by Maria Schulz
It takes very little to get me into flashback mode. Just the other day, I had a routine appointment with the dentist. I am very lucky to have a gentle dentist who loves life, insists on hiring gracious, lovely people to be dental hygienists, and has the kindest, most helpful support staff in the world. Of course, this got me to thinking about a time when a kind dentist wasn’t exactly in the cards for me. .
When I was a child, my parents took us all to the same dentist they had been visiting since the 1950s. Let’s call him Dr. Break-a-You-Face, or Dr. Break for short. Dr. B was the type of man who always greeted my mother with a gigantic, bright smile and an overly loud “HELLO!” He made Uncle Leo from the TV show Seinfeld seem like a retiring wallflower.
In fact, whenever my Mom was with me, Dr. B was the nicest man on earth, next to Santa Claus.
“After you get your teeth cleaned, you can pick a toy from the closet!” He would say.
Chris, Paul, Joey and I were always delighted by these overtures. Toys! He was going to give us toys! Of course, we were also the type of kids who would have gone with any demented stranger who told us “My puppy is lost! Can you help me find him?” so we weren’t really the most discerning customers around.
I couldn’t quite figure out why my older brothers, Jude, Tony and Louie wanted nothing whatsoever to do with Dr. Break. This is where having an older sister would have probably come in handy. My brothers didn’t warn me about the other side of Dr. Break, and so when he filled our little heads with dreams of silly putty and slinkys, I didn’t see through any of it.
Things changed, however, once I turned 6. That’s when Dr. Break decided it was time for me to man up, or at least for him to get me in a room alone and torture me.
“Oh Mrs. L,” Dr. B. said. “You don’t need to come in with Maria! She’s a big girl now. Why don’t you stay in the waiting room?”
My mother was probably overjoyed by the prospect of a ½ an hour of quiet time reading a magazine, so she abandoned me like I was the Titanic and the waiting room was a rowboat.
Once she was gone, Dr. B’s smile vanished. “Listen up,” he said, as he settled me in the big dentist’s chair and pointed his finger in my face. “I’m going to put you in this chair and you’re going to sit there and not make a sound. Understand?”
The sudden shift in our previously friendly relationship worried me. “But what if it hurts?”
“Just raise your hand if I hurt you. Then I’ll stop.”
I tried to sit there quietly while Dr. B. began rooting around in my mouth like he was excavating for gold. When he caught one of my teeth with what felt like a pick axe, I raised my hand and waved.
“You’re fine. Put your hand down,” he said, as he began to drill my tooth.
I started waving both of my arms in a windmill fashion, just in case he missed it the first time.
“Knock it off,” Dr. Break said.
I started waving my arms so furiously that I thought I could just fly away if he’d only get his knee off of my chest.
“Put your arms down,” he hissed.
That’s when 6-year-old me snapped. What happened to the kind, smiling, funny man my mother always got to see? The one who promised silly putty and slinkys and a closet full of delights? Years later, I would understand that he had vanished and left Dr. Joseph Mengele, Nazi war criminal and dentist extraordinaire, in his place.
I slapped his hand out of my mouth and screamed so loud, I’m sure they’re still talking about me today. “You get your hands out of my mouth. GET MY MOTHER IN HERE RIGHT NOW!”
“Stop being a baby,” he roared back, until my mother burst through the door.
“Is there a problem, doctor?” she said.
“Oh no,” he smiled sweetly. “Maria’s just a little scared.”
“I wasn’t scared until you started being mean,” I screamed. “You keep your hands out of my mouth!”
Dr. B and my Mom decided that getting me out of there was probably best for everyone involved, including the waiting room that was now full of crying children. When I got there, my brother Paul was waiting for us. He looked thoroughly embarrassed.
“Stop screaming,” he said.
“No! That’s guy is mean! I will not stop screaming.”
Mrs. B, Dr. B’s wife, was the receptionist and she sat there frowning at me. “You’ve been a very bad girl today, Maria, so there will be no silly putty for you.”
Did she think anything in that closet could make up for what I had just been through? “Keep it,” I replied. “I don’t want anything from you people.”
As we walked back to the car, Paul punched me in the arm. “Because of you, I didn’t get a prize either.”
We drove home and I told my mother the whole sorry story. She was shocked. “But he’s always so nice to me,” she said.
“He’s rotten and mean, and only nice to the grown ups. Ask all the guys. That man is awful.”
After we got home, my mother conducted an informal survey and concluded that I may have been right. Dr. B probably did do his dental training in a Nazi prisoner of war camp after all.
I would like to think that it was my strong persuasive skills that helped my mom see the light, but it was probably my behavior coupled with the fact that Dr. B just gave her an estimate for Jude’s dental work that made the NASA space program look like a bargain. It was time to end that relationship.
My mother hated confrontation and since her parents still wanted to go there, she called the doctor’s office and asked for all of our records. “We’re moving to California,” she said. “So we won’t be coming back.”
A year or two later, Mom came into my room with what she thought was great news. “I found us a new dentist! He’s sweet and gentle and my friend Rita says he’s wonderful.”
To my Mom’s credit, Dr. Pain Management is Not An Option For You (let’s call him Dr. Pain) was a genuinely nice man. He was an older Italian gentleman with a big smile on his face, a shock of thinning white hair, and a twinkle in his eye. He enjoyed talking to Chris and me whenever we came for a visit and he always laughed when we told him our stories.
Our relationship was off to a good start, even though he said something that worried me early on. “I don’t believe in pain medication whatsoever for children under the age of 12,” he told my mom on our first visit.
Since I am ever the optimist, I disregarded this glaring red flag and continued to see Dr. Pain. I unfortunately didn’t piece this bit of information together with the impending doom that my steady diet of jumbo pixie sticks, almond joys, Sugar Babies, tootsie rolls and Reese’s Pieces would have on me until it was too late.
When Dr. Pain told my mother that I had 9 cavities and that he would fill in 3 at a time for 3 straight weeks, no amount of begging, crying, or pleading could make him change his policy on the “no pain meds for kids” mantra.
“But you said it was kids under 12!” I said. “I’m 13!”
“Sorry, I won’t make an exception.”
I can still hear the buzzzzzz of the drill as it bit into my skull, taste the metal and bone particles as they flew everywhere, and smell the smoke billowing off his drill while I lay there. Luckily, Dr. Pain had straps on his chair and some beefy arm rests, which I could swear held scratch marks and indentations from former child clients.
While he bored away into my aching mouth, I began to wish that I had telekinetic powers like poor, tortured Carrie. If I did, my drilling sessions would have been over as soon as I made him burst into flames.
My sensitive brother Chris followed me around the house after every horrible visit, buzzing like Dr. Pain’s drill of doom, while I ran from room to room trying to escape him.
Thankfully, Dr. Pain either retired or died (I was happy either way) and we were forced to cast our net out there again to find a new dentist.
This time around, my mother chose a dentist on her plan that was young, didn’t enjoy inflicting physical pain on you, and seemed normal enough. He liked kids and even had a name for his water-sucking machine: Mr. Thirsty.
Let’s call him Dr. Death. We called him this long before Dr. Kevorkian burst on the scene with his suicide machine. Dr. Death would open every conversation with this tidbit: “Did you know that dentists are the doctors most likely to kill themselves?”
Every time I saw him (for almost 15 years), I would say, “Why no! How do they do it? Tell me more.”
Apparently, 4 out of 5 dentists preferred hanging as their suicide method, followed by sticking their heads in the oven, swallowing poison and jumping off the roof. “I realize that shooting yourself is the fastest,” Dr. D said as he gently cleaned my teeth. “But then you run the risk of ruining all of your dental work.”
“Hmmmm., “ I replied, as I pulled “Mr. Thirsty” out of my mouth so I could speak. “So I guess any kind of burning is also out of the question?” “Oh no,” he replied. “That’s where dentists like me get to be the heroes! The first thing they ask for is your dental records.”
It was a never-ending information gathering mission on all things related to death when you went to see Dr. D. For instance, he would point out his lovely window, where lilies, daffodils, and tulips were in full bloom, and say, “did you know that most deaths occur when you jump out of a second story window? Most people think it’s not high enough to kill you, but they’re wrong.”
I nodded my head. “I guess that’s why the second floor is the right choice for you.”
Dr. Death was fascinated by the many ways you could do yourself in, and honestly, who could blame him? If I had to spend my days staring out that second story window in between sticking my fingers in other people’s mouths, I would’ve wanted to jump too.
Believe it or not, I liked Dr. Death. He was more interested in telling me the most popular methods of self-annihilation then finding cavities. Even when he cleaned my teeth, he gave me novocaine. Apart from his obvious death wish (and again, who could blame him?), he was my favorite childhood dentist.
The last dentist I had before my current dentist either hated all women, or just me. Let’s call him Dr. Misogynist. One time, as he cleaned my teeth, he said:
“You know what the problem is with you women?”
I love when questions start like that. “No, why don’t you tell me?” I said. He was making me really miss Dr. Death.
“You spend more time worrying about your makeup than your teeth.”
Now, I was a young, sleep-deprived mother who looked more like a bag lady than a runway model. “Since I don’t have on any makeup, I’m not sure how to take that.”
“You need to spend more time on your teeth! Luckily, I can do a whitening process on you that will make your smile Red Carpet ready.”
“Look,” I said, as I shifted in my seat. “Just clean my teeth and tell me if I have any cavities. I’m not going onto any red carpets any time soon, unless my dog cuts herself again and I can’t get the stains out.”
He kept trying to find things he could charge me for. “Your gums could use a scaling. If you don’t do it, you will be toothless by 40.”
What is it about the magical age of 40? My old college professor tried to frighten me out of eating Funyuns by saying I would weigh 400 pounds by 40, and now this guy was saying I was going to be toothless. It’s a good thing I grew up with boys, or some of these comments would bother me.
“That all sounds very interesting,” I said. “Did you know that dentists are the doctors most likely to kill themselves?”
“WHAT?” Dr. Misogynist said.
As of today, I still have all my teeth and while I may not be Red Carpet ready, I can’t really blame that one on my teeth. And Dr. M? He’s got one less client.
The one beautiful thing about getting your teeth cleaned and cared for is that afterwards, it hurts so much that you aren’t likely to run out and eat a 7-course meal. But once the pain passes, here are some treats that I think would make anyone forget any dentist-related troubles.
Homemade Peanut Butter Cups
Chocolate Mousse with Grande Marnier
Pixie Stix Martinis
The only person I ever met who loved her childhood dentist was my friend Lisa…and that’s because her father was her dentist! So…what are your funniest dentist stories? Please leave a comment and let us all know. Thanks!