We took Ry to the dentist a few months back. I thought it was going to be the usual, “he’s doing fine.” But this time the dental hygienist reminded me that they had to do x-rays. I really didn’t think much of it, since most of our dental visits have been pretty much “open your mouth,” and “what flavor polish do you like?” Since J and I are usually sitting near by, just watching the toothbrush clock going back and forth, I usually try to engage the dentist with tales of my own dental work. Once I learned about flossing I like to say, I’ve always thought there should be a bumper sticker that says, “keep on flossing.” This usually gets a polite smile and half chuckle. But not this time.
This time, the hygienist and the back up dentist huddled together to consult after the x-rays. Every once in awhile, the hygienist would glance up and give me the “shame on you” look. Having grown up Catholic and been exposed to old school nuns, the kind that wore black habits, horn rimmed glasses and kept a supply of rulers nearby; I was quite familiar with that look. And then the dentist( the good cop to the bad cop hygienist) softly and supportively began to tell us about these buried cavities in his teeth that are only visible on the x-rays.
At first, I passively listened. It was like that moment when Ron, the Jiffy Lube guy comes out and says in the flatest tone imaginable ,”Mr So&SO..my name is Ron, when was the last time you changed your filter?” Possibly he examines some part of the car you have never noticed or thought of. And now, because of Ron, you are forced to debate the consequences of not taking action that could impact your life and those you love. So you stand there and pathetically hold the filter as if you know whether it is good or bad. Ron just stands there while your eyes move around the room from the TV always on Channel 7 news to thoughts of picking up the white Styrofoam cup and pouring some burnt coffee, to grabbing the last shred of the Chicago Sun Times to read the sports section, to staring straight into Ron’s stitched in name patch with red and white letters. You unconvincingly tell him “Thanks, I’ll get it on my next visit,” even though you know you’ll probably forget he ever suggested it. Feeling relieved and somewhat cocky for having gotten out of that bind, you tell yourself, ” hey, if I don’t have to do it, why bother.”
I felt the same way about Ry’s teeth. I thought since he was on the road to losing teeth, why bother. Wrong attitude, I learned. “Since Ry will have these teeth for possibly up to two more years, you’ll want to take care of this.” It was when they started telling me the cost that I felt the spirit of Fred Sanford from the sitcom, Sanford&Son..you know the moment, he acts like he’s going to have a heart attack, and says, “Esther, I’m coming, Esther.” As this was happening, the hygienist decided to give me a lecture on proper brushing, flossing and rinsing. Despite her militaristic motivational speech, I couldn’t accept that we were not doing a good enough job with the brushing. The hygienist talked as if I should stop working, sending Ry to school, sports classes, play dates, and strictly spend my time helping him brush, floss and rinse. Sometimes I think people like this spend so much time in their own profession with others who think, floss, and brush like them that they think the rest of the world is crazy for not living that way.
I don’t know if I just took the shaming personally , but I did establish a plan of action. If Ry agreed to brush, floss, and rinse for 90 days, he could earn a descent prize. But he had to do it everyday. We made a chart. He checked it off every day for each action. It turned out to be an interesting experiment. He did do the 90 brushes, flossing, and rinsing in 90 days. And after much discussion and negotiation, we agreed on a Razor scooter, which was delivered today. So now, I must take care my own dental needs, specifically working on that bumper sticker: “Keep On Flossin.”