Dental Delight

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a dentist. I made a great show of making family members open their mouths and saying, "aahh". I suppose I wasn' t afraid to do so since no one in my family had hideously bad teeth. Well, no one even had slightly bad teeth. There were no blackened and bleeding gums. No festering, pus-filled abcesses. No plaque encrusted enamel.

Because of the delight of poking my mother's teeth with a toothpick, I pondered the excitement of pronouncing patients to be cavity-free. Then, something unexpected occurred: I read a story about a dentist getting AIDS from a patient. At the time there was no real knowledge of how AIDS was transmitted. We didn't even know about HIV. Everything was just called "AIDS." Everyone was scared to death of getting AIDS and we thought that someone merely breathing on you would give it to you. We thought that mosquitos might transmit it. My desire to be a dentist, or be involved with any profession having to do with people's physical health died on the spot.

I'm going to the dentist next week for the first time in almost five years. My lack of dentist attendance is probably the result of the fact that other than my father, we didn't go to the dentist frequently. Six-month visits were not a ritual in the Dwyer household growing up unless you were a freckled face Irishman. I have all sorts of thoughts about why this is. Mainly, I think it's about my father being white and so he's more comfortable historically going to seek medical care. (There was no Tuskegee experiment on Irish folks growing up in Joliet, Illinois.) Some if it may also be the fact that since I wanted to be a dentist, I was religious about brushing my teeth, flossing, and rinsing with Listerine. I never complained that my teeth hurt. The only time my gums have bled was when I was pregnant with Olinga and Toussaint, and that's pretty normal because of the increased volume of blood in your body.

I've been lucky: I've never had a cavity. So, why go next week? Well, Elarryo, my dear husband, is not so lucky. He's had 3 root canals in the past year alone. He's at the dentist every other week. His pain and suffering, not to mention the money it costs, have made me wonder what would happen if my luck changed. I don't relish the thought of shots of novicaine in my gums, my mouth hanging slack and drool escaping without my even knowing it. So, I'm trying to make a new habit. I plan to turn into a six-month regular.


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