I treat at the dental school in my community, Louisville, Kentucky. I have been a patient there for more than 30 years, so I have had many soon-to-be licensed dentists and dental hygienists look at my teeth. I have never had a bad experience or a clunker as a student in all those years.
Students come from everywhere in America and beyond. Recently, I had one from Afghanistan, another from Syria, and several from South of the Border, but by far, the greatest numbers come from the West and are Mormons. Mormons love this dental school. I know where everybody comes from because I ask. I am not shy. I want to hear about their young lives, and I do.
Mormons go to the school at Louisville, I figure, because they like it, and find it a quality experience and a good value. Word of mouth must matter greatly. I remember one Mormon fellow from Idaho, I think it was. He put a permanent cap on one of my teeth (among other things he did). He told me he married a woman from New Mexico and met her online. She, too, was a Mormon. It happened while I was his patient, and I gave the couple a gift certificate for a Mexican restaurant they liked.
So what, you ask, about this gold foil I mentioned? It is a filling of a kind made of gold. It goes in a hole in a tooth, a cavity, a cavity that is not usually a particularly large hole — so I believe. Once, it was a requirement to do one to graduate. Now it is not required, and so not often done. I have one in my mouth, and when I am in house for an appointment, and one of the instructors notices my gold foil — I’ve had it for about twenty years — she calls over nearby students to see my filling.
“This is a gold foil,” she says. “You may never see one again.”
Everybody crowds around to look into my mouth. Then the instructor explains how a gold foil is done. Kind of fun to witness. I usually ask my students if they like what they are doing, preparing to be a dentist. I’ve never met one who said he or she felt it was a bad decision. Putting my hands in peoples’ mouths would not be for me, maybe especially the mouths I see in the waiting room waiting their turn. It is not an affluent crowd I see out there, nor would I expect it to be. Dental schools serve the poorer of us in society. Seems like that’s how it should be, too.
Sometimes I ask my students if they have ever heard of Doc Holliday. He was a gunslinger in the old Wild West, a friend of Wyatt Earp’s, and a dentist trained in Maryland. I’ve read about him. Women seem little interested in Doc Holliday, but the young men listen carefully, and I suspect they go to their computers later to learn more about the man.
I figure dentists don’t have too many role models. While Doc Holliday could not be considered a role model, he is famous and certainly notorious in some circles, even if he was a killer.
Much of my dental needs have been met by now. I am pretty old. These days my appointments are routine, usually only cleaning and polishing. There was a time, however, when my dental woes were considerable. Patients with problems are very welcome. Students need to do procedures to get the credits necessary to graduate. So patients with problems are sought, particularly if they are reliable and keep appointments, and can pay the costs, which are not great in comparison with the outside world. But they are there; they exist.
As for me, I no longer am a dream patient, but I am one who is never a no-show and one who can pay the fees. Now I have to settle for the attention I sometimes get because of my gold foil.
Well, these days, I take what I can get and move along.
Raymond Abbott is a social worker and novelist.