For the past thirty years, I was a monthly columnist in the Deep Cove Crier. I was always praying about some topic that people can really get their teeth into.
Sitting in a Deep Cove dental chair gave me time to reflect on my next article. As the dental hygienist was scraping and pulling and prodding, I began to reflect on the significance and priority of our teeth. Teeth are unforgiving. You either look after them carefully, or they strike back in all kinds of unpleasant ways. Just talk to your friends who have had a failed root-canal operation. Even in these days of hi-tech painkillers, toothaches still ache.
I have been literally sitting in Deep Cove dental chairs for thirty years. Every six months or so, I received the obligatory call from Dr. Mangat’s dental office. I thank God for a good dental plan! Dr. Mangat told me that one of the things that attracted him to relocate to the Cove is that ‘village’ sense that still exists in our community.
The term ‘down in the mouth’ means to be low in spirits, downcast, or depressed. A number of North Shore residents report feeling more depressed during the winter because of all the rain. There is a perception out there that dentists suffer more from depression and even suicide. In chatting with my dentist Dr. Mangat, he told me that the higher dental suicide issue is likely a myth. Roger E. Alexander, D.D.S., of the Baylor College of Dentistry, recently examined this stereotype. Alexander found data suggesting that female dentists may be more vulnerable to suicide, but unearthed no evidence that dentists take their own lives with greater frequency than the general population. “What we know about suicide in dentistry is based on weak data from the early 1970s, involving mostly white males” says Alexander, who called for additional research in the Journal of the American Dental Association. My sense is that there is a lot of pressure on dentists as they not only have to be technically competent, but also very skilled at running small businesses.
For the last sixty-three years of my life, I have been fighting the good fight, dentally speaking. My parents spent thousands of dollars on dental surgery and braces for me. I remember when a bully at Oak Park knocked me off my Peugeot bike and proceeded to stomp on my head with his boots. Having no idea what he was upset about, I naively said: “Can we talk about this?” When he grunted “no”, I realized that I was in serious trouble. I was about to either lose face emotionally or lose face literally, which would mean that my multi-thousand dollar smile was about to disappear. Being more afraid of my parent’s wrath over my braces than of the bully, I jumped on my Pugeot and rode off. This was one of the wisest dental decisions that I ever made, especially as I heard later that this bully later had his teeth kicked in and a broken beer bottle twisted in his face.
As a teenager, I felt very embarrassed by my braces, and later by my retainer which made it hard to communicate. My math teacher in Grade 10 actually thought that I was swearing at her when I was only answering a math question while wearing my retainer. She was not pleased! You may have notice that teenage peers can be ruthless in their affectionate terms for those who are dentally-challenged: brace face, metal mouth, tinsel teeth, etc. But three decades late, I am so grateful for the investment my parents made in me. Dentures just don’t compare to one’s own genuine teeth.
I used to hate flossing. Gradually I began to grudgingly admit the need. My thought of a helpful compromise was to only floss on the day that I went to the dentist. As I sat in the dentist’s office with bleeding gums, my compromise somehow did not impress them. I am now a passionate flosser who tries to convert other people to the ‘redemptive’ benefits of removing plaque. It occurred to me recently that many people view flossing and going to the dentist similarly to the idea of attending church. They may acknowledge that it might be good for them, but it is certainly not something to which they are looking forward. There are too many painful memories or alternately fear of the unknown. Many young people nowadays, unlike the baby-boomers or seniors, have never been to a church service once in their life.
Dentists want to make a difference in other people. Many are inspired by the Golden Rule. There is spirituality to dentistry that potentially involves the whole person, body, mind and spirit. My prayer is that we may all show that same love to each other so that none of us will remain down in the mouth.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News
-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada
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