This story began in 1962 when I was 11. I woke up one morning with a fat lip and aching face. Since I wasn’t really ‘sick’ (fever/vomiting/sore throat) Mom made me comfortable for the day with instructions to walk to Doc Hegg’s office at 9 to find out what was going on. Then she headed for work.
|Soon I would have my first false tooth…|
Doc Hegg’s office was just a couple blocks away, but the walk seemed longer than when I turned left at Main Street to buy some candy or a Bismarck at the Bakery. Doc’s office was north on Main, close to churches and residential neighborhoods, almost out of the business district. I opened his office door to the 3 sided/u-shaped booth seating waiting room and found a spot. There were several folks in front of me which always made it worse. Waiting. Pretty much with the realization that a penicillin shot was the first order of business after Doc opened the door and said, “next.” If everyone looked at me, then they had come in after me. My turn. Gulp. Although I loved Doc Hegg, he was kind of gruff, plus I didn’t like shots. But I hated being sick worse.
|Doc Hegg’s office. Home of the penicillin shot…|
Doc (smoking. Yes, really) looked and felt around my mouth, (wearing no gloves), mumbled something incoherent, got out the dreaded syringe. Gave me the penicillin shot (I figured) and told me to go Doc Schroeder’s office (a couple doors south) right now. Doc Schroeder was Rock Valley’s dentist. I went to him at least once a year when our entire elementary marched 4 blocks from school to have him check everyone’s teeth. But I didn’t know him like I knew Doc Hegg because my tonsils kept me well acquainted with Hegg until they were taken out around the same time as this fat lip.
|Doc Hegg around 1965…|
Folks going to Doc Schroeder usually had an appointment whereas Doc Hegg was more like today’s urgent care office. Doc Schroeder heard me creak up his waiting room steps. After a couple minutes, his inner door opened and he stuck his head out, raising his eyebrows in question. “Doc Hegg told me to come over after he gave me a shot. My mouth hurts and is swollen, but it’s not my tonsils this time,” I stammered. “It’s going to be a little while,” he said as he closed the door. More waiting.
When Doc Schroeder finally had time to squeeze me in, he inspected my teeth and mouth thoroughly, wearing no gloves. He had the neatest dental cabinet he kept rifling through. Rows of tiny drawers, some only a couple inches in height. One of them obviously holding just the right tool needed to fix me up and send me on my way. I wanted to go home, lay down and watch soap operas. But Doc looked concerned and said finally, “Denise, I need to speak with your mother. Please tell her call me as soon as she can.”
|Doc Schroeder, the good dentist…|
After Doc talked to Mom, she told me I had an abscess on my tooth. I would have to have my tooth pulled and a false one put in its place. Gross. And it was gonna cost a lot of money and take time. First he drilled a hole in the back of my bothersome tooth to relieve the pressure. Didn’t hurt but tasted terrible. There was no lab to send out my impression, Doc did all the work himself. Bridged the false tooth to the tooth next to it. All surrounded by solid 10 carat gold. Wow. (Mom would make payments for several months to pay for all this gold in my mouth. And I’m not sure why a root canal was never discussed as far as I knew. Either Doc didn’t do them or Mom vetoed going to a specialist. Root canals were discovered/invented already by the early 60’s right?) Doc was honest with Mom, telling her this was just the beginning issues in my mouth. My teeth were not good and I would most likely have dentures at a very young age. From that moment I made a vow to myself that I would do whatever possible to keep my hopeless, soft, abscess prone teeth as long as I could. Half a century later, I’m still trying to make good on that promise.
For many years there just wasn’t enough money to spend on my teeth. Thus by the time I made an appointment because the pain was unbearable, it was too late to save that particular tooth. But eventually there were some root canals, and a couple of bridges. Enough to keep me chewing steak. But the problems continued. About 10 years ago I was eating a piece of pie (sounds innocent enough, right?) at my dear friend Pat’s house when one of my fragile teeth collided with a stray cherry pit, up close and personal. Immediately I felt a couple of strange somethings floating around my mouth. The pit and a tooth. Well shit. My heart sunk. By now I knew this was gonna cost me a couple grand. Sure enough, a root canal and a crown, $ 2200.
|My dear, late friend Pat (pie baker) with her daughter Lisa…|
Since Doc Schroeder, I’ve had my share of dentists as we moved around. Some were excellent, some hopeless. One guy from Spencer hummed as he worked (he thought he was cool too). I can remember him working on a troublesome root canal and humming Blue Bayou with Linda Ronstadt. (Why in heaven’s name do I remember that?) One of my favorite dentists, Doug Castleberry from Davenport was killed by his bat shit crazy wife about 5 years after our family of 5 became his patients. I wrote a blog about it called “Murder she Wrote” in October of 2015. We lived in North Muskegon for 22 years. I had 3 different dentists, and a couple of specialists. One of the 3 had his license taken away after we stopped going to him I think. Doing unnecessary work, maybe insurance fraud. Ugh, a neighbor had recommended him. The reason my front tooth has bugged me ever since. The filling he put in was about as far from a close match as ebony & ivory. The other 2 dentists were good but expensive.
Right before we moved to Jackson, the cherry pit root canal tooth broke off at my gum line, so it lasted about 8 years for my 2,200 bucks. I found a dentist in Jackson who wanted $4,600. to pull the remainder of the tooth and insert an implant. Over the years that would be 6 grand for one tooth. I just couldn’t. My sister-in-law Mary Jane came to my rescue and suggested I use her dentist. She winters in Yuma, Arizona and uses a dentist in Los Algodones, Mexico which is about 20 minutes from Yuma.
This is hard to describe. The parking lot before you cross over into Mexico is in California. As soon you head down the cement ramp (a block before the border) there’s almost a carnival type atmosphere. There are vendors everywhere hawking their wares. I’m not talking sombreros, t-shirts or trinkets. The majority are representing either prescription eyeglasses, pharmaceutical medications or DENTISTS. “Need a crown, root canal, implant? We’re 20 dollars cheaper.” Most of them are wearing casual, hospital type uniforms and handing out business cards. It’s just odd. Not marketing or advertising like we’re used to. They’re all very polite, but you just have to keep walking and saying, “no thank you.”
Mary Jane’s dentist is about 3 blocks further in town. To get there you must traverse the gauntlet through a plethora of vendors. No easy task, (think American Ninja Warriors tv program). Not quite in the middle of the street, but close to it. They’re everywhere. Jewelry, carved wooden animals, clothing, throws, watches, purses, leather goods, luggage, glassware, you name it. Someone’s trying to make a living by convincing me to buy something. And Les knows most of them by name and they all recognize him. He makes the best deals. But not this time. He and Jane know once I get in the office (without an appointment BTW) it’s gonna be awhile, so no shopping yet.
|Dr. Ramos dental office. Marco works upstairs by the sign…|
My dentist’s name is Marco. He’s in his early 40’s I think, speaks pretty good English, is very patient when trying to explain how he thinks we should proceed. I tell him about my hearing loss and that I had my broken tooth pulled a month earlier. He suggests a bridge and some crowns on my bottom teeth. I ask how much? Six crowns, 1 bridge, umm $1610. Yup, let’s do it. I end up in the chair over 3 hours. Temporaries are in place, permanent stuff will be back from the lab in a week. Numb, Hubs leads me outside where we all head to have some nachos and a margarita (which dribbles down my numb chin). No shopping for me, they’re all tired of waiting for me to get done. Thus, I hardly ever get to shop, cause they’re all shopped out while I’m being drilled to death.
When the permanent teeth are cemented in, Doc Marco takes some pictures. I assume it’s because he’s proud of his work and wants to use the pics as one of his success stories. But Marco starts clucking his tongue as he clicks. He doesn’t want to use these photos to toot his own horn. He shows me the pictures. Yikes! Yup, he just might be hawking his wares here too. He has the neatest way of saying, “Misss-sezz,” when he’s trying to make a point. (The “sezzz” is about an octave lower, almost condescending, but endearing). “Your bottom looks great, (he’s taking teeth here) but you have some decay under the bridges on top. See? You should come back next year. Think about it Misss-sezzz. Little bit more expensive.” Oh criminy.
|Marco on the right…|
From that day forward, I knew I’d be back to have my top redone (I’m talking teeth here). One little nagging problem. The new bridge he already put in. Probably should have had my tooth removed 2 months before I traveled to Yuma. My gum has receded some more where the tooth was, leaving a gap under the false tooth. My fault, and it bugs me.
This year I knew the work would be even more extensive and expensive so I called ahead and made an appointment. Marco smiled when he saw I came back, put his gloved hand on my forearm and said, “Misss-sezzz.” Took some x-rays, came back with his proposal (again-top teeth). Clean out the decay and replace 2 antiquated bridges, crowns on my two fronts (from the color ebony & ivory). He was ready to start drilling his way through the bridges when he noticed the gap on last years bottom bridge. “Umm, I don’t like-a-this. It’s not-a-your fault, it’s not-a-my fault. Does it bother you,” he asked? “It drives me insane! I can get half a steak caught under there,” I said. “Then I replace, no charge, ok,” he answered, matter of fact.
|I spent a lot of time in this chair…|
The work did not go as smoothly as last year. Old bridge work makes things difficult it seems. Instead of 2 trips to Mexico it took 4 before the permanents were acceptable for Marco and me. He said the biggest problem/challenge was the spot from my first false tooth all those years ago. When it was all said and done, Marco pointed out his little personal touches. “What you think of the color? See how well it matches your bottom teeth. You said you didn’t want everything perfect because your teeth weren’t real straight and you had a small gap between your front teeth. There’s a very slight twist on the edge of that tooth. So what you think Misss-sezzz?”…
|The office girls. Show me the money…|