I suppose I am no different from most people in that I do not like going to the dentist’s office. Cleanings are not too bad; in fact, I like the feel my teeth have after the hygienist gets through. But if the doctor is going to be involved, I remain apprehensive. Pain and I have never had a good working relationship.

I think they must teach people in the dental profession a sort of subtle humor. There you are, with your mouth crammed full of various pads and wires and whatever else they put in there at such times. Then there is a short break while some substance has to cure or the assistant has to get something prepared – and so they get chatty. “Are you planning on taking any trips this summer?” Well, doctor, I thank you for your interest in my affairs, but given the assortment of hardware you just put in my mouth, about the only reply I can make to your question is, “Glk chrkkk kgak.” Professional etiquette prevents him or her from doubling up in laughter, but I just know that underneath that reserved and dignified professional exterior the doc is hee-hawing mightily.

When is someone going to invent a silent dental drill? The pain is actually not that bad, but our minds conjure up all sorts of medieval tortures from the sound that they make. Bzzzzzzz. Doc, are you sure that is just a drill, and not a saw? Then the drill hits the enamel, and in a minute a burning sort of smell begins to waft toward our agonized nostrils. “What are they doing to me?!” It takes better nerves than I have to keep from wincing at that point.

One skill that dentists have taught me is how to swallow without closing my mouth. One of the assistant’s duties is to syphon the saliva periodically, but they get busy and sometimes forget. I don’t wait for them. The first time the dentist hesitates for just a second I just gulp it all down, or at least the closest thing to a gulp I can manage using only the muscles at the back of my mouth. I have become fairly good at it.

When I was growing up (back in the good ol’ days), Dr. Dupree was our dentist. I remember one occasion when I had walked to his office for an appointment after school. One of my lower temporary teeth had not yet fallen out, and needed to be removed to make room for the permanent one coming in behind it. Dr. Dupree said, “If you think you can stand it, I won’t give you any anesthetic. The root should be decayed, and it will just take a little pull to get it out.” I had to be tough, so I nodded in assent.

The good doctor pulled, and nothing happened. He raised his eyebrows in surprise, took a better grip on the instrument, twisted, and gave a harder pull. Out came the tooth, with a full root still intact. For whatever reason, the normal process had not taken place with that particular tooth. It hurt, but it did not hurt for long, and at least I was spared the needle. I don’t like needles almost as much as I don’t like drills.

The preceding nonsense notwithstanding, I want to be clear that I appreciate greatly the skill of our dental professionals. I am right fond of champing my grub and they are the ones who keep my champers in good working order.