Dental Chair Confidential

December 20, 2008

While having a tooth wrenched from my mouth the other day, I squirmed in the dental chair as if trying to escape the oral surgeon’s maniacal array of implements. I had assumed the procedure would be quick. It wasn’t.

What helped me through the prying, splitting, and yanking was a simple gesture: a young dental nurse put her hand on my shoulder and kept it there. Her touch distracted me in a way she couldn’t have imagined. It sent me back to another dental chair in 1963, when the 12-year molar getting pulled first peeked from my gum.

A dentist was filling a cavity in some other tooth, and I was a boy in agony. It wasn’t the first time I’d been to his office and whimpered. I had a thing for Zero candy bars, and fluoride wasn’t in widespread use. Neither were painkilling injections for cavity repair.

One of his nurses, young and pretty, rested both hands on my forearm. I felt in her touch a sincere concern for my plight. A beautiful stranger wanting to take away my pain. Then as she leaned forward to peer into my mouth, her breasts rested on my arm. And stayed there. The pain and whine of the drill and smell of tooth being ground to dust vanished.

I wish I could recall plotting to eat more Zeros, leading to more dental visits and more “comforting.” But all I remember is the few minutes of erotically charged breast support.

The trip back in time reminds me that memory is a fickle, unreliable companion. It tantalizes with illuminating flashes then goes dark. What triggers it is as elusive as the images suddenly brought to life.

In this case, a chasm of 45 years separating two painful experiences in the dental chair was magically bridged by the innocent, sympathetic touch of two women, two women with no idea of what they set in motion.