25 April 2012

dental records

when you're feeling blue and life is getting you down, sometimes you just need a place to go where people are always happy to see you and greet you with a wide, warm smile.

for me, it's the dentist's office.

whenever i've walked into a dentist's office for the first time, the dentist takes one look in my mouth, and before even taking x-rays, leaves the room momentarily, dances down the hallway, and releases a scream so loud and primal it stirs Arthur Janov in his grave...




(never mind that the first dentist's child was 6 months old at the time...or that the second one was just kidding...or that the third one actually DID retire to Tahoe...less than two years later.)

my mouth is a dentist's dream.

and my checkbook's nightmare.

in my 47 years on this earth, i've had more fillings, root canals, crowns, and extractions than Cher has had 'farewell' tours.

the holes of decay in my mouth are as plentiful as the holes of plausibility in any novel by Nicholas Sparks.

(oops, i just lost ALL of my female readers with that last comment. sorry, ladies. it's just true.)

this is partly due to the fact that my tooth enamel is basically made out of chalk dust. nothing i can really do about genetics.

but the far bigger reason that my teeth resemble Swiss cheese gnawed at by rats is because over the years, i simply have not cared for them as thoroughly and lovingly as they have needed.

it doesn't help that i get my dieting tips from Buddy the Elf and his 'four basic food groups', or that the only kind of 'floss' that has made a semi-regular appearance in my mouth has been candy floss. i keep subjecting my poor chompers to chocolates and caramels, frosted Pop Tarts and Flamin Hot Cheetos, expecting that by sweeping a brush over their surface with a splash of Cool Mint Listerine once a day, they'll be as strong as Samson and as white as my legs in wintertime.

i had a molar removed in my early 20's. not as a result of contracting some strange malady from the rain forests of Belize (traveled there, contracted nothing), or some freak Go-Ped accident that left fragments of three teeth imbedded in the parking lot of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Santa Ana, CA (true story, but different teeth). but simply from sheer NEGLECT and LACK of care that led the tooth to decay to the point where there was only an impacted, jagged nub remaining in my gums.

NOT a 'wisdom' tooth (had those out already). a friggin MOLAR.

at this point in my life, about all i have to look forward to in the region of bicuspids and incisors is that one day they'll all just fall out, and i'll be able to do the trick of dropping my dentures quickly and unexpectedly to howls of laughter and delight from my grandkids.

and all because i just didn't care enough to brush twice a day, floss once a day, and recognise the treasure of my teeth every day.

as i was getting the annual lowdown from my dentist the other day on the latest round of dental damage that has ravaged through my mouth, i found myself transfixed by an image and a phrase.

the image was the latest x-ray of the wreckage protruding from my jaws, which i was looking at whilst lying horizontally in the dentist's chair. seeing it from this angle gave the ragged assortment of carnaged canines a slightly sinister appearance, like they were ready to leap right out of the foggy, moonlit 'night' of the x-ray and ravage the innocent patients and assistants in the office with a savage, periodontal affliction.

(of course, when you've been sitting in this position for almost an hour with nothing in your stomach except a low-fat chewy granola bar, visions like these appear perfectly normal.)

the phrase that caught my attention was 'dental records'.

and the first thing that came to mind was how on all the cop shows i've watched over the years (yes, not just 'CSI', but even 'Quincy'...i'm that old), the way they could identify a dead person most accurately was through their dental records. even if their fingerprints had been annihilated, the structure and position of a person's teeth is just as unique, and therefore, just as reliable an indicator of identity.

and i looked again at the frightening assemblage of mangled metal and polished plaster posing as eternal enamel in my mouth, the wreckage wrought primarily through my nonsensical negligence and neglect, and wondered how it reveals my own true identity, and reflects the status of my own soul.

the implosion of my mind numbed by years of immersion in trivial details of information and being nearly entertained to death.

the erosion of my heart resulting from savouring each meaty morsel of grudges and grievances and swallowing serving after serving of anger and anxiety.

the corrosion of my spirit emerging out of allowing the build up of existential suffering and shame, emotional paralysis and pain, relational dysfunction and distress, spiritual inertia and amnesia.

sounds like my dental records as re-envisioned by Stephen King.

but before i got completely lost in the foggy, depressing darkness of my x-ray, my gaze then turned back toward my dentist and hygienist, who were reflecting something different, something that i experience from all of the staff whenever i enter my dentist's office, something that i saw on my own face once my eyes landed on the mirror above my chair.


and i began to see a different image emerging.

those mangled molars still being able to cut through a piece of steak, and help provide not only physical sustenance for my body, but pure pleasure for my psyche.

those banged-up bicuspids tingling from the sensation of fresh air moving through them and into my lungs, giving me the gift of another breath.

those infracted incisors opening the gateway for words of engagement and encouragement, honesty and hope, levity and love to burst forth from that imploded mind, that eroded heart, that corroded spirit, and that beloved and blessed self into the minds, hearts, spirits and selves of others.

as mangled and maligned, decayed and destroyed as my teeth and the dental records that bear witness to them are, they can still somehow manage to muddle themselves together and produce something that reveals and reflects my truest identity and ours. something that brings light and life to our lives and our world.

a SMILE. :)

(my favourite special olympian and me, reflecting our TRUE identities :)


  1. Funny, heartwarming, AND I even feel a little less guilty about my non-regular flossing. Thanks for this, Brian :)

    1. Thanks, Anne...actually going in for a long overdue extraction today...keep smiling :)

  2. Dear Brian, So good to hear fron you. Please keep us posted on family updates. I used to be so terrified to go to the Dentist. With the good Dentistry of today, and especially from George M. Olsen, DDS of Missoula, the worst thing now is paying for the bill! Hugs, Gloria A.

    1. Thanks, Gloria...hope you and your family are well...keep reading :)

  3. Yes. Dentistry is terribly expensive. But, it is also so incredibly important. Take care of your teeth!