By Mordechai Schmutter

I got the feeling that I don’t take my kids to the dentist often enough when, at the end of their latest appointment, on their way out, they were handed toothbrushes, and one of them said, “That’s not a prize. I already have a toothbrush.”

So clearly we’re missing something.

So I said, “You think this prize is geared to people who don’t own toothbrushes?”

And he said, “No, I’m saying that I opened a new one last night so I could brush before coming here.”

Not much better.

Sure, you could say there’s no point in taking kids to the dentist, because their teeth are going to fall out soon anyway. But one could argue that if anyone doesn’t go to the dentist his teeth are going to fall out.

And you definitely want to go in with your kids, so you can stand there and say things like, “Well, if you brushed more often, we wouldn’t have to do this! Except the cleaning part.” You don’t want to drop them off in front and tell them to go in themselves, because that’s basically your approach to telling them to brush, and you know how often they do that.

Actually, I don’t. I know my kids brush sometimes, because there’s toothpaste all over the sink. But I’m pretty sure that, for the most part, the only time they brush their teeth is when they’re trying to push off going to bed.

“Go to bed!”

“I can’t; I have to brush my teeth.”

“So brush them!”

“Someone’s in there.”

I also have zero reason to believe that my kids floss, because I’ve had the same carton of floss in that bathroom for several years now, which my wife and I take turns moving for routine cleaning.

So in general, we basically spend all year either taking kids to the dentist or saying, “You know, we should really take the kids to the dentist.” It doesn’t help that it takes forever to get appointments. My kids are on a health insurance whose official company slogan is: “Maybe they’ll grow out of it.”

For example, on Pesach, my daughter was in a lot of pain, and I figured out she needed a root canal, based on my extensive experience of getting a root canal every year or so. So first we had to wait two hours to be seen by the dentist, all for him to look into her mouth and say, “Yup. She needs a root canal. We don’t do those here.”

They had to give us a referral — which took two weeks to get — to the one dentist in town who accepted our insurance and did root canals, and he apparently does them once a month, because the appointment for that was erev Shavuos. Then he did the actual root canal and said, “I’m done. Now you have to go somewhere and put on a crown.”

“You don’t do that here?”

Dentists are always treating crowns like they’re a separate procedure, like some people say, “Nah, I’ll just have metal posts in my mouth. It’ll make it easier to floss.”

So we had to go back to the first dentist, who took some X-rays and confirmed that, “Hey! She needs a crown!”

“I know! Right?”

“We need to get approval from the insurance!” Because the insurance that approved a root canal is not going to approve a crown.

So then they called back a couple of weeks later and said, “It’s approved! We could see her in like two months.”

In the meantime, I brought her back to this office for a cleaning, because you need a cleaning every six months whether or not you’re in the middle of another procedure. And the hygienist said, “What’s with the post? You should make an appointment for a crown!” And then I, who’d been sitting there for two hours by that point and had forgotten that I’d booked an appointment for that already, said, “OK!”

So now we have two appointments.

I actually brought everyone in for this cleaning, because my wife had the bright idea that I should take them all at once. Notice that it was her idea, and that I would take them all at once. This is how we split the household duties when we’re not taking turns moving the floss.

I shouldn’t complain. My wife takes them to all their other appointments. But this time, she wanted to drop us off because the only parking near this dentist is metered, and the most annoying time to use meters is when you’re going to be in a waiting room for an indeterminate length of time, and you just know that you’re going to have to run down in the middle to feed the meter and abandon your kids, and then you’re going to come back up and your kids are going to have been transferred to another room, and you’re going to run in to some other kid’s room in the middle of the drilling and yell, “I’m back!” and scare that kid away from ever going back to the dentist.

This is officially a kids’ dentist, and it’s one of those assembly-line offices, where you start in a waiting room, and then they take you into a smaller waiting room for your X-ray, and then a smaller room where all your kids sit and watch one kid get prodded.

But what I didn’t realize was that if you come in with a bunch of kids, it’s not really much faster. You’re just there all day. Well, not all day. They shut the entire office down for lunch about halfway through the day, like it’s a matzah bakery and they have to wash the equipment and clean the bits and pieces off the floor.

My wife was originally afraid of bringing all the kids at once, because she didn’t want them to watch what happens to each other and get nervous. Which is silly, because before we go into the room, we’re sitting in the X-ray waiting area, listening to screams from all of the exam rooms. And this is combined with the loud noise coming from the X-ray machine. The X-ray in this office is in an alcove off the hallway, but it makes a loud noise so you know not to pass when it’s on, and also because it’s using 1950s X-ray technology. When they shut down in the middle of the day, the hygienists use it to cook their lunches.

The good thing about taking them all at the same time, though, was that they got to be there for each other. For example, at some point the hygienist brushed their teeth with some kind of paste that she said tasted like strawberries, and my kids unanimously agreed that it did not. Do these people even know what strawberries taste like?

It tastes like you brushed your teeth and then ate strawberries.

But then at some point the dentist took all the kids who’d had their cleanings to another room for exams, leaving me with just my 7-year-old, who right then decided that, without the other kids’ moral support, he was scared of getting his teeth brushed.

There’s really no reason to be scared of a dentist. You have 24 teeth and don’t always do what you’re told, and he has to stick his hands in your mouth. He should be scared of you.

But my son ran out of the room and into the hallway, where I had to stand and negotiate with him in full view of all the nervous kids waiting for their X-rays. Finally, I just picked him up and carried him in, plopped him on the chair, and held his arms while a hygienist held his head so another hygienist could brush his teeth with bad strawberries. So what I’m saying is, we probably freaked kids out for later. That’s how it works: Every kid who screams scares another kid, who later screams and scares another kid, and by the end of the day, every kid is screaming. I think this is why they shut down the entire office halfway through the day.

I didn’t know he’d be afraid. He wasn’t afraid the last time. I hadn’t had to deal with a scared kid since my first, who, the first time I took her to a dentist, refused to open her mouth. Rather than fight her, the dentist was like, “Well, if she doesn’t want to open up, then fine.” Then he let her pick a prize. But that visit scarred me so much that I didn’t bring her back for a few years.

My daughter has since learned to open her mouth, and it’s a good thing she did, what with her whole root canal situation. But even so, she’s still complaining about it. She told me, “I don’t want to see what he’s doing. It makes me nervous.”

So I said, “Close your eyes. He doesn’t really need your help.”

And she said, “Yeah, but I also want to look, because I have FOMO.”

In case you’ve missed out, FOMO stands for “fear of missing out,” and it’s what keeps kids up for hours after their bedtime under the guise of brushing their teeth, and then saying things the next day like, “I’m not tired, you’re tired!” while rubbing their eyes.

Point is, I think it’s the other kids’ presence that makes the first kid calmer. So I’m totally bringing everyone along for the end of her root canal.

I hope the 7-year-old doesn’t run out.

Though if he does, I’m giving him change for the meter.

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.

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