I went to the dentist today. (Do I sense cringing out there?) I don’t enjoy dental visits, but they don’t scare me either. I think that’s because of my mother’s brainwashing all through my childhood.
She’d always say, “Now that they have high-speed drills, it won’t hurt.”
I’m really not afraid of pain at the dentist, but the sound of scraping and drilling can get to me too.
My childhood dentist was Dr. S, a middle-aged guy with laugh lines around his eyes and salt and pepper hair. My mom would schedule appointments for all four of us and he would see us one after the other. And we had lots of cavities.
Going to the dentist, I’m five years old again. I can remember being small in the big chair. Dr. S had to put up with a lot from us. I remember screaming from the moment the drill was turned on, before it even touched me. I don’t think I was really scared. It was more making my dissatisfaction heard above the grinding whine of the drill.
Another time, Dr. S said, “Open.”
With his fingers still in my mouth, he said, “Bite.”
And I bit him. Hard.
Fortunately, Dr. S had a sense of humor. “Well, I did say bite.”
He and his assistant, M, would joke around while they worked. M was a round woman with a ringing laugh. Every visit, after Dr. S rinsed your mouth out, he would squirt you on the nose and M would laugh.
Just counting my family, over the years from when I was four to eighteen, Dr. S saw us and squirted us about 110 times. But it wasn’t until around the 108th time that my twelve-year-old brother got even.
He played it straight throughout the appointment. No one noticed that he kept his hands underneath the paper bib. No one noticed until Dr. S gave him his traditional squirt on the nose. That’s when my brother pulled out the squirt gun and shot him back. M’s laugh could be heard clear out in the waiting room.
Sometime after I grew up and moved away, Dr. S retired. His son took over his practice. I wonder whether another generation continued the nose squirting routine.
My adult dentist, Dr. T, saw my kids through their childhood. She is calm and gentle and kind, and they were never afraid. She never squirted them on the nose. At every visit, she asks about my girls and I ask about hers. I like her and my kids did too. But I doubt they’ll look back at their childhood appointments with the same fond amusement that I do.
Dr. S’s son is still practicing dentistry in the same office I went to as a child. Dr. S is an old man now. I wonder if he ever thinks of the boy who squirted him back.