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Take This Until It Hurts


Fri, May 18th, 2001
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Monday, May 21, 2001

I donít know why I do this to myself. My birthday is in the spring and so is my semi-annual run-in with my dentist. I could simply make the dental appointment later in the year. That way I would be spared the double-whammy of getting older and having others verify it by identifying body parts that are disintegrating and on the verge of failure.

If I made it sound like my visits to the dentistís office are a bit contentious it is only because of my childhood experience. I grew up on a farm without benefit of fluoride and with a somewhat fatalistic attitude towards keeping all my teeth all my life. I suppose that my dentist through my early years was the best available and I must give him the benefit of the doubt. I only saw him in the summer when it was time to have my teeth evaluated. My first visit to him each summer was to get an estimate of how bad the damage was. The next visit or two was to plug the holes that had accumulated over the past year. I recall that he actually said to me once, "This hurts me more than it does you." I think if that were actually true he would have found it pretty hard to go to work in the morning.

Modern dentistry and modern dentists make all that just a bad memory. Still, they canít take all the pain away. This yearís visit was particularly ominous as I have a tooth that has been bothering me. My friendly and capable dentist suggested what I thought to be a fairly levelheaded and practical approach to treatment. He had me take penicillin pills for ten days. If that made the tooth feel better, then it was almost certainly a problem tooth deserving of more serious treatment. If it did not make my tooth feel better, then either nothing was wrong or we were studying the wrong tooth for the wrong problem. In essence, his advice was to take this medicine until you feel better and then call me when you feel worse again. Okay, thatís just a little confusing, but it made sense to me.

This run-in with my dentist made me remember the advice I received once from a veterinarian. This was when I was still milking cows. I owned a cow named Buffy. Buffy was a big black Holstein who was remarkable because her hair was so smooth and shiny. Buffy was a bit overweight and she didnít give a lot of milk, but she was a good-natured animal and was almost like a pet. Buffy seemed to like having her head scratched and approached people to get attention. Her only personality trait that was at all bothersome was her tendency to matter-of-factly remove the milker from her udder when she thought she was done with it. She wasnít mean about it and she didnít do it all the time, but once in a while she just reached up with her left rear hoof and knocked the milker into the gutter. At times like that, I thought that Buffy was just a naughty cow. I may have thought a few other things, too.

Unfortunately, Buffy ran into trouble when it came time for her to give birth to her second calf. I called the veterinarianís office for help. The vet assigned to Buffy had not been practicing very long. He managed to bring Buffyís calf into the world without too much effort. Then, after a lengthy examination, he brought a big bottle of penicillin out of his bag and filled a large syringe. He inserted the needle into Buffyís thigh and, as he pressed the plunger he told me, "Just give her a shot of this every day until she dies." As it turns out, that is just what I did. Iím sure the vet didnít feel any better about this treatment or the outcome than I did.

Well, I havenít interpreted my dentistís diagnosis or suggested treatment quite as literally as the vetís advice to me about Buffy. I am hoping that we still have a few more options to consider when it comes to my dental health.

By Wayne Pike

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