Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The importance of dental health...

A few months ago, I chalked up yet another submission for my entry form for Mother-of-the-Year award. It happened during Jack's first dental appointment, where they informed me he had four cavities. I was like, "Yeah, whatever. He drinks a lot of juice and brushes sporadically. But thankfully, those little buggers rot up and fall out anyway, right?" Followed by a series of snorts, guffaws, giggles...then nervous laughter after dentist issued: Glare. Awkward silence. "No, not funny?" More silence. Followed by this: "Yes. Baby teeth fall out. But he'll have some of these molars until he's ten or so, therefore we have no choice but to dig out the cavities and fill them."

I hung my head in parental shame.

Old school peeps: Do you remember getting your baby teeth filled? I seriously don't think we did. My Mom can't remember. So I'm at a loss.

It does however, bring back fond recollections of my first grade teacher. She single-handedly put the fear of God into me as it relates to dental hygiene. Rather fiercely, I might add. She made a house out of this massive piece of construction paper, with tiny, little flap windows on the front. There was a flap for each child in class, and behind each flap was our school photo from that year. Reflecting on it now, the whole thing was rather elaborate; it must have taken her a year to build. Every morning, she would weave in and out of our rows of desks, shout out our name, and ask if we had brushed our teeth that morning. If we answered yes, she would race over to the house and fling open the flaps to our photo (with flourish!) and there you’d be, in all your sweater vest and bucked-toothed glory, smiling out from the little paper house for all to see. If you were so bold as to admit to not brushing your teeth, she would frown, then sigh, then throw in a disheartened shake of her head for good measure, and your flap remained closed. For. the. entire. day. Oh, the horror of seeing your little window closed and shuttered with shame beside all your beaming (lying) friends. And thus began the upward trend of Grade One children telling lies with reckless abandon, so as not to be ostracized and humiliated in class:

“Course I brushed my teeth!” (Tiny cheeks crimson with shame and humiliation…)
“No, I’m not lying!” (Eyes darting nervously from side-to-side…)
"How ‘bout you open my flap and I’ll brush them tomorrow?” (The power of persuasion being tested by someone far too young to be attempting to cut such forbidden deals with teacher…)

I digress.

As some of you may know, I have a column in Grainews. It is as sexy as it sounds. I get fan mail, albeit usually completely rabid in nature. But writing for the praise and the glory is not why I do it. Clearly. I don't have time to open (and read) four fan letters a year. This one letter in particular though, stands out. It was so bad, it's good. I had written an article about my recollections of the travelling dental vans that used to roam the Prairies back in the day, and this story of mine royally pissed off some former dentist. Royally pissed off. He sent a letter to the editor, which was then sent to me. A FOUR PAGE HAND-WRITTEN LETTER. Who does that anymore? I'd love to share it here, in it's entirety, as he made me out to be a raging anti-dentite, however I feel the need to protect the innocent. There are a few sentences from his letter though, that I simply must share for pure entertainment purposes:

"I am compelled to take time from my busy schedule to respond to one of the most ignorant pieces of drivel I have ever read..."

"Most people try find the mental capacity to deal with some pain as necessary then get over it and grow up."

"With her experience in economics and finance you would think she could come up with some useful ideas to pay for the high cost of dental disease..."

"As for Janita Van de Velde losing a chunk of tooth chewing gum I am reminded of a poem we had to learn in school where gun chewing was not allowed. The gum chewing student and the cud chewing cow look alike yet different somehow. Now , I see the difference. It is the intelligent look in the eyes of the cow."

Here's the thing, Mister Former Dentist - it wasn't meant to be an article on public policy as it pertains to the use of government funding to promote and maintain dental health. Rather, it was a recollection of my fucking fright as a child at being ushered into a dark van by a stranger, and having all my adult teeth drilled and filled within the span of two days. You calling me names isn't going to change a thing about how I remember it. Sorry. I didn't react well to being bullied twenty-five years ago, and I sure as hell don't now. I'd love to get into with you, and yes, there are some obvious names for you that come to mind, but quite frankly I'm tired. That, and I could really use another stick of gum.

Without further ado, here is the article I wrote that garnered so much hate and disgust from a former dentist:

When a chunk of my tooth fell out while chewing gum last week, I was reminded of the good, old days, back when dental care was free. Yes, friends, free. If memory serves me correctly (which is a toss, at best…), once a year, a van would come ripping down the streets of Mariapolis, pardon me, the street of Mariapolis, and each student would take their turn being ushered into said van, where there would be a large chair accompanied by a dental student, expert, drop-out, person grinning like a @#$%ing maniac from ear-to-ear, who would immediately jump-to and commence work on our teeth. I must admit, the first year the van came to town, we were all scrambling to get out of the classroom, drooling, begging to go first…we thought for sure it was just some random man in a van handing out candy. (Completely oblivious to, and sheltered from, the rampant DANGER STRANGER campaigns.) Needless to say, we learned our lesson for elbowing to be first in line; we ran screaming in the opposite direction next time we saw that van coming.

Now I understand the value of fiscal sanity and grabbing a deal when you see one, but really? Asking children to voluntarily jump into a stranger’s van to get their teeth pulled, filled and polished? I feel completely blessed to be living in a country with universal health care benefits, but people, there’s something wrong with this. I don’t even think the old leaders of the Communist bloc would have embraced the concept of the dental van.

Recently, I stumbled across a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Fast Facts article written back in 2005, about the free dental care that used to be available for elementary school children. And I quote, “We need to prevent the cycle of crisis and emergency response by establishing a comprehensive preventive program that will address the dental needs of children, and drastically reduce the demand for surgery. We need to do this not only to prevent the pain and suffering caused by tooth decay and related diseases, but also to improve the overall health of our population and alleviate the pressures on health care resources. Manitoba did at one time have just such a program. It started in the 1970s and survived into the 1990s.” End quote. Sounds like the program coincided with the mullet era. Sadly, to each good thing, an end. This article went on to advocate the need for getting preventative dental care back in the schools. Being a proud survivor of both the mullet and free dental care era, I respectfully disagree. What about the pain and suffering caused by visits to the dental van? I haven’t had a cavity since my first visit back in 1986. Quite frankly, there were no teeth left to fill after that first visit; they got ‘em all in a two-day spree. Can you say social experiment? I don’t recall being in any sort of pain prior to receiving all those fillings either, so you can excuse me for saying I'm highly doubtful my entire mouth had bad enough rot to warrant a full excavation. It’s no wonder my teeth are falling out in chunks; that old metal filling is finally starting to give way.

The part I miss most about those dental vans? The little red pill. The dental person would slip you this red pill upon entry into the van; it looked like candy so they didn’t have to ask twice for us to throw it in our mouth. We were told to suck on it, the red dye leaving a stain on our teeth to show where the plaque build-up was occurring. It was supposed to be a deterrent for the filth mongers who chose not to brush. Not to worry, the red dye lasted for only six days. (And I never exaggerate.)

I’ll tell you this: it’s hard enough surviving childhood, never mind running around the playground wearing second-hand, snot-green polyester pants with a set of red-stained, plaque-covered bucks to go with it. We looked like a pack of 10-year old Merlot addicts. If kids think they have it tough today, they have no idea.

Now all this had me recalling a recent shopping trip to Minot, North Dakota with my sister. A friend asked me to bring back this new mouth rinse for kids (that wasn’t available yet in Canada)…apparently it turns plaque on the teeth blue, as a means to teach kids how to brush properly. (What’s with this plaque obsession? Although I see the red dye has mercifully been abolished.) Needless to say, I agreed to be on the lookout. So my sister and I were cruising through the mall down in Minot, when I spot a pharmacy. I tell her to come in with me for a minute to look for this mouth wash. I’m wandering down one aisle, she another, when I spot this dude who totally looks like he works at the pharmacy. He’s wearing a nice green polo-shirt, with some little emblem on the front which I presume to be the store logo. Did I mention I can’t see very well? He was talking to an elderly couple, and they all appeared to be slightly confused about something, talking in urgent whispers…so I waited for a break in the conversation, tapped him on the shoulder and politely asked:
“Excuse me, sir…just curious if you’ve heard of that mouth wash you can use that turns the plaque on your teeth blue so you can learn how to brush better?”
He shrieked, held his hand up to his mouth and gasped:

“Oh, my God! Why, do I need it? You could see my plaque from there? Aaaaaaaaaaaah! I’m so embarrassed.”

The sound of a grown man shrieking is not something you want to hear very often. I managed to reply, “Er, no…that’s not what I meant.” And just as my eyes began to fill with tears (of organ-damaging laughter), they locked on the words written clear as day on his shirt - University of North Dakota. Apparently he didn’t work there. He was simply out with his grandparents, trying to enjoy the moment, when a psycho approached him referencing plaque. Of course my sister had to witness all of this. She was rounding the bend into my aisle and saw it all go down. I looked up, begging her with my eyes NOT TO LAUGH, but it was too late. She was already in a mouth-wide-open grimace, shaking with uncontrollable laughter, coloured purple from the strain and turning to walk away. I managed to squeak out a rather feeble, “I’m so sorry to bother you.” before taking all of two steps and dropping to my knees, in a weak attempt to collect myself while pretending to look at new and improved products for wart removal. I was beside myself. I could sense they were still staring at me, but I couldn’t catch my breath long enough to explain. The look on his face, along with his comments, had reduced me to a pile of waste. Tears were streaming down my face and I didn’t dare move for what must have been five minutes. I had to make sure they were gone before I escaped from the store. I may have even urinated, just a little.

Moral of the story? There isn’t one, really. Thankfully Tommy Douglas’s strong advocacy for universal health care did not extend to dental van coverage; we’re blessed and we know it. And now our children have a better chance of keeping their teeth. As for the plaque-seeking mouthwash missile, last I checked, it’s now available here in Canada so there’s no need to harass our fair neighbours to the south.

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