Old Dogs and New Tricks

I’m what you could call a white-knuckled dental patient. I may not have ALWAYS been a white-knuckled dental patient, but I’ve been one for as long as I can remember. And there’s a reason for that.

My dentist growing up in Bisbee was not what you’d call a warm and fuzzy kind of guy. I remember picking up a little glass tube from the tray next to me, one with a ball of mercury floating in it, and getting my hands slapped as a result. That hand slapping is something I definitely remember!

I also remember that the dentist in question didn’t believe in using novocaine. This was back before fluoridated water when little kids had lots of cavities and drilling for cavities was a noisy, painful, and very slow process. And I strongly suspect that the dentist in question often visited the country club and had a noontime martini or two before coming back to work. That meant that the kids who had after school dental appointments were in the hands of someone who most likely shouldn’t have been driving a car to say nothing of running a dental drill. I was in my thirties before I learned that it was possible to visit a dentist for a teeth cleaning and come home WITHOUT a hole in my tongue!

When I first met Bill and started bewailing my unhappy dental history, he assumed I was just being me—that is to say, a storyteller—and telling stories. But then he went with me to my 30th high school class reunion. He was in a roomful of people he didn’t know, so he orbited from conversation to conversation. One of the girls from my class, Isabel, who had been somewhat dowdy back in the day, turned up in a head-turning bright red dress complete with matching high heels.

So the conversations Bill overheard went pretty much as follows: “Where do you live? What do you do? How many kids do you have? Did you get a load of Isabel? And what ever happened to Dr. Dentist?”—the very same dentist, every single time! Because we had all been traumatized by the guy. He had managed to leave behind an entire graduating class of white-knuckled dental patients!

So if you’ve ever wondered why there happens to be a dead dentist on the first page of Beaumont number 5, Improbable Cause, wonder no more. It was yours truly having a bit of writerly revenge, and the truth is, killing off a dentist in fiction did make me feel somewhat less traumatized. And so did starting to go to Dr. Wendy Spektor here in Bellevue. She’s a dentist who really does encourage the use pain killers and who didn’t blink at having to prescribe pre-appointment tranquilizers for me during the first years I was one of her patients.

The dentist from Bisbee has long since passed on and I can’t say I’m especially sorry about that, and I’ll admit that I’m still not the especially enthusiastic about going in for my regular checkups.

This year has been a challenging one in terms of house selling and remodeling and writing. If something was going to fall off the list in all that chaos, it’s not surprising that dental appointments would some how lose a bit of traction—let’s just say several months’ worth of traction..

This morning was the day Jojo and Mary were schedule to go in for their dachshund teeth cleaning appointment, one that had been set up with their vet months ago. As I was going to bed last night it occurred to me that since they’re dogs, they had no idea they’d be going to the dentist bright and early this morning and they wouldn’t be dreading it even if they had managed to figure it out.

They’re home now and sound asleep with their teeth properly cleaned and no extractions. I just got off the phone after making appointments for our human teeth cleanings and also for our somewhat delayed annual physicals which have somehow slipped from April to October.

But we’re going. Who says old dogs can’t teach their humans a few new tricks?

23 thoughts on “Old Dogs and New Tricks

  1. Oh my! I had a dentist JUST LIKE THAT in Tucson – 60 some years ago. Fortunately, we now have a gentle, progressive dentist in Benson.
    I feel your pain. Literally.

  2. I was traumatized as a child by a prominent Phoenix dentist, who has since passed away. I was terrified by the whole experience (back then you went to the dentist – nobody told you what the dentist actually did other than “fix your teeth”). I was crying and then started to scream. The dentist put his hand over my mouth and told me to “SHUT UP” in a not very gentle voice. Of course, my parents didn’t believe that he’d done it, so every appointment after that I had to have a sedative. I still remember having to drink a minty, syrupy liquid from a little paper cup. It was gross. Fast forward to now – my current dentist is truly the kindest and most painless dentist ever. I actually look forward to my dental visits now.

  3. Interesting that we were both white knuckle dental patients. My reasons were different. My early dental history was for extractions only. No preventive care or fillings. Just my fathers way. Any injection was a reason to panic. When I was a teenager I chose to go to a vocational school and train to be a chair side assistant in a dental office. I won my battle with dental fears and fear of needles. Win for me and I also feel it was a win for the patients I cared for. I understood their fears and was happy to help them deal with their fears.

  4. Oh my, I am trying to figure out how my dentist commuted from Bothell to Bisbee back then? OMG, I am so sorry for both of us. I do not have the writing ability to kill mine off. Mother Nature did it for me.

  5. I was once at the lunch counter in a hotel in Boston and sat next to a dentist who was there at a convention. I had ordered a full breakfast of bacon, eggs, etc. He had a bowl of oatmeal. He told me he had an ulcer and that a lot of dentists did as they knew people didn’t like them. I didn’t feel a bit sorry for him.

  6. This must have been a 1950’s thing? My mom told me that the dentist I went to as a child explained to her that children didn’t have the same pain receptors that adults have and thus did not need novocain for fillings! I don’t think she got much dental attention as a child in the ’30s. Hence years of painful dental work for me and my siblings. I would not have been so trusting about my kids’ pain receptors or lack thereof!

    My current dentist is great, but I have to do a certain amount of mental preparation to get there! And I get pain meds for everything.


  7. One thing my childhood dentist did that really upset me was he put little pieces of cotton up on the drill cords and told me they were rabbits. I was supposed to watch them running. I knew what those pieces of cotton were and it made me mad. However, once the visit was over he handed out little plaster of Paris Disney characters that were unpainted. I used water color paints on them which didn’t really do the job. He had two small daughters and I think tried to be gentle, but—

  8. I too had a dentist that wasn’t very nice. He never believed me when I told him that it still hurt and didn’t ever deaden the apin enough. I’m a white knuckle dental person also!

  9. Loved this blog. Thoroughly enjoyed it and could absolutely relate. As a child I also had a dentist who drilled with no Novocaine. Brought back memories of my Mom taking me to the second floor of an old building in our semi-small downtown. Makes me thankful I now have a dentist that I really like, but still not a fan of the shot in the gum for numbing. A whole lot better than the old days though.
    I’m excited to read your newest J.P. Beaumont book!!!

  10. Apparently during the era you speak many dentists were like that. Both of my parents had experiences like that. My mother said she had to have an eye tooth pulled and she knows why they call it that. She said she felt it all the way in her eye! He just kept tugging until it came out. Both my parents had difficulty going to the dentist for years until they found one who was understanding and carrying.
    My brother and I were sent to a dentist my parents knew well (not as well as they should we found out). When we were sent to another dentist for braces we found out the 1st one was drilling holes in our teeth to fill nonexistent cavities. We were both suppose to have 2 cavities apiece that had yet to be filled, but the dentist for braces found NONE. My mother was wondering why we supposedly always had cavities. Turns out he was keeping two sets of books and he and his wife ended up in jail for tax evasion.
    I did get my satisfaction though because we discovered I am allergic to novocaine and most all the caines. I actually threw up on him twice before it was discovered! So, while I did not “kill him off” I feel I got the better revenge than you!

    • OK, not funny, but still made me laugh.
      In a small town when I had a toothache I went to the dentist and my parents found out when he billed at the end of the year.
      Hated flossing but discovered Reach type flossers and like flossing now… plus no cavities in past 15 years.

  11. The dentist I had from when I was 6 to 32(1952-78) was very nice, but also didn’t believe in Novocaine. I was terrified of going there when I was a kid – cavities going all the way down to the nerve with me holding onto the chair with no painkiller did that. When I moved away from the area and got a new dentist, he asked me if I wanted Novocaine for some procedure. What, I thought, you mean here was something to dull the pain of dental work? I’d had no idea!!

  12. I can remember our dentist in the ’50s would give me 8 or 10 shots of novocaine and then doing the filling, whether I was numb or not! This was a small town in central Wisconsin.

  13. I can relate to your comments. I’m sure I had the same dentist as you had while growing up in a rural county during the 50’s. So it wasn’t just me but all the kids.

  14. Obviously my white-knuckle dentist blog struck a nerve, as it were. Of all the commentators, only one, Diana Carter commenting on the facebook page, said she had a wonderful childhood dentist.

  15. Because of our economic status (single Mom in the 1940s) we couldn’t afford a dentist, so we went to a dental clinic. I’ll leave it to your imagination about the kind of dentistry I endured. Suffice it to say, I hope that the lessons those guys (there were no females) learned made them good dentists, compassionate and relatively painless. Also, when I was 10 years old, I spent many months in a full body cast, which encompassed my head. I could not brush my teeth well and ended up having my upper two front teeth repaired with a resin by a truly wonderful dentist in Carmel, New York. Today, we have a good dentist here in Tucson who treats us with dignity and respect and performs wonders with our aging teeth. If you need a dentist in Tucson, let me know.

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