CHILDERSBURG -- My parents have always been good to me and my sister. We were not rich growing up, but we had everything we needed. Environmentally and socially they gave us a loving home and space to grow.
They took us to church and taught us to be kind to other people. They also taught us a strong work ethic and to finish anything that we started. Genetically, they gave me a degree of athletic ability where I could compete in high school sports. They also gave me enough intelligence to make a 20 on the ACT test in 1982. That was enough to get me enrolled at Auburn University and get a college education.
I must say they failed me in one area. They passed on bad teeth to this, now 53-year-old man. I have never blamed my parents for this, but it has caused me stress for many years.
Surprisingly, I don’t remember my first trip to the dentist. I can usually remember things from many years ago without missing a beat. My dental memories really began at age 7. It was at this age I was told I had five cavities. It required several trips to the dentist to get these cavities filled. On the first trip when I saw all the tools and needles, I knew I was in for some pain. My dentist at that time, who shall remain nameless, did not have a great bedside manner. As a matter of fact he was quite intimidating.
The big needle to offset the pain of drilling scared me beyond belief. I would walk out of the dental office feeling like my jaw and lips were dragging the floor. I could not talk plain for an hour or two after the trip. My dad would always take me for a milkshake after the visit. The milkshake would run down the side of my face.
This would begin a pattern. Each trip for a checkup would always result in a couple of cavities. My record was seven cavities at one time. This happened around age 12. The effects of these dental issues have had lasting emotional impacts on this old teacher and coach. For example, I have an electric pencil sharpener in my classroom. I really don’t like my students to use it because the sound of the pencil sharpener reminds of the drilling sound at the dentist office when getting a cavity filled. My head will sometimes break out in a cold sweat if the sound lasts too long.
The other lasting impact has my wife confused. I have started doing some very basic carpentry work, and each board I cut with either a hand saw or a chain saw. My wife has told me she wants to get me a skill saw. I always tell her no because I think they are too dangerous, but yet I make many cuts with a chainsaw. I feel sure the skill saw would be safer than the chainsaw. The real reason I don’t want a skill saw is that it sounds just the same as the dentist drilling to repair cavities. I can’t enjoy outdoor woodwork if I am having flashbacks to sitting in a dental chair gripping the sides of the chair so hard my handprints are almost permanently embedded in the chair handles. Yes, my time in the dental chair has had long term effects on this old guy.
My wife has amazing teeth and I think she has had two cavities in her entire life. She cannot relate to what I have been through over the years.
This story ends with a positive twist. Many years ago I was united with a great dentist named Dr. John O’Brien of Sylacauga. I call him the “pain free” dentist. We are virtually the same age and we have many common interests. He has a great bedside manner and getting a cavity filled now presents me with no stress. I have even had a few checkups where I have had NO cavities. They take my picture and put it on the wall with all the little children who also have no cavities. It always makes me proud.
By the way, my two children got my wife’s teeth and cavities are rare for them.
I hope everybody has a great week and don’t forget to floss and brush those teeth.
Alvin Barnett is a history teacher at Childersburg High School.