Friday, October 1, 2010

What's Anchored to Bone

Do you despise visiting your dentist? Does the very thought of sitting in that sterile reclining chair make you break out into a sweat? Can you recount horror stories of needles, drills, blood, and twisted teeth?

Fortunately, I've never had many problems with my teeth, and therefore, visits to the dentist have been inconvenient and uncomfortable, but hardly petrifying. I do remember one time when my jaw got shot full of Novocaine for some minor procedure when I was a child in Upstate New York, but that's been about it. I can recall coming home and having to swab drool from my chin because I simply couldn't tell if my mouth was open or closed!

Back in Syracuse, my childhood dentist didn't think I needed braces, and neither did my dentist here in Arlington, Texas. Even when I repeatedly asked, as I saw all my classmates sporting aluminum train tracks in their mouths, the dentist would say that my teeth may be slightly out of alignment, but they were too straight for braces. In other words, my teeth didn't meet the dental insurance threshold for needing braces.

And that dentist from back in my youth here in Arlington? Dr. William VanEtten is still my dentist - at least, as of yesterday, he was. He's retiring soon, and I had one last visit before he reclines that dental chair for the final time.

Contractors working for the office building where Dr. VanEtten rents space were taking preliminary measurements yesterday in preparation for renovations. My dentist has become the longest-tenured tenant in that complex, and his office still sports the dark woods and bright oranges of the late 1970's. Indeed, walking into his reception room is like taking a step back in time. But then, Dr. VanEtten has never been beholden to style or aesthetics.

After hearing me complain about my crooked teeth one time too many, Dr. VanEtten calmly told me that my teeth represent a textbook example of good natural dental structure. No, they're not perfectly straight, but they don't look artificial, either. My teeth boast healthy roots, gums, and bone, and thanks to optimum dental genetics given to me by my parents, they should remain problem-free for my entire life. Straightening them will only be putting money in his wallet while only giving me the shallow pleasure of flashing unnaturally-straight pearly-whites.

"You mean you don't want a new in-ground pool" with the money you'd make on my braces, I remember asking one time. Dr. VanEtten just looked at me and said, "If I was in this strictly for the money, I could make a haul on the bad teeth that plenty of other patients have!"

Yesterday, he reminded me of how good my mouthful of teeth really are. He told me of the calcium deposits he's had to virtually chisel off of some teeth, about the holes he's filled that go down to raw bone, about the excruciating vice-like grips he's had to wrench onto wildly misaligned rows of teeth. Yeah, sure, my teeth could be straighter and whiter, but that's just cosmetic. Underneath their aesthetic imperfections, my teeth won't need anything more than regular maintenance the rest of my life.

Basically, Dr. VanEtten reminded me that looks aren't everything. It's what's anchored to the bone that counts.

Now, if I could use what he said about my teeth as a metaphor for other things in my life, how much more content and productive might I become?

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