“My fear of dentists is stronger than my fear of death.” — A really terrible tweak on Marty Robbins’ legendary “El Paso,” 1960.
But it was true. In my tender youth, I developed an almost pathological fear of dentists, believing that nothing but pain and suffering awaited me in that awful chair surrounded by imposing instruments.
Things really went south for me at age 11 when a teen thug named Ronnie was fighting with Kenny on a school bus and somehow my big head got in the way of one of his haymakers and caused me to leave about a third of a front tooth on the metal in back of a bus seat. About three years later, I suffered a strange swollen face and massive toothache I later learned was caused by an absessed tooth.
Back in those days, most dentists were grandfatherly men, some of whom were reasonably benevolent, but some who were not. It was fear that motivated me only to go just so far in treatment and stop my visits, but five years later the tooth pain paid another visit. I was so miserable I tried to get in to see a dentist in the northern Grand Rapids area. He was not benevolent.
The old man somehow banged some small tool against my teeth, causing even greater pain, and then he brought out a sample of dentures. “This is what you’ll be wearing soon,” he declared sternly.
That was enough to keep me away from the dentist’s chair for another two years until I noticed that every time I had a bad toothache, it was followed by an unpleasant episode of delirium tremors. I swallowed my fear and pride and went back to the grandfatherly dentist who originally worked on me.
“You let it go for too long,” he admonished me, dealing me a keen grasp of the obvious. This time I tried to follow treatment as far as necessary. But it wasn’t until six years afterward that I finally had the chipped front tooth replaced by a phony one.
I finally overcame my youthful fear and began to visit a dentist regularly in the 1990s, under the care of Dr. Carol Elve. I was shocked when noticing the place was crawling with dental assistants, most of them young females. The good doctor only worked me over for major operations. Those young ladies did most of the nuts and bolts work and Dr. Elve came into check on me after their work was completed, like an editor examining a reporter’s story.
One assistant, who still works in the business, was Polly Thompson, who stood up for me when an associate doctor suggested in my presence I might have oral cancer. Polly told the overzealous doctor what she was seeing had been present for a very long time and though it wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t hazardous. More than 20 years later, she was right.
Drs. Scott and Elizabeth Robinson purchased the practice and then opened the spacious Robinson Dental office on Reno Drive, but allowing the West Superior building to remain open to care for low income patients. The Robinsons hit the big time with practices in both Wayland and Coopersville and becoming highly visible with television advertisements, including the same day guarantee and even a musical jingle
Some reflection has enabled me to come to the realization that I no longer fear the dentist. I believe the biggest reason is the influence of a much more gentle and benevolent attitude of females, as a opposed to the stern, scary grandfathers in bygone days.
Though I often tell her I don’t believe her, Dr. Beth says I’m one of her favorite patients and she insists I get a mild dose of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) during procedures. The office folks even went one step further earlier this month when I received a new crown by playing the Dmitri Shostakovich Symphony No. 7 “Leningrad” during the entire procedure. It seems Dr. Jeff Cartwright remembered my showing him that Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) was a dead ringer for the Russian composer, whom I declared the greatest of the 20th century.
The “Leningrad” was a good choice because it’s almost an hour and a half in length. But never in my wildest dreams would I envision listening to Shostakovich while a dentist is working me over.
In my humble, but correct opinion, females have made the practice of dentistry kinder and gentler for the likes of cowards like me over the past 55 years.
I threatened Dr. Jeff, the assistants and the office personnel by saying I was going to write about this. And here it is. So…
“Unrighteous creatures: How do you plead?” — Monty Python, “The Spanish Inquisition.”