“I Was Obsessed with My Childhood Dentist” Club

As my tooth broke minutes before my son’s debut on stage, I froze in anticipation of the pain which I expected to come shooting through my jaw. Only no ache evolved because of my good fortune that the dental deities were on my side and the piece I chipped off turned out to be a cusp of my top wisdom tooth. My step-mom, who has worked in a dental office for a decade, has assured me it could be weeks before the pain sets in so I have set out to do the absolute opposite of what a dentist would recommend: I will delay making a dentist appointment.

The first reason is: I currently don’t have a regular dentist. Reason two: dentistry. Their profession has not progressed much beyond the barbarism I’ve written about in the past

I remember my first dentist proudly; I called him by his first name, Ira.

I loved him so much, I brought him into my elementary school in second grade for show and tell. I introduced him to my school and he held an assembly lecturing on the importance of dental hygiene to a bunch of 7 and 8-year-old immigrant kids.  He ended the program by giving everyone a toothbrush, a sample sized toothpaste, and a floss inside a plastic goody bag with a graphic of a tooth on it. Of course, his business card was inside the bag indicating his convenient location, across the street from the school. It was brilliant patient recruitment and I was the genius behind the idea. My dentist and I were so tight I provided marketing consulting for free.

Going to the dentist was fun; he spoke to me like the grown up I thought I was and I felt special like he was my real friend. I scheduled appointments diligently, on the six-month mark. I filled out those reminder postcards excitedly and eagerly selected a reward sticker from their plastic white tray; somehow all I remember is either Garfield or Snoopy with a toothbrush or else cartoon teeth.

He also pulled a bunch of my teeth, including one molar extraction I keenly remember thinking I could have used a bit more novocaine. At 12 I was too polite to say anything so I just sat there as the tears slowly leaked out of the corners of my eyes. The dentist seemed to be using pliers, visibly struggling to yank this molar which wouldn’t budge. When he finally got the sucker out, he kept repeating “such deep roots you have,” and I smiled through the bloody gauze shoved in my cheeks, somehow proud of my strong Russian roots. The good thing about this dentist, though, was all procedures came with the obligatory laughing gas, which he called the “Snoopy nose.”

In the teenage years, with tools deep in my mouth, Ira would initiate conversation, inquiring about my romantic status; how many boyfriends did I have? I’d laugh ironically knowing I was an unpopular chubby girl with no boyfriends and say, “three.” Ira never doubted it. 

The last time I went to see him was in 2001. He was still in the office across the street from my elementary school in Queens and I had long moved away to live in Boston, Manhattan, Connecticut, and back to Manhattan. I made my dental appointments coincide with visits home so I would never stray from my dentist. But eventually Ira moved to Yonkers and someone recommended a fancy Manhattan dentist, with an office on 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, two blocks from where I worked. I was able to conveniently go during lunch and he accepted my corporate dental insurance. I would visit his office, stare out at the windows nestled in the brick buildings adjacent to me in the sky. The view revealed workers of one kind or another typing at computers, having conference calls around a table, and enjoying water cooler gossip as I had my teeth drilled.

I’d sit with my mouth stretched open, always feeling like the corners of my mouth would rip open – like a dental episiotomy (pardon the graphic example) and think of Ira, longing for my Snoopy nose. At one point the fancy dentist told me I had eight “flossing cavities.” He said it wasn’t urgent to fill them, but encouraged me to do it at $500 a pop. A decade later, I’ve filled one.

Now that I moved to New Jersey, the last few years we’ve gone to a low-end, local dentist for obligatory cleanings and a few emergency fillings. The visits have been uneventful but not horrendous. Ira will forever hold the image of my dental default and I’ll forever measure every future dentist up to him.

Meanwhile, on the other side of my mouth, I have this other tooth which is starting to hurt…

13 thoughts on ““I Was Obsessed with My Childhood Dentist” Club

  1. I’m glad you had such a romantic relationship with the dentist. To me, he was my absolute first real life boggy man. Unlike you, I dreaded going to the dentist because I ALWAYS had a cavity. And when he pulled my baby teeth out, he also used the long root comment, but no snoopy nose could help that, especially because he was skimpy on the novacaine.

    I always looked at him like a creepy molester that got a kick out of drugging young girls and telling them what nice roots you have.

    Could he have bee. Your first “molested by a Dr club”? Have you done that one yet??? Matt has a male story!

  2. I hear ya! In the last few years – I have had 7 cavities filled, 4 route canals, and all four of my wisdom teeth pulled. I hate the dentist. ABSOLUTELY DREAD going…but I have this tooth that needs work….lol, I swear I want to be put out the next time I need work done. No one is as good as the dentist I had when I was a child – not quite the same relationship as you and yours, but I truly loved him and I don’t know if anyone will ever measure up!

  3. hopefully I can save all mine! but ya never know! especially when you hate the dentist!

  4. Also, that broken tooth, all the way in the back, just still sitting there no pain, building it, I’m sure. I will wait until pain to see the dentist because going proactively still means pain!

  5. Great Read!
    My dentist had a soft/light touch that’s why I don’t really remember being in pain. What I do remember were the treats I got whenever I visit my dentist. The giveaways I had from the clinic plus my mom would always take me to an ice cream parlor after my appointments.

  6. How ironic to go to an ice cream parlor after a dentist appointment. The only time my parents ever took me to an ice cream parlor was after I got my ears pierced. I still remember the taste of the pure vanilla more than the pain.

  7. It does seem ironic but I’m not complaining😀 Kidding aside, always ending a not -so-good day with a treat somehow helped in alleviating whatever fear I had back then.

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