A Good Mom Memory…From This?

I’m OK with going to the dentist, but it will never appear on “A Few of My Favorite Things” list.

I’m not fond of sitting – or rather, almost lying on my back – in the chair, mouth open for an extended amount of time, while the dentist or hygienist leans way into my personal space, poking my gums and scraping my teeth, while water is sloshing around in (and spilling out of) my mouth, and noise is hammering my ears. 

Lots of noise.

But I go, because I know that not going to the dentist can lead to tooth loss all sorts of other health problems.

I consider myself fortunate that I’m not afraid of going to the dentist; 36 percent of people in the U.S. have dentophobia – fear of going to the dentist – many to the point of not going to a dentist at all, according to this and other articles:

I attribute my lack of fear to my growing-up years.  My parents didn’t talk about going to the dentist – they just went.  I never heard them talk about hating to go the dentist, or talk about pain or blood or any of other less-than-pleasant possibilities.

So when it came time for Mom to start taking my siblings and me to the dentist – we simply went.

It wasn’t fun, but then it was over and forgotten.

And I did have my, “Look, Mom – no cavities!” Normal Rockwell moments:

I’d said that my parents didn’t talk about going to the dentist, but that isn’t quite true.

As a teenager, at some point I must have expressed resistance to a dentist appointment – no doubt some effort at independence on my part.  As an antidote, Mom shared a dentist story, and she made it funny.  And that story has stayed with me ever since.

Mom would have been in her late teens.  She’d been blessed with perfect teeth:  pure white, straight as piano keys, and perfectly shaped.  No cavities – throughout her life, she never had a cavity.

During a dental visit, the dentist had praised Mom’s lovely smile and told her that during her next visit he’d like to take pictures of her teeth.

Mom was thrilled!

She couldn’t wait for her next trip to the dentist.  Pictures!  Who knew where that might lead?  She’d have pictures of herself, taken by a professional person!  Could that lead to something…something like…a modeling career? 

Could she pose for toothpaste ads like she’d seen in magazines, flashing her perfect smile? 

And maybe…maybe…that would lead to Hollywood!  Models became actresses, right?  Like Suzy Parker…

1957:  Model-turned-actress Suzy Parker with Cary Grant in “Kiss Them for Me,” her first film role.

Mom had a very active imagination, and soon all sorts of exciting possibilities were filling her dreams.

Six months passed, and the big day arrived.

Mom donned her best dress, and took extra time fixing her hair and carefully applying lipstick.

She arrived at the dentist’s office and as usual, the receptionist directed Mom to the treatment room, where the dentist greeted her.

He explained that he’d take her pictures first, then proceed with her regular cleaning.

Mom was ready!

She smiled her best smile, but instead of reaching for a camera, the dentist reached for a different device.

A device that meant in her long-awaited pictures, she would look like this:

When the dentist had said he wanted to take pictures of Mom’s teeth, he meant it.

Her teeth, all her teeth…

And nothing but her teeth.

At this point in recounting her story, Mom said, “And this is what I looked like!”  She spread her fingers into each side of her mouth and pulled her lips back as far as they’d go, grimacing all the while.

Nice teeth, but otherwise…

Pretty bad.

No modeling.  No magazine ads.  No movies with Cary Grant.

We laughed together, and my dentist rebellion faded.

I’m smiling as I remember that story now, on Mom’s birthday.  She’s no longer living, but I’m so grateful for the years she did and the memories she shared.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

Mom’s lovely smile!

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