Happy teeth and pyrotechnics.

Raise your hand if you’re totally looking forward to your next dental appointment.

Mm-hm, mm-hm…carry the one, and that’s…zero. Zero people super happy about to going to see the dentist. I’m not counting that weirdo waving his hand at the back. He’s clearly high on something. You’d have to be, to actually look forward to the dentist’s, even if it’s only for a cleaning. In fact some places advertise that they’re willing to get you high, just to get you in that chair. Sedation dentistry sells. I had them drug me up but good when my wisdom teeth were removed. Best money I ever spent.

Your mouth is one of those places where you don’t want just anyone messing around. When some of the most common nightmares people experience involve various awful things happening to their teeth, it can be tough to voluntarily go see someone whose job is to stick pointy things into them. I know people who’ve had to switch dentists multiple times before they found someone they were comfortable with, and others who simply stopped going altogether because of a particularly bad experience.

“Oh yeah, I’ll take care of that cavity REAL good.” “Uh, I just remembered I have somewhere to be…”

I happened to luck out. My dentist is my uncle, and one of the nicest people I know. This doesn’t necessarily make my visits to his office any more fun, but at least trust has never been an issue.

But it’s kind of funny when you know someone in both a professional and a personal capacity. I can never see my uncle without being reminded of the stories my mother has told me about him from their childhood together. Comparing the man of today with the boy that was has always been an interesting way to pass the time in the ol’ dentist’s chair.

My uncle has a well-established Dentist Voice that he uses at the office. It is calm and soothing, and almost hypnotic. It could give the voice of Saruman a run for its money. He words things simply, but not patronizingly so, and his tone is light enough that nothing seems like that big of a deal. Ten cavities and a root canal? Well golly, that doesn’t sound so bad! (It is. What the hell have you been brushing with, Coca-Cola?!)

If you’re a kid, he talks about your teeth and gums in terms of whether or not they are “happy”. Updates on the happiness quotient of my teeth were a twice-yearly constant of my childhood. I thought I would be glad when he finally decided I had outgrown that particular term, but now I kind of miss it. That and the prize drawer. Just because I’m over thirty doesn’t mean I’m dead inside, people. Now make with the fake emerald ring!

I know my teeth are still happy, but sometimes you just need to hear it.

My uncle used to manipulate his voice to his advantage in his youth as well, but it definitely wasn’t to soothe people. The house he and my mother grew up in had a large cherry tree in the yard which exploded with sweet, juicy morsels in multitudes each year. It also exerted an invisible pull on the other neighborhood kids, inviting them to climb up, to steal and gobble the ripe fruit that would stain their hands and chins in incriminating crimson. Sister and brother, normally at war but feeling more amicable in the face of a common enemy, joined forces during cherry season and took up spying from the upstairs windows to catch any brazen criminals in the act. When they did, my uncle, whose vocal range included a startlingly deep and booming bass for his age, would put on his best angry adult voice and bark out a sharp, “GET THE HELL OUT OF MY TREE, YOU DAMN KIDS!” Then he and my mother would sit back and cackle as the thieves hastily tumbled back down to earth and ran their little cherry-stained butts home as fast as their legs could carry them.

For all his sensitivity and kindness today, I know this mischievous streak has not entirely abandoned my uncle. The tales of April Fools pranks staged in his household are legendary, and he is an avid fan of sneaking embarrassing gag gifts like extra-large bottles of laxatives into Christmas stockings. My long-suffering aunt is traditionally his main target in these pursuits, which is made all the more amusing by the fact that she has the approximate sense of humor of a rock, and also by the fact that she will actually take her unwanted gag gifts BACK TO THE STORE and request a refund with an entirely straight face. (My mother tut-tuts and expresses sympathy for my aunt’s plight, but I’m 99.9% sure she’s secretly glad her big brother has found someone else to pick on.)

Knowing your dentist is secretly a bit of a practical joker can either make you more nervous, or it can help you loosen up and relax. If you’re wondering whether the former or the latter applies to me, just know that on more than one occasion my uncle has strolled into the room to take a look at my teeth only for me to grin and reveal a set of plastic novelty vampire fangs instead.

Remember these suckers? (Heh, heh, “suckers”…)

I’m happy to say that I have never needed ten simultaneous fillings and a root canal, but nobody’s perfect, and over the years I have required the occasional tooth renovation. And where there’s a filling, there’s drilling, and where there’s drilling, there’s freezing. Here there be needles.

Needles don’t particularly bother me. I’m not super wild over sharp things being stuck into my gums, but I can tolerate it for a good cause, i.e. not feeling a drill boring holes in me. If anything, I have more of a problem with the topical anaesthetic that gets dabbed on first to dull the needle pain. Whoever decided to make that crap “piña colada” flavored either a) hates me and never wants me to enjoy another piña colada again, or b) genuinely thinks that piña coladas taste like battery acid with a hint of pineapple.

At any rate, the actual needle is the least of my problems. I know I’m in good hands. My uncle tends to narrate what he’s doing in his Dentist Voice and tell me which nerves he’s freezing and why, which is not only actually super interesting, but also just one more reassurance that he really knows his stuff.

Even though he and needles have a bit of an unorthodox history.

As befits any proper older brother, a significant portion of my uncle’s young life was devoted to coming up with new and interesting ways to torture pester his annoying little sister. And he was nothing if not creative. While most kids were content to play around with paper airplanes unimaginatively pretending they were airplanes, my uncle saw them for what they really were: floppy, oversized darts. And he knew he could make a better paper dart, and exactly who he was going to test it out on.

A few design tweaks and scaling adjustments later, and my uncle had an origami arsenal just waiting to be lobbed at his unsuspecting sister. And to make sure his projectile prototypes would really send her screaming for the hills, he tipped each dart with a gleaming needle filched from my grandmother’s sewing basket. Let the chase begin!

Okay, yeah, he used to be kind of a dick.

Now he’s a nice guy who just happens to stick people with pointy things for a living.


Of course, wielding sharp objects in the professional world requires a much larger measure of precision than hurling darts at your little sister. Happily, my uncle is also equipped with two additional qualities that every good dentist needs: patience and attention to detail. These, too, have been apparent in his nature from the beginning.

When he wasn’t scaring the neighborhood children out of trees or aiming various things at my mother, my uncle enjoyed the much tamer pastime of building model ships. And I mean serious model ships. Kids these days get their kicks snapping together themed pre-fab Lego sets that require less focus to assemble than IKEA furniture; my uncle was spending his free hours painstakingly gluing and placing fine slivers of balsa wood just so, and painting on the tiny, intricate details that would really bring his miniature ships to life. These masterpieces would sometimes take him months to complete.

It was therefore only logical that such time-consuming, elaborate projects deserved to be celebrated with just as much fanfare as the launching of a full-sized ship. My uncle opted to commemorate these fantastic marvels of small-scale artistry in a way that the whole neighborhood could enjoy along with him. But he had a different kind of launch in mind.

He would stuff his ships with fireworks and blow them to kingdom come in the back lane.

Uh…bon voyage?

This is a practice that he has wisely left out of his current profession. Or else he has a fireworks drawer that I don’t know about and he’s really good at hiding bodies.

Either way, I will be sorry to lose him as my dentist when he inevitably retires sometime down the road. I only hope he can recommend me a replacement who is as kind and skilled as he is…however they may have gotten to that state.

As long as they keep my teeth happy, then I’m happy.

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