Teeth are a theme of this month’s issue. Our vampire story deals with those that have a couple of extraordinary teeth – if you know what I mean – and then there’s our annual Top Dentists section.|

In planning for this column I’m fortunate in that I have absolutely no vampire encounters about which to write, but I might have been better off with one than with the dentist I went to as a kid.

I won’t use his name. He retired, mercifully, long ago. I will just call him Dr. X. He was a frugal man, so cost-conscious that he didn’t have any staff. There were no technicians to keep things clean, no receptionists to greet patients. In fact, sometimes there was no one there at all; he would be at the pharmacy next door drinking coffee. We patients would just know to go in and wait for him to return, regardless of the appointment time.

Years later when I was an adult, I would learn that dentists usually injected their patients with Novocain before drilling. Dr. X never bothered to do that. He just placed his old slow drill over the tooth and let it turn. His instruments were kept in a jar filled with Listerine, never changing from one patient to another.

He loved to talk and to ask questions about your life; only he was the most inquisitive when the patient’s mouth was open and filled with instruments. “Where to do you want to go to high school?” he might ask to which I would answer assertively, “mmwpphmp.”

Modern dentists tend to decorate their offices to make them look cheery. X never bothered to play such mental tricks. The Spartan décor of his half a shotgun office provided no hope for a pleasant experience. Then, too, the office had the forbidding smell of anesthetics – but that might have been just for effect. I am not sure if he ever bothered to use any.

At some point my parents decided to leave him. It might have been prodded by when, while working on my mom, he asked if she could sing Elvis’ “Hound Dog” in French. But the true breaking point was no doubt when, while working on my dad, he extracted the wrong tooth.

Dentists visits aren’t something that most people look forward to, but if there was any good to my early encounters, it was that when I finally visited a modern dentist the experience seemed so wonderful by comparison.

I frequently pass the building where the dentist’s office use to be, and it still brings back haunting memories. Maybe that’s why I never got excited about vampires a kid. I already had enough to be scared about.

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