34

In preparation for my bridge, Dr. Bob was grinding two of my healthy teeth into nubby posts. He seemed to be enjoying his work. One could even say he was grinding with a certain gusto, which, while admirable in a stripper, is somewhat disconcerting in a dentist wielding a router in your mouth.

“So that must be the famous tie,” said Dr. Bob over the whine of the diamond bur as it attacked my teeth. “Carol does have excellent taste. She just needs to lower her standards a tad. When we seek perfection, we always end up disappointed, but that’s why you will be so good for her. We don’t have to worry about perfection in your case, do we, Victor?”

“Aahohuu,” I said.

“Shift over a bit and open your mouth a little wider. And stop your whimpering. I shot enough Novocain in you to stun a horse. If you don’t calm down, I’ll have to call in Tilda to assist.”

I halted my squealing immediately. He changed the bur on his tool, delved back into my mouth.

“But you must be doing something right. She seems so happy. You look puzzled. Of course, Carol and I talk. The doctor-patient relationship can be more than a simple business transaction. I take a personal interest in all my patients. We are, all of us in this practice, something like a family. Move your head this way, please. Yes, very good. I’m quite shocked, actually, Victor, but this is going smoothly. Rinse and spit, please.”

I rinsed and spat. A white grit from my expectoration stuck to the edges of the porcelain bowl. I waxed nostalgic over what moments before had been my tooth.

He shifted the light above my head, peered into his tiny mirror to get a better view of the destruction, fired up the grinding tool once more. It sounded like a slot-car racer on steroids.

“Aahayyyaaaaeio?” I said.

“Of course you can ask a question. Is it dental in nature? Excellent. Then I might even be able to answer.”

“Owioraaayayee?”

“Baby teeth? Very important. But you don’t have to worry about that. Oh, you’re not asking about yourself, are you?”

“Aiiah.”

“A client. Interesting. How old?”

“Ooou. IoohiOhohoh.”

“Four? And you represent him pro bono? I’m so very impressed. I think, in many ways, we are more alike than one would expect. Hold on while I grind out this ridge. So this is a four-year-old child with serious dental issues. Why don’t you show me which teeth.”

I rubbed my tongue all along my upper row.

“Ah, yes. Now that can be serious. Does he still use a bottle? Do his parents let him suckle himself to sleep with it?”

I nodded. He shook his head.

“I can’t tell for certain without examining the boy, but it sounds like he is suffering from something called BBTD, or baby bottle tooth decay. Ooops. Sorry about that. When you keep fighting me by clenching your teeth, it makes it that much more difficult to get this right. Nothing serious, but suddenly there’s a lot of blood. Rinse, please.”

My God, it was Gu?rnica in the spit sink.

“Just a bit more and we’re done. BBTD. A bacterium called Streptococcus mutans is feeding on the sugars in the milk or juice from the bottle, and its toxins are eating away at the teeth. If it progresses far enough, it can cause a serious infection that can enter the bone and permanently damage the adult teeth forming beneath the surface. This child should be immediately examined and treated by a qualified dentist.”

“Aahilleyoo?”

“The standard treatment is to go into the affected teeth, excavate the decay, and then, in effect, mummify the damaged nerves. Caps are placed upon the teeth, which restore the primary teeth and allow the permanent teeth to come in without any additional problems. All very necessary. I hope the parents have insurance.”

“Ayhaaahi.”

“Nothing? That is a problem. You better rinse again, Victor. The flow of blood is stanching, but it’s still pretty heavy.”

Swirl, swirl, swirl, splat.

“Let me take another quick peek.” He sprayed my teeth with warm water.

“How do they look?” I said. With his hands out of my mouth, I was finally able to pronounce consonants. I suppose consonants are like lower-right molars, we only really appreciate them when they are gone.

“Beautiful,” said Dr. Bob, “round and even and beautiful. I could have been a sculptor, Victor. I could have been David Smith. I had the talent and the vision, but being locked away all day in a studio, the loneliness broken only by the occasional nude model, that wasn’t for me. Instead I have the best, most noble job in the world.”

He lifted up his diamond bur as if it were a torch of liberty and let it whir.

“Who knows what evil lurks in the teeth of men?” he proclaimed. “The dentist knows.”

“You ever read comic books as a kid?” I said.

“Voraciously.”

“You maybe take them a little too seriously?”

“Of course not. They were so unrealistic. Superman was a newspaper reporter; Batman, some millionaire socialite; Daredevil, a lawyer. Those are heroes? Please. Spider-Man, the part-time photographer; Iron Man, the industrialist; Green Lantern, the architect; Silver Surfer, some sort of Zen wanderer. Oooh, I’m impressed, Zen wanderer. Captain Marvel was a paperboy, for God’s sake.”

“But no dentists, is that it?”

“Tilda will take an impression for the lab, then I’ll set temporary crowns on what’s left of your teeth. When the full bridge comes back from the lab, I’ll give you a call. Everything is going swimmingly, Victor. You should be greatly encouraged.”

“Oh, I am,” I said, rubbing my tongue along my lifeless gum. “One more thing. I was just wondering if…”

“The boy, is that it?” he said.

“Yes.”

“I was curious as to when you would get around to asking. What is his name?”

“Daniel. Daniel Rose.”

“Have Daniel’s mother call me and set up an appointment. I’ll do what I can. Pro bono. Just like you. You see, Victor, it is important for you to understand my mission in life. It is important for you to know what kind of person I really am.”

“Why is it important what I think?”

“We are all one family. We should all understand one another. Tilda,” he called.

She was in the doorway quick as the Flash. “Yes, Doctor.”

“Let’s finish up with Victor, shall we?”

She pressed a massive fist into her palm until the knuckles cracked. “With pleasure.”

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