Today I made another trip to the dentist. I was dreading the visit because of our experience last time. But this time around we were there for a check-up for my daughter. Not having my son with me made things a bit easier, however I would have welcomed his recall when we arrived, because the office looked “normal” again, and all the furniture was back in the “right” spots. I started wondering if I had dreamed our previous visit, but sadly I had not. This was further confirmed when I got my MasterCard bill. In Canada we may have Universal health care, but we also have good beer, Caramilk chocolate bars and maple glazed donuts, and so it goes that we have to pay for the resultant tooth damage.
Today we were just there for an exam, but there was talk about her needing braces in the future. The talk was mostly wishful pleading on behalf of my daughter. She is anxious to get them “before high school when my life really starts.”
Neither her father nor I look forward to paying for braces, but if she needs them, she needs them. Her dad is handy though; maybe he can rig something up using metal twist ties industrial strength Velcro. This, and not crooked teeth, should be her worst fear. The man once made me a “portable party radio” from an early 80’s cassette player, empty Stove-Top stuffing box and electrical tape.
I understand her desire for good teeth, but unfortunately genetics are not on her side here. Her dad had braces when he was young, and I should have. My bottom teeth currently look like a picket fence after a wind storm. I needed braces, but so did my sister and she won the coin toss. Although in retrospect it hardly seems fair since she also got the good hair. So when it comes to her genetics, all my daughter can count on is 60 years of plucking her eyebrows, a disdain for multiplication tables, and a remarkable ability to beleive she is right in any given situation – which will come in handy when trying to explain to her ninth grade math tutor that 6 x 8 SO DOES EQUAL 46, SO SUCK IT MR. MATHLETE…
After the exam was finished, the dentist came out and spoke with me, and explained that X-rays reveal that my daughter has no adult teeth in the back of her mouth, and so her molars will need to last her until she is in her twenties. At that point they will need to be replaced with either expensive inserts or other costly dental apparatus. This is why she has been slow to lose her baby teeth and why the tooth fairy has not been seen in our neighbourhood since early 2008.
At this point I’m thinking that if I wanted to spend this much money for nothing but criticism and stress, I would have been better off taking my high school nemesis to an expensive wine bar to talk about the “good ole days.”
I confirmed with the dentist that she said her twenties and not the twenties (meaning 2020) and was told yes, her twenties. I turned to my daughter and gave her the same advice any responsible, caring mother would give a daughter in this situation.
“Marry someone with a comprehensive dental benefits package.”
I took my son to the dentist this week for his semi-annual check-up. When we got there, we noticed the office looked different; the furniture configuration had been changed since our last visit and the faces behind the glass were new. That’s fine; I understand that the world cannot be static for my benefit. But I noticed the difference, and my son did as well. We have great recall, and remember smells, feelings, who bought us what, what we bought who, dinner on Tuesday six weeks ago, and who is gonna pay for that comment about my pants in 1979.
He is 5. He is a “big boy.” A 38 lb. little boy brave enough to go into the dentist’s exam room all by himself. And I let him. I let him because I have gone to this dental office for over 30 years, and I’ve had nothing but positive experiences there. A hygienist I didn’t know came out to collect him, but I could hear my dentist’s voice in the back, so I sent him off almost dismissively, not wanting to create for him an atmosphere of false cheeriness. Let’s face it; it’s the dentist, not Disneyland. He smiled at me and was gone.
He came out of the exam with his head down; his cheeks red with pale centers. He didn’t look at me, just slowly opened his soft fist to reveal a small container of tooth floss and a sweat softened Spiderman sticker. He put them on the chair next to me.
“What’s up? How did it go?” I asked him. He wouldn’t answer me.
The same woman who had taken him in came out and reported quickly, “He has cavities. You need to make an appointment to have them fixed. They are in different areas in his mouth so he will need several appointments.” With that said she looked uncomfortable and left. I could hear my heart beating in my ears. Why didn’t the dentist come and talk to me? I hadn’t seen her yet, and sure that I would soon, I sat and waited.
I gave up waiting and got up to pay. The receptionist took my credit card, and again asked me to make several follow up appointments. “The cavities are in different places,” she said, restating the assistant’s news. “He’ll need more than one appointment because he’ll need, you know, freezing needles in all different sections.”
Where was the dentist? It felt very weird, very “man behind the green curtain.”
I looked down at my son. He is small; lower than the counter, and the sitting receptionist could not see him from her chair. But I could see him. I saw the brown swirl of hair on the top of his little head. I knew that if I leaned over it, I would smell his scent of warm sand, Ivory soap and apple juice. But she didn’t know that. She couldn’t even see him.
My face was burning. I was so angry I was afraid to speak.
“Well? When do you want to come back?” she asked me again, pen in hand and appointment book open. I was trying hard not to cry. As much as this little boy sends me to the edge – hell, he sends me to the edge, knocks me down , forces me to hang there and then steps on my fingers – as much as he does that, he is my son. My five-year old son. He still has dimples in his knuckles.
I’ve dealt with cavities before, many in fact. I could broadcast Radio Free Europe signals through my mouth before the Berlin Wall came down. It now seems as though my children have inherited my teeth – teeth that despite twice daily brushing and flossing still disintegrate like sponge toffee in a rain storm.
I feel terrible that this is how his bravery was rewarded. But what bothers me most is that today I realized, with alarming clarity, that I was the only one in that office who knows, cares, or loves that my son’s head smells like warm sand, Ivory soap and apple juice.