Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Whole Tooth

I’m always a little surprised when I walk into my dentist’s office and see that computer on his desk.

He’s had the thing for years, of course, but I don’t go to the dentist as often as I should, so it takes me a while to get used to changes around the office.

I was in Dr. Cohen’s office on Saturday for this tooth ache that was lighting up whenever I drank cold liquids.

I decided to break with my tradition of letting problems go until they mutate into irreversible catastrophes and actually do something about this particular issue right in the here and now.

As I walked into his office I started thinking about how long I've been his patient. I was literally a child, a grammar school student, when I first came here. Back then the only place you could find desk top computers was on Star Trek.

I believe I was an eighth grader when I had my first appointment with Dr. Cohen. I went straight from class at Our Lady of Angeles to his office a few blocks away.

Naturally, I was a nervous wreck, convinced I would be facing an afternoon of unbearable torture. It didn’t seem fair. Wasn’t going to Catholic school punishment enough?

I also had been having some bad luck with dentists. Before Dr. Cohen there was one guy who used to insert three of his fingers in your mouth while he was putting in the filings. He never wore gloves and seemed decidedly indifferent to your discomfort.

I suspect he was a horse doctor before he made the switch over to homo sapiens.

There was another guy who used to make obnoxious remarks and even yelled at me one time—as if as a child in a dentist’s chair, I didn’t have enough to worry about. I’m kind of sorry I never bit that guy’s finger.

I don’t know how we found Dr. Cohen, but I’m very glad we did. I recall that first day when I filled out the dental form and handed it back to Mabel, Dr. Cohen’s assistant. She looked it over and gave me this lovely smile.

“You have a birthday coming up soon,” she said.

I couldn’t believe it--somebody actually smiling in a dentist’s office? I thought they only smiled when the patients were screaming.

That must have been close to 40 years ago and I’ve been going to Dr. Cohen ever since. There were some gaps—no pun intended—when I was living in Pennsylvania and Connecticut, but it never occurred to me to find a more conveniently located dentist. I just made sure to see him whenever I was back in Brooklyn.

Shortly after I graduated from college, I looked into getting a job as an English tutor in Japan.

I mentioned this to Dr. Cohen and he told me about a trip he took to Mount Fuji when he was in the service. And then he scheduled several appointments for me just in case I got the job.

That didn’t happen, but if I had moved to the Land of the Rising Sun, I’d still probably make yearly pilgrimages to Dr. Cohen’s office.

I have long since given up the candy and sugary sodas I used to live for back when I was in grade school. I remember Dr. Cohen giving this bit of advice to get me away from the sweet stuff.

“A cow lives on grass,” he said. “But if I try to eat nothing but grass, I’d die. It’s the same with cavities. Bacteria lives on sugar; no sugar, the bacteria dies.”

Nearly every one in my family went to Dr. Cohen and most of them still do. My mother always spoke so highly of him, how nice and polite he always was. And I actually lost my fear of dentists.

We also lost some of loved ones along the way. My mother’s gone now, along with my dad. Dr. Cohen lost his father and Mabel, that sweet lady whose smile took away all my fear, died several years ago.

In addition to the computer, the equipment has gone all modern. No more paper files; it's all digital. And the water fountain is environmentally correct, requiring the patient to fill the cup by pushing a button instead of filling up automatically.

It turned out on Saturday that I didn’t have any cavities, thank the Lord. So Dr. Cohen gave me cleaning along with a mini-toothbrush and a recommendation to buy a special kind of toothpaste, which I have yet to do.

We talked about the old days while he updated my chart on that computer. He was sitting in Mabel’s old seat and I looked up to see a photograph of her on the wall.
It’s almost like she was still there.

I shook hands with Dr. Cohen and wished him well. I was glad I had come to see him, not only for my tooth, but for the memories as well. When think of all the years I've been coming to this man, I just have to smile.


Calamity Jen said...

A good dentist is worth a lot! Our entire family -- and now some family friends, too -- goes to a dentist who could just as easily have become a stand-up comedian. None of us dreads seeing the dentist anymore.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely hate going to the dentist. And your post reminded me that I have to make an appointment. Thanks, alot Rob! BTW, as always, great post, and yes, how things have changed!