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Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014
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Of People, Places & Things-“Who is that guy?”


Fri, Dec 6th, 2002
Posted in Columnists

Like many of you, I have never enjoyed going to the dentist. It probably has something to do with letting another person put metal objects in my mouth.When I was a kid growing up in Austin, my mom used to have to drag me by the ear kicking and screaming into Dr. Ellis’ office. Doc was a short, rotund balding man with fists the size of ham hocks. He had an uncanny resemblance to Ed Gein, the serial killer from Wisconsin who was turning people’s skins into lamp shades during the ‘50s. The only words I remember Doc Ellis ever saying to me were, “Open wider.”With his paws stuck in my mouth, I pleaded with my eyes for my mom not to leave the room. “No, no, please mom, no... please don’t leave me alone with this man.”In my teens I graduated from Dr. Ellis to Dr. Riley an ex-Navy dentist who operated out of the second floor of a Main Street building. Doc didn’t believe in anesthesia and would have you bound, gagging and out the door no sooner than you could say Hi. “It might hurt for a few days,” Doc would warn as I stumbled out of his office fifteen minutes later. “If the swelling isn’t down by Friday give me a call.” Dr. Schmidt took my wisdom teeth out. Doc was an ex-ball player and he talked baseball non-stop the entire time he was working on me. “So what’a’ya think of the Twins?” he’d say, his face six inches away from my nose while his first-baseman’s quick hands probed my mouth.“Ah, oh naw,” (I don’t know), I slobbered back at him. Two of my wisdom teeth were particularly difficult to pull and by the end of it Doc was nearly standing on my shoulders with a tool in his hand that resembled a crowbar.“So if they can get some pitching,” Doc continued, as he climbed off of me and began packing rolls of gauze and cotton into both sides of my cheeks, “they’ll have a chance.”Dr. Kwok was an Australian trained dentist in Hong Kong, located in one of the oldest sections of Kowloon near my office. So, when I broke a tooth and needed a crown one day, Doc Kwok was called into service.“Your teeth aren’t so bad,” I remember him saying. “I am used to seeing old timers come in with broken teeth from chewing on chicken bones.”I took that as a kind of backdoor compliment and considered myself one of his prize patients.Since returning to the states, Dr. Nelson in Rushford has taken me on as a “work in progress”, where the goal is for me to be able to die with my own natural teeth in my mouth - a monumental challenge.A few months ago, my hygienist asked if I would consider being a guinea pig for a new kind of teeth whitening regime they were going to try out. She said they were looking for someone with years of drinking coffee, smoking, and wine drinking behind them. I told her I qualified.Marketing teeth whitening schemes is a multi-million dollar business today with specialized toothpaste, whitening strips and bleaching trays just a few of the available products on hand to meet the growing demand for whiter teeth.On Guinea Pig Day, it took the trainer about an hour to wrap me up. Layer upon layer of gauze was plastered on my face, around my mouth and over my nose. I had the strange feeling I looked like Hannibal Lecter with a muzzle on in “Silence of the Lambs.”In fact, Doc Nelson’s first reaction to seeing me all wrapped up was, “Hey, John, you look like Hannibal Lecter.” With my face protected, the trainer started applying the gel to my teeth, a hydrogen peroxide substance that when hit with ultraviolet light would whiten my teeth. The only thing that wouldn’t whiten were Dr. Kwok’s crown and Doc Ellis’ fillings.Seven of Dr. Nelson’s staff watched the whitening procedure, asking questions and taking notes.It was almost freakish how white my teeth were after the treatment. In fact, the next day I was visiting some friends and one of them said to me, “Hey, nice tan, where you been sailor?” It was spring and my skin was as white as a Norwegians, but my shiny ivories gave the impression that I had just gotten back from Cancun.For a couple of weeks after the treatment, I would sneak up behind my kids and prepare a fixed pose so that when they would turn and see me, they would yell and scream - Monster, Monster - and run away in feigned horror.My hygienist had warned me that the shine would naturally dull after a few days. Continued coffee and wine drinking have further softened the glow, but I think if the truth be told that all of my Docs, past and present, would be happy with the outcome. I’ve been told that beauty contestants, brides and grooms and old tars, a little long in the tooth, like me, are prime candidates for this procedure.For a few weeks afterward my wife said that I smiled more. And every time I walked past a mirror I asked myself, “Who is that guy?”

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