I had dental work done recently. Not just a cleaning, but actual “work,” which is a euphemism for drilling! But I don’t want to bore you with the details of my last visit to the dentist. Instead, I want to celebrate dentists today. For I believe they are often the unsung heroes in the field of medicine.
I wanted to write about dentists because, in a way, I feel sorry for them. Nobody wants to go and see them. Whoever says, “Yippee! I get to go to the dentist today!” Many of us have to be dragged there. Or we come up with creative excuses for not making that dental appointment: “Nothing hurts. I’ll wait until something hurts.” Or “My dog’s birthday is coming up. I need time to plan the party.” Or, the old standby, “I’m too busy. I’ll wait until I’m not so busy.”
The only time we want to see a dentist is if we’re in serious pain. Then we can’t wait to get to the dentist, because we know dentists can provide almost instant relief. In fact, that’s one reason my dentist said he decided to go into dentistry and not into general medicine. “As a dentist I can help people much more quickly than if I were a doctor,” he said.
I admire dentists. They work in such a small space, the human mouth. And on such a small thing: a human tooth. They have to learn a wide variety of skills too. They have to know how to do examinations, diagnoses, drilling, filling, crowns, bridges, and extractions. While they’ve got you in their chair, dentists also check out your mouth, jaw, and neck for potential problems such as growths.
I met a nun once who was a dentist. She became a nun first and a dentist afterwards. She spent her life serving primarily the homeless in a large city. My dentist is also altruistic. He regularly volunteers his expertise in a so-called “developing country.” What a generous thing to do! This year he’s taking his oldest daughter with him. What a great idea!
I did a little reading on dentistry and was surprised to learn that dentistry is one of the oldest of the medical professions, dating back to 7,500 BC. The Egyptians (we think) were the first to make replacement teeth—forerunners of modern dentures and crowns. And there is evidence that teeth were being drilled as far back as 9,000 years ago! And the earliest known filling was found in Slovenia and dates back 6,500 years! It was made of beeswax.
Here are a few other facts about teeth and dentistry that I found interesting:
* Dentistry became a profession in the 19th Century. Prior to that, dental problems were treated by barbers and general physicians—and even blacksmiths.
* Tooth decay was low in pre-agricultural times. But starting 10,000 years ago, the growth in agriculture corresponded with the growth in tooth decay.
* Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the human body.
* If you don’t floss, you miss 40% of your tooth surface.
* If you drink three or more cans of soda a day, you will have 65% more tooth decay.
* The Blue Whale, the largest mammal on earth, eats only shrimp because it has no teeth.
* A snail’s mouth, which is no larger than the head of a pin, can have 20,000 teeth! (That is not a typo!)
* In 1950, the Tooth Fairy paid an average of 25 cents per tooth. In 1988, $1.00. The going rate now is $2.00.
* George Washington never had wooden teeth as many of us were taught. His dentures were made of gold, hippopotamus tusk, elephant ivory, and human teeth.
* And finally, the average American woman smiles 62 times a day; the average American man, 8 times. (What gives here? Any theories?)
Today let’s give thanks for our teeth and all they do for us. And let’s thank God for dentists, oral surgeons, dental hygienists, and all who work in our mouths to keep them healthy—and to keep us smiling!
I couldn’t find a religious song on dentistry (although I found some cute children’s songs about brushing your teeth! One was even by Bruno Mars when he appeared on “Sesame Street.”). So I chose a song on healing. This song is called “Healer” and it’s by Kari Jobe.
Would you care to share any thoughts on dentists or anything else in this reflection?