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In Chicago, back in 1998 BR (Before Rodent), I needed a little hole filled in my lower front tooth. My dentist had retired, so I finger-walked through the local phonebook for another one. Parkside Dental Group on 57th Street sounded just fine. I got an appointment with Dr Yank, as I will call him.

Dr Yank was a happy, chatty guy, and needed only to make a plaster cast of the tooth. While he prepped the plaster and tooth, he asked, “What do you do for a living?”

I began to respond, but he continued, “I love to interpret dreams. How about you? Do you interpret dreams?”

I began to respond, but he continued, “Last night I had an incredible 3-D Cinerama dream . . .” and he described what seemed like an MGM musical peopled with cows—grazing cows, talking cows, singing cows, dancing cows, lots of cows—and his ex-wife. “Now, just what do you think those symbols meant?” asked Dr Y.

I declined to comment on the obvious, but he didn’t seem to notice. Then he said, “All set now. You just relax for a couple minutes while the plaster hardens, and I’ll be right back, OK?” He disappeared, probably to whiff some painkiller, I decided.

Years passed while I memorized the wallpaper.

I glanced at my watch and noted that Dr Yank had been gone for ten minutes. My jaw ached from the awkward cast.

I yelled: “WHEH ISH EH EH-ISH??!!”

Dr Y popped right into the room, happier than ever, grabbed the cast’s edge, pulled . . . and it didn’t budge.

Time was not our friend, and we both knew that my tooth and the cast might never be separated. Grabbing again and again with no result, Dr Y reached for what I’d call Really Big dental pliers, and clamped them to the cast.

For a heart-churning second or two, I thought he might plant his foot on my chest for better leverage, but he just—with every muscle, sinew and nerve—YANKED, and, despite my best efforts, my head rapidly followed his direction.

I felt a TREMENDOUS suction, heard a “POP”, and expected to see him holding my tooth nicely embedded in plaster, looking like the ashtray my son had made in kindergarten. But, no, Dr Yank was holding the cast, and I still had my tooth.

When I’d amply rinsed my mouth with water, and my shaky fingers had somewhat calmed, I said the first words Dr Yank had ever heard me say (articulately, at least): “I don’t think we want anybody to know about this, do we? You surely realize that you’ll never see me again—nor my money to pay for this little visit.”

Dr Yank seemed overcome with exhaustion, and, uncharacteristically, said nothing.

When I called Parkside Dental Group a month later about the bill I’d never pay, they told me that Dr Y was “no longer with us”, which I took to mean that he had found, or been forced to find, greener pastures, or that he had died.

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JUDY PRINCE, a retired college teacher and union activist, now lives half the year in Norfolk, Virginia, and the other half in Darlington, UK.  She has published articles in the L.A. Times and the Virginian-Pilot, and was a Chicago Dramatists Short Plays Competition finalist.   She is now at work on a play about Shakespeare the woman, and recently launched Frisky Moll Press with the poetry pamphlets of Robin Hamilton (Anacreon translations) and Patrick McManus (On The Dig).   Her own poetry pamphlets have been published by Phantom Rooster Press (2006 and 2009). Prince's work is included in the first James Kirkup Memorial Poetry Competition Anthology (Red Squirrel Press, UK, 2010). Her Poems2 is reviewed in SPHINX 12, HappenStance Press .

58 responses to “My One-Time Dentist”

  1. Roger Collett says:

    Knowing you Judy, and your luck, I can quite believe this.

  2. Irene Zion says:

    YOU KILLED HIM, JUDY?

    • Judy Prince says:

      My bite’s a lot worse than my bark, Irene. heh heh

      yr noncommital redsquirrel

    • Rodent says:

      Just for a second, I thought you meant me, Irene.

      I hastily felt my wrist to confirm that my pulse was still beating.

      • Irene Zion says:

        oh, poor Rodent,

        I was speaking of the poor, dead dentist.

        • Rodent says:

          Ah, that explains it. For some reason, this reminds me of The Sabre Tooth Tiger Joke (or is it a mother-in-law joke?)

          Lady comes rushing up to her caveman husband yelling, “Help, Help! A sabretooth tiger has just gone into the cave where my mother is sleeping!”

          To which the insouciant caveman replies, “So? Who cares what happens to a sabretooth tiger.”

        • Judy Prince says:

          Was that a dental joke, dear Rodent?

    • Reno J. Romero says:

      yeah, judy, what did you do with the body?

  3. Zara Potts says:

    Oh.. I think I may pass out. I am terrified of the dentist. I never quite recovered after getting my mouth casted for crowns.
    Oh, and Judy – my mother had the exact same experience as you… She is still traumatised by it!!

    • Judy Prince says:

      Getting your mouth “casted for crowns” sounds kinda like your Elizabeth I, Zara! I sooooo want to know the details of your mom’s experience. Did she live in Chicago at the time? 😉

      • Zara Potts says:

        Well hopefully my teeth aren’t in quite as bad condition as Elizabeth I !! But it was awful… urgh.
        No, my Mum had her ghastly experience right here in New Zealand… I’m sure she’ll drop by later to talk about it!!

        • Judy Prince says:

          HA! Right, Zara, I forgot about pore QEI’s teeth, was just thinking about the meanings of “crown”. BTW, Elizabeth Jenkins’ ElIZABETH THE GREAT (writ in 1950) trumps all the other biogs I’ve read. It’s info-packed, elegant, entertaining and well-researched. For example, she provides a documents-proven fact that QEI didn’t get all freaked about her sister MQ of Scots’ being done in; but, rather, she sought to have the deed done by the Scots themselves after an obligatory judicial hearing—all in Scotland, natch.

          I’m eager to your your Mum’s tooth story!

        • Jude says:

          I heard someone calling… wanting to know about my experience. MY GHASTLY EXPERIENCE!

          I needed a plate for a couple of missing back teeth and I had all that gooey, gunky stuff in my mouth. For someone who has a strong choking reflex, this is not good…

          Anyway there I am with all this goo in my mouth, waiting for the dentist to come back and relieve me of my discomfort. Finally she appears to remove the gunk – but it was stuck fast! She pulled and pulled, and I thought she was going to pull what remaining teeth I had out of my mouth. It just wouldn’t budge…

          She was trying to disguise her panic – I could tell. Must keep the patient calm…Well the patient was feeling very uncalm, to say the least! I had visions of spending the rest of my life with this stuff in my mouth and only ever being able to talk in a very strange way.

          Little whispers between her and her assistant went on behind me. I guess they thought if I couldn’t see them I wouldn’t know their panic. FOOLS!

          Finally after quite a few tries, with my head beginning to feel like I was auditioning for The Exorcist, I heard the magic ‘pop’ sound and out it came.

          However I wasn’t as smart as you…I was so thankful that she had got it out, I tried to laugh it off – and make HER feel better. And then I paid the bill! Stoopid!

          Nevertheless she lost a customer – had to go back to get the plate and have never been back to her since.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Jude—we’re dental sisters, then! Now with all these revelations, I feel sure the “POP!” experiences are pretty common. Your dentist doubtless knew, long before you’d left her office, that you’d never be back. (BTW, I’ve been lovin’ your baby gravatar for awhile now.)

        • Jude says:

          Dental sisters we are… though not sure if that’s a great thing to be…

          What’s happened to the light saber that was between your gravatar’s teeth? Not another ghastly dentist experience I hope?

        • Judy Prince says:

          Jude, what’s wrong with the light saber between my gravatar’s teeth?! Has it gone walk-about? Maybe there’s a gravatar fairy…..

        • Jude says:

          Ah – it’s back. I refreshed my screen and just like magic it appeared. Maybe there is a gravatar fairy…

  4. angela says:

    i had a similar experience when i was getting fitted for a retainer as a kid. the plaster totally suctioned to my top teeth. the orthodontist technician had to get behind me and yank and yank till finally i heard that very same pop and it finally came off.

    but i had had so much done to my mouth by then, between getting molars pulled and years of braces, that the suctioned plaster didn’t bother me. then again, she didn’t need to use big scary pliers.

    • Judy Prince says:

      So, Angela, you heard the “POP”, too! You have my compassion; I mean, you had a many-times orthodontist. The fact that one can become inured to the pain, as you had, is quite comforting, actually. BTW, the dental pliers may’ve *seemed* bigger to me in my terror than they actually were, and there was no pain, incredibly; just the anticipation of it…..and of p’raps losing a tooth in such a way.

  5. Lorna says:

    Oh, this is a timely post. I see the dentist this week. Perhaps Dr. Yank is now interpreting dreams of tramatized dental patients.

    BR = Before Rodent. Hahaha, cute.

  6. Judy Prince says:

    Lorna, I’m delighted you got a laugh—and gave me one, as well! P’raps we could keep a TNB list of cow-talking, dream-interpreting dentists. Have fun at your appointment this week; make little dream-notes ahead of time. hee hee

  7. Marni Grossman says:

    And they wonder why people hate the dentist!

    Did you eschew dental care for years to come after this?

    • Judy Prince says:

      Oddly, no, I did no es-chewing, Marni, you *punster*! But in the several years after that I found that all the dentists were keen to do oh so lucrative “cosmetic” dental work. I couldn’t even manage a tooth cleaning without the whole “Look, here’s what we can do for you” and “before and after” photos they thought I might want to look through. But I just said/say no to everything, get openly astonished stares, and go home with my unfashionably unbrilliant, unperfect teeth. I asked one wonderful dentist, who did not seem bent on cosmeticising my teeth, what the skinny on tooth-whitening was. He also lectured dent students at UCLA, and after his truly fascinating verbal ride through tooth-whitening techniques, pro and con, I opted for the least expensive and least invasive one: “OK, I’ll get out in the sun more; a little tan will make my teeth look whiter.” He agreed. A great guy, he had the Really Antique green chair and drill equipment. Best dental visit ever, and it was in L.A.. He was the dentist my son recommended (he who now has Really White and perfectly straight teeth).

  8. Simon Smithson says:

    I was always scared of this when I was a kid!

    Ah, nuts. I’ve got a dental appointment on Wednesday… and it’s been a while, and I can honestly say I could have been looking after my teeth better…

    Ahhhhhhh…..

    • Judy Prince says:

      Simon and Lorna: From your dentists (or dentist, in case you have the same one): YOU HAVE A DENTAL APPOINTMENT THIS WEEK. DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT CANCELLING. WE HAVE DENTAL PLIERS.

      • Lorna says:

        haha…tempting, very tempting. But I just called to confirmed my appointment this afternoon. If I don’t show up I would get the pleasure of paying the bill without the pain. :/

        • Judy Prince says:

          Ah, Lorna, those clever anarcho-syndicalist dentists charging for no-shows! Do report to us TNB dental-slackers how your appointment goes. BTW, I awoke this morning at 8:30 and realised I’d missed a dermatology appointment for 8:20. Oops. I actually phoned, hoping they wouldn’t charge me for the miss, but after a 10-minute phone wait, I hung up. Dermatologists—a whole nother story!

        • Lorna says:

          Look – No cavaties! 😀 And I didn’t even get a sucker!

        • Judy Prince says:

          Good girl, Lorna! We can see your lovely cavity-less smile! Did you take home the Dental Companion (the magazine, not the person)? BTW, we must ask Simon the results of his appointment yesterday. I feel like a receptionist; will get right on it.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Simon, how was the dental appointment yesterday? Lorna has earned some lollipops, having had no cavities on her dental visit. We like to keep our TNBers fit and gorgeous.

      Chirs,

      The Tooth Fairy with pliers

      • Simon Smithson says:

        It. Was. Wonderful!

        I was worried. After a nasty 2009, I’d sunk into not taking proper care of myself, and that included dental hygiene. I was worried that I was going to have to have a zillion fillings, and I’d also heard the new dental technician was a terrifying ball of twenty tons of dental recrimination, packed into the form of a four-foot Indian girl.

        All lies! Apparently my dental health is good, the new technician was lovely and gave me some great cleaning tips, and I got through clean.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Awesome, Leader Dude!! Now turn toward the camera, and let’s see your smile!!

          Keep the electric toothbrush handy and packed for travel!

          Yr cheerful Tooth Fairy

  9. Judy Prince says:

    You’ll have a good time, Simon. They give out lollipops and candy bars (helps increase business)! OK, just kidding. But, seriously, they now have big tv screens you can watch while getting your teeth fixed. It’s easier than trying to read a magazine while the dentist, always now wearing The Mask, shifts about trying to do his work. And, best of all, you can take the magazines home (my friends call it “stealing”, so I now ask the receptionist whether I can take home the 2-years old raggedy “Oprah” magazine).

  10. Reno J. Romero says:

    ha! that’s wild. the dream passage was hilarious. cows. for the love of god! well, judy, i’m glad you survived. take care.

    reno j. romero

    • Judy Prince says:

      My gratitude for your kind comments, Reno J. Whenever I think about the experience, I smile (all teeth included) a lot. Since you’d asked where I put the body, I can only conjecture that Dr Yank, as Lorna suggested, is somewhere interpreting the dreams of traumatized dental patients. Or he may be in the Great Cow Pasture In The Sky……or he’s shimmering in our dreams, spun off and into our inner space by Dentrifugal Force.

  11. Congratulations on getting rid of yet another sadist in a white coat– although something about that dream he described has me fearing for the cows….

    • Judy Prince says:

      I guess, Robin, that I’ve thought mostly subconsciously about the dentist’s problem(s) up ’til you mentioned it. Finally, I suppose I think of him as a fearful person who imbibed some kind of a modern equivalent of “laughing gas” to obliterate his terrors. Other times I see him as you’ve well described: “yet another sadist in a white coat”. Regarding the cows…..they did seem a happy group which, most oddly, included his human ex-wife. I do actually love interpreting my and others’ dreams, but this one defies me!

  12. Mary Richert says:

    Wow! Yeah, I had a heck of a bad experience with a dentist last year, but nothing quite as blatant as this. I am none too eager for my next dental visit. In fact, I canceled a cleaning recently in order to get away from a bad doctor, but I’m still waiting on the refund they owe me for a botched root canal…

  13. Judy Prince says:

    GAK!! A botched root canal, Mary?! I don’t even want to think about an unbotched root canal!

  14. Joe Daly says:

    This is absolutely horrifying. Thank you for the intense dose of gratitude I now feel for my current dentist, who respects that I have the emotional capacity of a 6 year old girl as soon as I cross the threshold of his office, and conducts himself accordingly.

    If you ever find out what happened to this gas-huffing ne’er do well, I would be fascinated to hear Part II.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Joe, as a 6 year old girl, I used to rip the wings off crickets. I think my one-time dentist is now a member of the Texas Board of Education, name of McElroy. (just kidding, but their personalities are Way Sinilar—I mean similar)

  15. This reminds me: I need to schedule a dentist appointment.

    P.S. Virginia, represent.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Jeffro, dentists no longer schedule appointments. Veterinarians now do the job in the USA bcuz our teeth have pretty much gone to the dogs. ARF!

  16. Slade Ham says:

    “Years passed”

    Hahaha. This was quick and punchy and perfect. I hate dentist visits. I’ve had one of those casts made of my mouth, and I could absolutely feel that process reoccurring as I read this. It is one of the most unique feelings ever, even if they don’t forget about you. It feels like they’re lifting you up by the inside of your jaw. Then, pop! Sweet freedom.

    Did I mention that I dislike the dentist immensely?

  17. Judy Prince says:

    Glad you enjoyed it, Slade. You’ve aptly described that weird feeling: “It feels like they’re lifting you up by the inside of your jaw.”

    BTW, I copped that wonderful “Years passed” from a teaching colleague who wrote fine, quirky Chicago-based detective novels. Fortunately for all of us in the Communications Dept, he wrote the minutes of our meetings—hilarious!! Also, at every end-of-semester, all-dept-grading-of-everybody’s-final-essays time, he’d submit a fake-named version of one. His essay was an easy guess bcuz it was the funniest one, but totally different in tone, style, and subject every semester.

    Do you see any connection between your hating dentits (I mean dentists!) and cops? That’s me playing straight man for you…..

  18. Slade Ham says:

    Honestly, I think my disdain for both stems from my Type A tendencies. I’m not in control with either one of them, so I just get mad.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Disliking cops and dentists means you join most of the world, Slade. You nailed the reason for it, too: “I’m not in control with either one of them, so I just get mad.” I think the terror-anger mix makes us react in weird yet predictable ways, from meek to raging. The ways prolly go back to kidhood and how we dealt with our parents, teachers and other people in authority. My guess is that many folks learn how to temper their reactions, but I’m not sure. Expressing anger, or, rather, asserting what one feels, is an action we’ve seldom been taught/told/shown, and it’s vitally important to know. I’m still working on it. It’s one of the reasons I advocate acting lessons for kids from ground up.

  19. Matt says:

    I think I’m the only person here who actually enjoys visiting the dentist. I have this overwhelming tendency to just fall asleep in the chair. Given the sheer amount of invasive dental procedures I’ve had performed, by all right I should, but, I don’t. All my dentists were cool guys.

    Between braces, retainers, orthodontic surgery, and wisdom-tooth extraction, I’ve had several of those casts made. The part I hated was when the good would start to ooze back towards your throught, which was always an unpleasant sensation…and just tasted like crap, too.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Matt, the part you hated I don’t recall at all. You *enjoy* visits to the dentist?!! You’re my hero! But don’t give in to the temptation to sleep; you might wake up with 12 extra teeth (all perfect and dazzlingly white, natch).

      • Matt says:

        Well, I was born with an extra set in my upper jaw–that’s what all my orthodontic surgery was about. So I’m kind used to having extra teeth in my head.

  20. Erika Rae says:

    I love that you stood up to him right away. Woof. What a traumatic experience.

  21. Judy Prince says:

    Erika, I wish I *could* have stood up right away, literally! Great to “see” and hear you.

  22. Richard Cox says:

    You had me at “Years passed while I memorized the wallpaper.” Nice.

  23. Judy Prince says:

    Richard, you gravatar king, I’m delighted that you liked that line—-the first half which I stole from a marvelously funny old colleague/buddy. I appreciate your kind words.

  24. M.J. Fievre says:

    Judy, this is hilarious! I enjoyed it tremendously.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Thanks, MJ—-I’m delighted that you enjoyed the little trip to dental world. I rather think you enjoyed it more than I did. 😉

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