Truth is, you usually don’t go to the dentist and spend an entire afternoon in the chair and have a root canal and leave feeling richer. But today it happened, and here’s why.
I knew I was going to have something done on my 2nd lower left molar (18) because the appointment was set after the original consult, so nervously I went back to the dentist office this morning at 11:20, not fully sure where the day would go. I arrived and checked in and took my seat in the waiting room.
I’ve been lucky so far with my teeth. Besides a single filling received in the last year or two, and the requisite wisdom teeth removal a few years ago, I’ve had no dental problems to deal with during my life. Reflecting on the fact that three of my four grandparents had all of their teeth pulled and replaced with false teeth at some point in their lives makes me feel blessed indeed.
But the toothache came, and today’s appointment became necessary.
In a short time, I was met by a dental assistant who led me to my suite at the back of the office, and who then began setting up the usual surgical equipment on the tray on the mechanical arm.
Soon the dentist came in, and after a short warm greeting, he told me where we were going today. He would see how much decay there was on the back of the tooth.
Shortly after that, an area of my mouth was anesthetized by liquid on gauze, and then the first shot came to numb the lower jaw and left side of my face. In twenty minutes, the dentist came in sat down anticipating getting to work, but before he started, he wanted to test my numbness by squirting cold water on my tooth.
And it hurt. Ahh, sorry. Glad we caught that before I started drilling.
Another shot. Another twenty minutes. How does your face feel? Do your lips feel swollen? I can’t feel my lower lip. Good. Okay.
And then suddenly my mouth was padded with a cut roll, and then a drill whined, suction gargled, tools flicked, and tooth dust filled the air.
When the dust had settled, he said the decay was pretty bad- it had gotten close to the canal where the nerves were, which is why my mouth hurt. He could take temporary measures and try to patch and fill it, or he could, not to his his expectations for the appointment, and at a greater cost to myself, give the tooth a root canal and prepare it for a crown.
“I’d rather just have the known, solid solution instead of the temporary one.” Okay, he said, and then he rattled off instructions to one of his assistants.
In time, the top of the molar was ground down to a flat stub and my canals were filled with a solid fiber. He took breaks after each step to attend to other patients, and periodically, a dental assistant would check on me or chat for a few. The afternoon was a prolonged wade from problem to solution, and in time, molds were made, more x-rays taken, and then the temporary crown was formed and glued to the cut-down tooth.
After getting med prescriptions and paying part of my bill, it was 4:20 when I left the dentist office- five hours after I had arrived there, and less-a-handful-of-bucks-and-half-a-tooth later. I’m usually pretty down on dental visits. But this one was different.
It wasn’t different just because the office’s team is one of the most cordial and respectful and light assemblies of professional people I have ever witnessed. Every exchange between colleagues ended with a thank you from person to person. Where does that happen at, where it doesn’t seem fake or forced?
It wasn’t different just because I finally had a few personal words with the dentist and appreciated his warmth and sensitivity during the procedure. In his absence, his assistants spoke warmly about him as an employer and as a person. His charitable activities. His contributed services for the less fortunate. His availability.
It wasn’t different just because I actually felt comfortable and experienced little pain during the day’s activities. I’d like to say I am tough, but no. The anesthesia worked, and he and his staff did what they needed to to help the processes go well.
It was different because, for a few moments, my appointment spilled over into a conversation about my family.
One of the assistants asked me if I was related to any more Weltons that they saw. Right away, I knew she was thinking of my folks, and I let her know Brenda was my mom, and Ted was my Dad. “Oh, I just love your parents.” As we chatted, the dentist popped in from his rounds. “Your mom- yes, do you know what we call her around here? Miss America.” He’s known her and my Dad for some time now, mostly because of her many dental issues and office visits. “Your mom always comes in looking All-American, so Hollywood, wearing her dark glasses. She’s as kind as anyone you’ll meet, but she is always so glamorous.” “And your dad”, the assistant added, “he is such a neat man.” “Your parents are such a great couple. You don’t see many couples staying together like they have for as long as they have. And do you know what I really love? The way your dad treats your mom”, he says. “You can tell he really loves her. You just don’t see that much these days. You have some great parents. I just love them.”
“Yes”, I reflect in the moment.
They pause and then go back to work mode, and I sit and replay their words in my mind.
And I am grateful. I have been lucky to be given such parents to walk with me in life.
And today I am also lucky to have had this dentist remind me of the value of being a good person in life- through words, and deeds.
I left that dental office after an afternoon in the chair feeling richer indeed.