Get­ting gassed up at the den­tist’s of­fice

The Catoosa County News - - COMMENTARY - David Car­roll

Some­how, I still have most of my orig­i­nal teeth. There is no rea­son­able ex­pla­na­tion for this. You’ve heard of the kid in the candy store? That was me. I grew up in one. It wasn’t ex­actly a candy store, but my fam­ily’s gen­eral store had a huge candy counter. At least it sure seemed that way when I was six years old.

As soon as I was tall enough to op­er­ate the cash reg­is­ter, I went to work. Sure, I could have been do­ing reg­u­lar kid stuff, but I learned pretty quickly that when my par­ents were busy, it was real easy to grab a Toot­sie Roll or some bub­ble gum. Too easy.

Through­out my child­hood, my mom took me to Tren­ton, Ge­or­gia for an­nual dental check-ups from Dr. Ray Ridge. He was a kind fel­low, with an as­sis­tant named Hester, who loved to kid around with me. I ac­tu­ally looked for­ward to those vis­its, and each year, Hester and Dr. Ridge would some­how scrape away the ef­fects of my daily su­gar in­take.

When I be­came old enough to drive, I switched to a den­tist in Scotts­boro, Alabama, named Dr. Ralph Shep­pard. He was also a nice guy, but my vis­its to his of­fice con­cealed an ul­te­rior mo­tive. I had be­come ob­sessed with be­com­ing a ra­dio an­nouncer, and he owned the lo­cal FM ra­dio sta­tion. Some­where in my dreams, I imag­ined him look­ing deep into my mouth pro­claim­ing, “This is the throat of a disc jockey! Put him on the ra­dio, now!” De­spite my dental chair au­di­tions, he only seemed in­ter­ested in clean­ing, fill­ing, and floss­ing.

Then came the dark years. As I hit my twen­ties, and got out from un­der my par­ents’ watch­ful eyes, I avoided the den­tist. All den­tists, to be ex­act. For about ten years, I made ex­cuses and told outright lies when my mother ques­tioned me about dental care. Af­ter all, I was young, I fig­ured my teeth would last for­ever, and I had other ideas on how to spend money. And, “like the feller says,” if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

Around the time I hit thirty, it was broke. Lots of teeth needed “fixin,” and my gums were not hold­ing up well ei­ther. Sud­denly it oc­curred to me that a cou­ple of daily brush­ing ses­sions were no longer get­ting the job done.

My dear mother had got­ten to the point in her life where she was to­tally hon­est: there was no fil­ter. You know how it goes. For most of the early part of your life, your mom is to­tally pos­i­tive. “You look so hand­some to­day!” “Look at that wavy hair!” And then one day, the truth comes out. “Why aren’t your teeth straight any­more?” I looked in the mir­ror that night. She was right.

So I shopped around. “Know any pain­less den­tists?” I asked a few co-work­ers. One nearby den­tist came highly rec­om­mended, and he soon be­gan sal­vaging the wreck­age inside my mouth. Mom was on tar­get about those crooked teeth. At the age of 35, I had to wear braces. My new den­tist was lay­ing down the law. “You’re on TV, right?” “Yes sir, I am.” “Then, take bet­ter care of your teeth!” It made sense.

For some rea­son, I later switched to an older den­tist. Mirac­u­lously, it seemed, for many years, my check­ups were joy­ous oc­ca­sions. An as­sis­tant would clean my teeth, and the el­derly doc would come in, take a quick look inside, and mum­ble, “Ev­ery­thing looks good.” I was free to go.

Un­for­tu­nately, things weren’t good. I de­tected some is­sues, so I switched den­tists again. It turned out the old fel­low had ne­glected some prob­lem ar­eas. It was back to the grind.

To this day, it’s a thrice-yearly round of pok­ing and prod­ding. Oc­ca­sion­ally, my den­tist will lean in to his as­sis­tant, whis­per­ing some­thing about a max­il­lary ax­ial oc­clu­sion on the first cousin mo­lar, twice re­moved, and then say, “I’ve never seen any­thing like it, have you?” And I just know those x-rays will soon be pub­lished in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Medicine.

As for the pain, when it comes time to crown a tooth, they don’t even ask any­more. “Give him the gas,” the den­tist says. While still par­tially co­her­ent, I say, “Yeah. And I want high-test, none of that lowlead stuff.” For the next hour, I’m in toe-tin­gling heaven, grin­ning un­der the in­flu­ence of ni­trous ox­ide, while two peo­ple play tug of war inside my mouth.

The last time I was in his of­fice, I asked the lady, “Why am I not get­ting the gas?” She looked up and said, “You’re only here to pay your bill.”

Some­one asked me re­cently, “Have you ever had TMJ?” Nope, but I’m pretty sure I’ve helped sev­eral den­tists buy a new BMW.

David Car­roll, a Chattanooga news an­chor, is the au­thor of the new book “Vol­un­teer Bama Dawg,” a col­lec­tion of his best sto­ries, avail­able at Chat­tanoogaRa­, or by send­ing $23 to David Car­roll Book, 900 White­hall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405. You may con­tact David at

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