Please leave a comment on our guestbook

You are in the scripts section

Return to Index of Scripts

In the Dentist Chair

May 23, 1946

A footnote aside on the newswire yesterday told about a young fellow in Lichfield, Minnesota who had spent a little time on the Admiralty Islands during the war. The chap’s name is Ray Nelson and he was not sight-seeing in the Islands, he was on Uncle Sam’s business. While there he had occasion to get some work done on his teeth by an army dentist. No doubt because there was always a line up of GI’s waiting to be drilled in the dentist’s chair, Nelson’s job was temporary and now that he’s home he decided to go around and have it polished off. The pay-off came when he climbed into the civilian dentist’s chair and found that he was face-to-face with the same cavity explorer who had worked on him in the Pacific Islands. Now, it’s not much of a story. An O’Henry might make something out of it. But as it sits, it’s not much. Just some outfielder for the press service reaching for one. The sort of thing they box on the front page of the early edition in an off-set type and call . . . That’s Life . . . or It’s a Small World or Ho Hum. It was the title, incidentally, of this dental chair drama that caught my eye. It had a touch of wit in a grim sort of way. The item was headed “Yank to Yank.” The account didn’t specify, but I imagine this touching reunion or burr and bicuspid came off something like this: Nelson walked in, introduced himself and climbed into the chair. No recognition on the part of either one of them. Then, the dentist said . . . “Open please . . . a little wider. That’s better.” And then he started poking around among the nerves and gum lines and suddenly it came to him. Where have I seen those molars before? That’s the way it is with these dentist fellows. Amazing facility with tooth structure. Might not be able to identify a face but open your mouth and they’ve got you tagged.

And now with that handsome tribute to the dental profession, I ought to have earned the right to make a light entry in the liability column. Here’s something I’ve noticed is a stock chair side mannerism with practically all dentists. Note I said PRACTICALLY all dentists. On your first visit he pokes around with a long hooked instrument seemingly trying to catch it on jagged edges just to see if your sensory nerves are functioning. When he succeeds in getting it lodged so tight that it won’t come out without an assist from a blow torch . . . he looks happy and turns around to make a hieroglyphic entry on a chart. You sit up tall in the chair and peer nervously over his shoulder. You see that the chart has teeth drawn on it and the man is blacking in dark patches here and there to indicate cavities and other irregularities. Since the dentist chair is one of the most melancholy locations in the world . . . and you’re in a black frame of mind anyway, the only thing you can think of is that this chart is being made so that one day, when they find your remains in the ashes of some public catastrophe, they will be able to identify you by your teeth. That’s not the fault of the dentist though. That comes from reading too many murder mysteries. Nor is it the dentist’s fault that you immediately stick your tongue into the crevice he has been poking instruments into, and to the magnified perception of the tongue tip it feels like the Carlsbad Caverns just after moving day. No, the dentist has to explore and he is obliged to make marks on his charts. That’s being scientific. That’s not the chair side mannerism I refer to. It is this: It’s your first visit, you remember. He reaches in to where you have a filling installed by his predecessor. He taps it with a lethal weapon hard enough to make you jump and then shakes his head sadly and turns gloomily to his chart again. This performance is repeated every time he wiggles a crown or scratches an artificial surface. He seems to be struggling with himself. Trying not to speak out. Once or twice he allows himself a tsk tsk tsk. And then finally he can contain himself no longer. He says with a sad smile . . . “Now I’m not one to criticize another man’s work . . . and please don’t tell me who it was who put that filling in . . . but . . . it’s too bad. That tooth could have been saved.” What he doesn’t know is that you have been getting around a lot among the dentists of this hemisphere . . . having been taxed with unsound tooth and every previous dentist has also remarked sadly on the previous dentist’s work. And what he also doesn’t know is the next dentist . . . the one who comes after him . . . is going to shake his head and mutter about the work he is just setting out to do. Understand, I think there is no one so well qualified to do dentistry as a dentist. I simply mention this on the chance that you may have had the same experience yourself and might welcome a touch of corroboration and incidentally, as a gratuitous tip to the Dental Association, the boys in the guild ought not to pick at each other. Undermines the customer’s confidence in the craft.