When I was a kid, people used to say to me, “Steve, you’re so lucky to have a father who’s a dentist. He must check your teeth all the time.”
Well, the family joke was that he rarely looked inside our mouths. But that doesn’t mean he was negligent about his children’s dental health.
When my deciduous (baby) teeth were loose, sometimes I’d ask Dad to extract them. It was not medically necessary, as they would fall out on their own. But I thought it was cool to sit in the big dental chair, smelling the aroma of alcohol and other antiseptics, while he gently wiggled them free.
At night, I would place the extracted tooth under my pillow in hopes that the “tooth fairy” would exchange it for a financial reward. It happened every time. She would leave a minimum payment of a nickel and sometimes a quarter.
Dad was way ahead of his time when it came to diet and teeth. I grew up in the pre-fluoride era. As far back as I can remember, we were not allowed daily doses of candy, cakes, sweet rolls, pies, soft drinks or any other sugary substances. Sugarcoated breakfast cereals were out as well. He felt these restrictions were especially important before our permanent teeth took hold.
In first grade, I do remember a regular dessert, but only at dinnertime. Pop would buy one-gallon containers of vanilla ice cream from the Marine Corps commissary. One scoop was usually a regular treat after a well-balanced meal. However, other than an annual birthday cake, that was about it for sweets.
I resented the strict diet, as all my friends could eat and drink whatever they wanted. They had Kool-Aid every night. Not me, or my two sisters. They sucked on sodas and chewed candy bars several times per day. Not us. It was common to see them with candy cigarettes, sourballs and Pez dispensers. But again, that didn’t happen in our family.
At age six, I recall my older sister bringing home a treat. On one special occasion, she was allowed to buy a bundle of seven lollypops. When I saw them, my eyes widened as if they had focused on a pot of gold.
“Can I have one?” I enquired.
“No!” she fired back. “I’m going to eat every one and you’ll just have to watch, ha!” Sis had just performed a perfect imitation of “Lucy” from the Peanuts comic strip.
My devious mind began to work. That night, I “lifted” a grape-flavored sucker from her collection, thinking she could not possibly count to seven. How wrong I was!
Of course, she ratted me out, and I caught the fires of hell from two very angry parents, who were quite concerned about my immoral larcenous behavior.
When adults instill good habits in young children, they tend to become a way of life.
Even today, I avoid sweets, although after supper, I do enjoy a mini ice cream cone, or now and then, a handful of M & M’s.
I guess dad’s strict guidelines did pay off. Sixty years later, I only have one filling obtained in my early twenties (probably from those candy-crunching college days).
Of course, I brush and floss regularly. I also have my teeth cleaned twice per year. The hygienist usually summons the dentist to “look at this guy’s mouth” in amazement. They can’t believe there is such minimal dental work in a person my age.
So, thanks Dad for your once distasteful, but obviously successful dietary restrictions. I didn’t “get it” back then, but I certainly do now.
Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.