Mae's Real Stories

Memories for Miriam, Alice, Theo, Delia, Tessa and anyone else who would like to be here

Saturday, September 09, 2006


Going to the Dentist

Alice and Miriam's dentist has two tools called Mr.Squirty and Mr.Thirsty. They were very good girls when the dentist cleaned their teeth and checked to see how they were doing.

Going to the dentist was an unusual experience when we were children. Our dentist was an old friend of my father's. He had an office in a strange old building somewhere in downtown, far from our house. We would always park the car on the street outside the building, and go up a strange elevator with a telescoping metal door. I think we usually went to see Dr. Subow outside of normal hours, when very few of the other dentists, lawyers, doctors, and insurance companies in the building were even open.

In dentists' offices now, several people work together. The hygienist cleans people's teeth. A receptionist makes appointments and keeps track of things. Several dentists and hygienists usually work in the same office, so it's very busy. Several different rooms with special dentist's chairs are all together in a modern dental office. Our dentist, Dr. Jack Subow, worked all alone in a small office with one little room with a dentist's chair inside of a small waiting room with piles of old magazines and leatherette chairs. Frosted glass doors separated the rooms.

The waiting room and the office had a very funny, medicinal smell. I think maybe it was the smell of ether or of something used to clean the tools. Next to the dentist's chair was a funny sink with a faucet down at the bottom that swirled water around the white porcelain into the drain. All around the walls were shelves with odd things in little brown cardboard boxes, and sometimes things that looked like teeth outside of a mouth.

Dr. Subow didn't do as much tooth-cleaning as hygienists now do. When he was getting ready to put a filling in a tooth, we smelled a different funny smell as he took out powders and substances from little containers . To make the filling he ground up some kind of paste with a little bit of mercury, which rolled around in a funny way on a flat thing he held in one hand. Now we know that it's very dangerous, but then we liked to roll a little bead of mercury in our fingers. When the filling stuff was ready, he would pack it into the tooth that needed it. Then he would say not to chew on that side of our mouth all day.

While Dr. Subow was looking at our teeth, he and my father had long conversations. Dr. Subow was two years older than my father. They had gone to school together a long time before. They had lived in a boarding house with many other students when Dr. Subow was studying in dental school and my father was working on his mathematics degree. They both had to work hard to earn their way through school. They had both come from Russia when they were boys, and felt really fortunate to be getting a good education at a university. Sometimes Dr. Subow would say something in Yiddish, their childhood language, though my father always spoke English. They talked about their old friends and about other things.

Dr. Subow sometimes told about how he was worried about food, so he washed his tomatoes in soap and water. He didn't want germs or insecticide on them. This seemed very strange. We wondered if the soap made the tomatoes taste funny. Our mother just rinsed fruits and vegetables in water and they seemed clean enough.

I hardly ever had any problems with my teeth. Elaine had more fillings put in, so maybe she remembers the dentist's office in a different way. I am glad that Evelyn had a good dentist named Dr. Colquitt and a good hygienist named Marian Johnson when she was growing up, and I am glad Miriam and Alice have a good dentist now.

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