It might seem a little strange for an essay on a tooth. However, there’s a lot of lessons from this tooth. It first came to my notice when I was in the Army at Fort Bliss, Texas. I was a young Captain, an instructor at the Air Defense School but also helped out at the Chapel. I’d never given much thought to my teeth. I knew that I
surely didn’t have such good choppers. As a kid growing up, teeth was not at the top of the list. My Mom was fairly diligent but couldn’t watch me all the time when I caught the bus at the store and more likely than not opted for a Baby Ruth and Coke. So, those fillings and dark spots, not such a pretty sight.
After Church one day, the head dentist said to me, “Chaplain, we can’t have you in front of all those people every Sunday with bad looking teeth.” Thus, the campaign began to shape up my mouth. And to say be did it at government expense too is no small thing.
What I didn’k know at the time was that the good dentist was also in the midst of a protracted and very bitter divorce. And here I sat in the chair for hours with his venting about his wife trying and sucessfully taking him to the cleaners. I never got to make much of a comment as his hands were always in my mouth. Months later, I emerged with teeth looking dress right dress. At least, much better than they did and I guess we must give the good colonel some credit, along with his divorce or would be divorce as they reconciled and he gave me the credit. Years later I ran into him and he said something like, “Chaplain, the advice you gave me was what got me through.” OK!!
What I remember about the tooth in question, however, had symbolicall come to represent the divorce. It was really thought to be beyond saving. It was hid way back at the back and had all the characteristics of mainly neglect, and in general, beyond fixing. The good Colonel dentist determined to repair it. He did and in the process repaired his marriage. WOW. I emerged with a once gone tooth, now restored as a gold tooth.
For years the tooth was fine. Then one day, like life, it broke down. Please Lord, let’s hope the good Colonel’s marriage is still not tied to this tooth. By this time, I’m out of the Army and pastor of a wonderful Church and have a new dentist. A nice guy and there’s been much involvement with his family: Mom and Dad died and I’ve buried them both. Thomas is a good dentist and I like him because I can intimidate him fairly easily. Before dentists go to dental school, they go to economic school. In the old days, you could go to the dentist and he took care of the problem but now the dentist prepares a dental plan. What he is going to do, most of the time meaning thousands of dollars, especially for someone ylike me: old fillings replaced, cleaning, xrays, maintenance: I think the first one was about $10,000.
No way, Thomas, I don’t expect to live all that much longer, a few more years and so I don’t plan to spending lots of bucks ok my teeth. Reluctantly, Thpmsd comes up with another plan which I also rejected. Fondlly, we settle on basic maintenance, cleaning and if something goes wrong, like losing a filling which I did, the tooth was
Leaking says Thomas. This could a problem, infection going into your body, slight worry and so guess we should get rid of tooth, like losing an old friend.
It was about this time that gum came into the picture. I was reading a Men’s Heath study which said that chewing sugerfree peppermwnt gum would speed up your metabolism, this bettyet health, weight control. I didn’t need much of an excuse anyway since I loved to chew. Of was always a no no but of of could improve health, who could be against that. So, I started chewing and I didn’t just chew, I was a vigorous chewer. Why? Well, I thought maybe it kept me from talking to myself.
OK, here something is definitely going on with the tooth. Of isn’t hurting but it is sore. Thomas says, pull, old, nothing left is shellof tooth. I make an appointment, plus am getting teeth cleaned. The hygenisy says, bad news as severalof your teeth have pockets, meaning perodonic work for sure, I’m seeing big bucha: economic school. I leave and am chewing gum ok my way out. I go back for cleaning appointment in a couple of weka. The hygenist checks my teeth, goes and gets Thimss. He comes in, groaning and moaning and he days, “very strange”. The pockets seem to have closed up. What is going on. I advance my gum chewing theory. They are skeptical. Another dentist who is visiting Thomas comes in and looks at the record and teeth and then says, how much are you chewing? I tell him that most people have a bar bill, not me, I have a chewing gum bill. Guess what? The pockets have closed up What is this? The dentist reluctantly decided that it could be the gum. The theory is that the gum kept my teeth and gums bathed in saliva. I don’t know.
Me and the tooth, got to give it a name. Anyway we are charging on. It still gets a little sore but with gum, a little chewing and we are good to go. Time passes, I decide to get it off my plate, get it pulled, has to happen at some time. I make an appointment. Something comes up, I cancel it. Thomas tells me, it will surely costs less than San Francisco. OK. Somewhere during this process, I totally forgot an appointment. The next thing I know, I get a bill in the mail for $50, a couple of days later before I can pay the bill, here comes another one. It ticks me off no end. I probably shouldn’t think this way but here I have buried his Mom and Dad, his Aunt. I’m thinking we have a personal relationship when in fact, it is a business one. It taught me big time lessons and a story that I have told thousands of times. I fired my dentist.
Reminds me of the account in my favorite cowboy movie, Lonesome Dove. The former Texas Ranger, Jake Sppon, shot and killed the dentist in Fort Smith, Arkansas. It was an accident and as Jake was relating the story, Gus, the Renaissance man of the movie says, “It was an accident and besides, nobody likes a dentist anyway.”