Dental hygiene – Knox County Villagesoup
My first dentist was thoughtless and rude at best. I won’t name him here, luckily he’s still alive and grown in compassion since I last saw him, around 1962.
I thought about my first experiences in dentistry a few days ago, when I was sitting under the comfortable care of the Knox Dental Clinic. Most of all I thought of Dr. Thomason, the dentist I started seeing after my mother realized that the first man was making dental hygiene a painful experience for his children.
Mom was a huge fan of dental hygiene. She said it came from breastfeeding two babies, in close succession, in a country where the only way to get dairy was through an underground market that did its business in a language she did not understand. not. She lost all of her teeth in the four years between my brother’s birth and my weaning.
My childhood days began with the sound of her setting up a whole series of false teeth that didn’t match as well, in those early years, as later versions. Between gagging the denture alarm in the morning and insisting my brother and I floss our teeth at the end of the day, Mom’s misfortune has become my good habit. Every six months, with a few exceptions, I have my teeth cleaned by a professional.
On my first visit, Dr Thomason told me that three of my teeth needed to come out. He showed me the tool he was going to use, a hook-shaped probe called a dental explorer, and waited for me to say I was as ready as the baby teeth blocking the way of adults waiting to grow. . There was no pain; any discomfort I may have felt in this chair was slight and has long been forgotten.
Dr Thomason sang and joked with his assistants, the first named Mary and later Mrs Harper, always telling me in advance what he was about to do, always patient. The three saw me through elementary school, my tough years in middle school and high school.
For over 20 years, Dr Thomason, Mary and Mrs Harper have taken care of my mouth. Finally, he brings in a young apprentice with a winning personality, a diamond in one ear and a probe equipped with a camera. Looking at the screen, I could see my mouth in all its magnified wonder. This view has only increased my admiration for dental practitioners. Human mouths are a bit messy, even when properly groomed.
After moving to Maine, and as the kids were just starting to grow their own teeth, we found Dr. Jane Bernier. Her office was in Camden and, like Dr. Thomason, she was patient, gentle and very professional. When she moved her practice to Belfast, we followed her. I wore headphones through a root canal and while it may have hurt some, I also don’t remember the discomfort. When Dr. Bernier retired, it was time to find another dental office.
Now every six months I sit in a very comfortable chair at the Knox Dental Clinic and let hygienist Ali Gaeth explore the hollows and crevices in my teeth.
In some ways dentistry has changed a lot since Dr. Thomason pulled the last three baby teeth out of my nine year old jaw. A pleated paper cup is no longer sitting on a pedestal over a circular sink, where water swirls whatever I expel. Now a little vacuum hose is taking the saliva out of my mouth. The magnifying glasses Ali wears are less “Revenge of the Nerds” than “Grey’s Anatomy”; and the chair… ah, the chair. This is not an old barber chair, but a spaceship recliner chair.
But spikes are always spikes, biting X-ray films are clunky, the cleaning grout is still so grainy and odd tasting, and the drill – when it’s needed – still sounds and feels the same.
I don’t see a dentist on every visit. As with most of life, things are too busy for this. Instead, I receive kind, patient and attentive attention on my semi-annual visits and referrals to a dentist in Belfast for anything unusual. That’s about to change, I’m told, as the Knox Clinic has just hired a dentist and an assistant to help Ali with his job.
People often joke about the state of rural teeth. But the pain in the mouth is no laughing matter. I don’t remember how I felt, sitting in that first dentist’s chair, but I do remember my fear. I am grateful to my mom for persisting in finding a dentist who was not only efficient and technically skilled, but kind.
For more information on the Knox County Health Clinic dental program, visit knoxclinic.org/index.php/info/Dental-Program.
You can tell Knox Clinic staff more about your experiences with accessing healthcare at surveymonkey.com/r/barrierstocare. The survey is anonymous.
Shlomit Auciello is a human writer, photographer and environmentalist who has lived in Midcoast, Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992, and is published here weekly.