a dental appointment rolls around. Always have been and probably always will be.

The first dentist I remember visiting was an older fellow whose University of Iowa dental college diploma was dated in the 19-teens. The drill in his office was of the old slow-speed vintage, complete with a series of belts powered by a small electric motor.

I learned early on that this dentist was a soft touch. All I had to do was moan a couple of times and he’d stuff some cloves-flavored material in the cavity and tell me to come back in a week or so. You know, I’m not sure if he ever did get any of my baby teeth filled.

My father explained that early in this dentist’s career a patient died in his chair. The patient supposedly died of natural causes but it sure made the dentist skittish.

After he retired, our family began seeing another dentist — a middle-aged gentleman with a big smile and a great sense of humor. He had only one shortcoming — he couldn’t get my jaw numb. He filled several of my teeth without the benefit of anesthesia.

By this time I was a teenager and getting to be rather tall. On one occasion he hit a nerve as he was drilling and I kicked out reflexively. On the paneled wall in front of the dentist’s chair my shoe left a black mark which remained as an agonizing reminder on subsequent visits.

This dentist’s lovely wife served as his assistant. She was a gracious lady and rather buxom. In performing her duties she sometimes stood a bit too close and a prominent portion of her anatomy would rest against my ear. While it did nothing to make a 16-year-old boy less nervous it certainly took his mind off the pain.

One of the things I disliked about visiting a dentist in the past was expectoration. I hated spitting into that gurgling little spittoon. I was delighted when I found a dentist who could successfully anesthetize my jaw, but that made spitting even more difficult.

Nowadays, instead of a spittoon, a suction device is used to remove saliva. When you feel as though a portion of your head is missing this device is preferable to drooling down your chin into a bowl.

Much has changed for the better in the field of dentistry and I’m manning up and going to the dentist on a regular basis. I had a check-up visit at my dentist’s office last week and everything checked out fine. On top of that, Dr. Graham shared a couple of new jokes with me and I returned the favor.

Meanwhile, I have concluded that if there is music in hell, it is probably tuned to the pitch of a dentist’s high-speed drill.

Arvid Huisman can be contacted at huismaniowa@gmail.com. ©2024 by Huisman Communications.


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