Dentist? 'Heads I go, tails you go'

February 21, 1998

Terry Talbert

I have a problem that I understand others of you face, and that's whether I should get my teeth or my cat Scooter's teeth fixed first.

It's a variation on the theme of poverty. Do you eat, or do you pay the rent? Do you buy your medicine, or pay your car insurance and die?

You get the gist.

At Scooter's last visit to the vet, where the wimp cowered under a chair during most of his exam, it was pointed out to me that he needs his teeth cleaned. Too much plaque.


As it happened, I had just made an appointment to see my own dentist. It proved to be an embarrassing experience. When I called the secretary she didn't know who I was.

"What's your name?" she asked. "Talbert? Wait until I check the computer."

"I think maybe the last time I was there computers weren't invented yet," I said.

She thought I was being sarcastic. Imagine her surprise when she found out it was true.

"You'll probably want to have them cleaned, won't you?" she said.

It wasn't really a question. It was a horrible, humiliating, well-enunciated statement.

"And then you'll probably want to see the doctor," she added.

Of course, I didn't want to see the doctor. No one in their right mind wants to see a dentist. If my wisdom teeth weren't poking through - if there weren't holes in all my teeth - if my gums weren't shrinking faster than the ozone layer - I would have laughed out loud at her.

Instead, I said, "Yes, I guess I will."

You'd think that would have been enough humiliation for one week. But being the glutton for punishment that I am, I had to take Scooter to the vet's and look deep into his plaque, and deep into the doctor's eyes, and feel ... guilt.

Because cats don't like sitting in dentists' chairs and refuse to open wide on demand, they must be put to sleep to have their teeth cleaned. The vet explained that to me. That costs more money than your average rabies shot. She explained that, too.

I don't like sitting in those chairs either, and don't always open my mouth on demand. It all depends on what instrument of torture is in the dentist's hand at the time. I figured the only difference is that nobody has to put me to sleep to fix my teeth.

(This is not to say I haven't in the past begged dentists to knock me out).

Should I go first, or should Scooter go first? That was the question. To be poked and drilled and irrigated, or not to be poked and drilled and irrigated? That was perhaps a more pertinent question.

"Heads I go, tails you go," I said to Scooter.

I tossed a coin. Scooter watched me closely. I tossed another coin. And another coin. Heads kept coming up. I finally declared the exercise invalid, much to Scooter's horror.

"You're going," I told him.

He ran under the bed.

Then a thought crossed my mind. (They do that sometimes, and I hate it when it happens).

Who would look worst with no teeth?

"You can come out now, Scooter," I said. "Mommy's going to sit in The Chair first."

Terry Talbert is a Herald-Mail staff writer.

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