Dr. B was a folksy, small-town dentist in the best sense of the word. He had a modest office decorated in dark paneling and wavy frosted glass and imitation Italian provincial furniture (hey, if it was good enough for the ’60s, it was good enough for all eternity). His receptionist and hygienist knew your name and where you went to school. He had Highlights magazine in the waiting room and a wooden barrel of cheap toys you could pick among to take home by the checkout. He talked you through what he was doing to your teeth and sometimes held your hand if you got scared. The gray terrazzo hallway outside his office smelled like rubbing alcohol. (I’m not sure how that last point supports my nice-small-town dentist description, but it’s a memory that lingers in my head to this day.)
And he took good care of my family’s teeth from before I was born until I was out of college. Every cleaning. Every filling. Every bit of basic maintenance and minor surgery.
And after he’d spent a lifetime building up his practice and taking care of his patients and planning his twilight years and finding someone equally compassionate to take over for him, he retired. And then the poor man promptly died.
And this afternoon, three of the fillings he put in my head when I was in junior high school are being replaced. By a big-city dentist I picked because he was in my insurance network and within walking distance to my office.
And, somehow, I feel sad that I’m erasing a bit of Dr. B’s legacy. Even though I’ll be replacing the silver amalgam with tooth-colored fillings, which will make me far more marketable as a teen model.
I also feel a bit apprehensive because I’m having three fillings replaced at once, but it seemed best to get them all over with at once instead of going through the fun three separate times.
In any case, I’ll be thinking about kindly old Dr. B and his rubbing-alcohol-scented office and the fillings he put in me that lasted more than 20 years as a strange new dentist is buried elbow-deep in my mouth today.
And I’d better get a toy when he’s done.