Before beginning the procedure Deb, the dental technician initiated some preliminary chit-chat. “What brings you here today?” she asked. Offering up my porcelain crown I said, “It came off.”
“Crowns don’t just come off,” she replied.
• • •
One of the unspoken
rules traditions of a summer beach trip is to bring back a box of salt water taffy for your cube mates. For those sequestered in the office while you were sunbathing it’s a sweet reminder of the pleasures of a leisurely sojourn to the shore (and after your fourth piece the sugar high makes that three hour meeting go so much faster).
While this confection isn’t high on my personal list of favorites (I’m a closeted chocoholic) I always enjoy a good chew. So when I returned to the office after a week in Wildwood, New Jersey a one pound box of James’ Salt Water Taffy accompanied me on my morning commute.
After regaling my coworkers with the salient details of my trip I pulled the box from my backpack. I was rewarded with a collective “Oooo” of anticipation. I had fulfilled my duty and this would be a better-than-normal Monday for all. And as the initiator of our office bliss I took the ceremonial first pick of the box: a light green “cut to fit the mouth” taffy –that’s what it says on the box– that turned out to be mint rather than the lime I had hoped for.
I returned to my desk to read my backlog of emails while rolling the mint slab around my mouth. You have to toss it a bit to soften it up before you start chewing. But as I did suddenly I felt an addition to my little minty morsel: my #19 molar’s porcelain cap. Skillfully retrieving it from my mouth I examined it closely for any damage. The last time this happened it came out in pieces. That was an expensive mistake. But this time I was lucky. It was totally intact. A simple reattachment was all I’d require. I immediately made an appointment with my dentist for the next afternoon.
When I got home that night I carefully removed the crown from its special CD jewel case (it was the only enclosure I could find at my desk). My children were most interested in seeing “the tooth” close up. They were mesmerized by its translucent bluish color (from the metal under casing). But they nixed any notion I had that I was now eligible for the tooth fairy.
Offering my crown to the dental assistant that next afternoon, Deb asked “How’d that happen?” When I repeated my tale she stopped me in mid sentence: “Oooo, we love that stuff here!”
“They allow salt water taffy in a dentist’s office?” I was surprised. “Sure,” she replied. “If we get a cavity we just sit down in a chair and get it filled.” How convenient.
As she began to prepare the crown for re-entry we continued to talk. “You know,” I said, “I used to have a perfect bite.” She smirked. She actually smirked. “Seventy-eight percent of the public has perfect bites,” she retorted. Thinking our conversation was just some low level banter her response caught me off guard. Like my long-held belief that there were 9 planets in our solar system, suddenly my assumptions about my bite were turned upside down. “Seventy-eight percent, you say?” Odd that she had that bit of data conveniently at hand. Perhaps I wasn’t the first to initiate this line of dental small talk. Just then my dentist walked in.
“Tell Dr. Morgan what you told me,” Deb announced. I detected a “holier-than-thou” tone to her delivery but repeated my bit of personal dental trivia to my dentist anyway. Dr. Morgan refused to take sides and without a word she proceeded to reattach my cap.
“All done. But while you’re here, let’s give you a dental checkup. You were due for a cleaning back in June.” Last time I was told my teeth and gums were in such good shape I’d only have to get them cleaned once every nine months instead of the obligatory six. I reminded her, making sure the technician got my drift.
Morgan poked around my mouth and then made her pronouncement: “You’re teeth and gums are in excellent shape.” I use an electronic toothbrush and floss every day,” I said proudly. “Well, it shows.” Now she knew how to make a patient feel good.
And then the unexpected: “You’re teeth are in such good condition I think you only need to come in once a year!” “Once a year?!” I replied, adding my own bit of attitude aimed squarely at Deb. “How many of your patients can say that?”
They considered my query for a moment. “I’d say you are in quite an exclusive club, Jeff –5 percent at most,” Dr. Morgan said. Deb capitulated: “I can actually count them on one hand.”
“Five percent,” I repeated loudly as Deb led me passed more unfortunate patients to the front desk to pay my bill. Who says a trip to the dentist is agony. Competitive dentistry: it’s so much better than novacaine.
A Related Dental Story from Life Outtacontext: A Pain in Any Case: A Parable for the Ides of March