Saturday, November 21, 2009
Grinnin' at mammogram confusion
I smiled this week at the intense reaction to the scientific study that said too frequent mammograms cause unnecessary stress and can be safely reduced.
It was a beautiful smile, too. The mostly straight ivories look like rows of surfboards left to bleach in the summer sun.
It’s a contagious sort of smile. I’ve found people nearly always smile back when I smile at them.
In fact, the only people who as a rule don’t smile back are dentists.
And that’s because my smile is pearly proof that seeing a dentist the recommended once every six months is a colossal waste of time and money.
Trust me. I’ve been to see a dentist exactly once in the past 24 years. Just once.
Like most kids, I was the child of parents who were skillfully brainwashed to believe we all needed to see a dentist once every six months.
And I must compliment the dental lobby for convincing a parade of generations that this directive came in stone from Moses. It’s just accepted wisdom.
Pity the poor podiatrist. No one ever thinks to go see him or her even once a year when you could argue that many of the nagging back infirmities that plague our elderly stem from persistent feet problem.
I did my regular dental thing until one happy 1994 night in Athens, Ohio. Me and the boys were closing up the old Nickelodeon bar on Union Street where a bunch of us were paid to inebriate our fellow Ohio University students.
Once we closed and cleaned up the joint, we’d hike up the Def Leppard and blow off steam with hootch and horseplay.
I don’t recall the insanity of the motivation, but I remember jumping up on big Bill’s back. I must have thought if I surprised the gentle giant I could gain a split second wrestling triumph over him that I’d extrapolate into a lifetime of boast about the night I slammed big Bill Morrissey down to the Nickelodeon dance floor.
My advantage lasted a nano-second. The next instant I remember was feeling a not unpleasant sensation of flight. Bill’d sent me sailing. The whole world slowed down. I’m convinced with sufficient feathering the propulsion could have sent me soaring clear past the jukebox.
Then -- damn that gravity -- I landed on my lip. I remember seeing my maxillary lateral incisor spinning out of my mouth and sashaying about 10 feet across the dance floor. It was the most soulful motion any part of me’d ever achieved on that dance floor.
The next day I went to the local dentist who gave me the sort of oral devastation Dustin Hoffman’s character underwent at the hands of a sadistic Nazi dentist (and can there be a more malevolent job description?) in the great 1976 thriller, “Marathon Man.”
It was root canal. If a woman had ever treated me as poorly as that dentist did, I’d to this day still be casting about for romance with gentle farm animals.
I vowed that very day I would never go see another dentist. To compensate, however, I’d become a fanatic about self-care. I stopped eating sweets. I began concluding every meal with a vigorous water gargle before departing the table and heading to a nearby toothbrush. And -- this is key -- I floss after anything goes in my mouth and that includes the ears and other soft nibbly parts of my dear wife.
And that’s just what I did. Around about 1994, my mother’s alarm over my dental non-conformity could no longer be ignored. To appease her, I agreed to a check-up.
After about 15 minutes of poking and prodding, the dentist said, “Your teeth are perfect. Keep doing what you’re doing.”
I’ve never met an unhappy dentist. Most look forward to retiring at about 55. Truly, they are a joyful lot and I think I alone know why.
It’s because most Americans march herd-like into their offices every six months. Once there, the dentists poke, proud, scrape, drill and nick at the integrity of even healthy teeth. Repeat this every six months and a healthy mouth will eventually need constant dentist-enriching attention.
In fact, the people I know who go to the dentist most faithfully are the ones who most need to go to the dentist.
We are a nagging nation of hypochondriacs. We believe there is a pill or potion to cure every infirmity.
If you’re convinced that yearly mammograms and those semi-annual dental visits and on and on and on will prolong your life, then go right ahead.
Me, I’ll just sit back and smile at all the commotion.
You may wonder whatever happened to that old tooth. I have no idea. I guess it just got mopped up with the rest of the mud and the blood and the beer on that long ago evening of now forgotten revelry.
Doesn’t matter. The lesson the loss taught me proved more valuable than anything the Tooth Fairy could ever bestow.