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I got back from vacation to face reality. I had a dentist appointment.

When I was growing up, my family always went to Dr. Murphy, who had a dental office in his home only a few blocks from our house. Dr. Murphy was old school. I remember, when I was little, he didn’t use novocaine. Instead, he’d instruct me to rest my arms on the sides of his chair. Then he’d lean on my right arm as he started to drill and tell me, “Just raise your right arm if it starts to hurt.”

Of course, I’d start yelping and try my hardest to raise my arm; but I was a little kid, and he was a big guy, so my arm wasn’t going anywhere. It hurt like hell; but he finished the job as quickly as could be expected….more quickly than if I’d been able to wiggle and squiggle and protest. So I guess this was his way to minimize the pain, before Novocaine.

I chipped my front tooth when I was in high school. By this time Dr. Murphy did have Novocaine. He inserted a post into the tooth and filled out the chip with some kind of white compound. Now, 50 years later, that repair is still doing its job.

I tried a few dentists as an adult, until I landed on Dr. Saltzman. He had dark hair and a deeply lined face to go along with his gruff exterior. But he took good care of my teeth for 25 years, filling cavities, putting in a few crowns, and generally keeping my mouth healthy by doing as much dentistry as needed, but not any more than necessary.

About ten years ago, Dr. Saltzman retired. A young fellow took over his practice, but I was not happy with him. And I haven’t been happy ever since.

The replacement was a nice guy but the first job he did, a crown, never seemed right to me. So I switched to a group practice a few towns up the line. The office was reasonably priced and took my insurance. The problem was that you never got to see the same dentist twice. Every time I went in, there was a different person working on me. A lot of patients came and went; it was like an assembly line.

Eventually, though, I developed a relationship with one young dentist and managed to schedule my appointments with her. She was caring and seemed to do good work.

A couple of years ago I had to have a crown, and my usual dentist wasn’t around so another dentist did the job. It seemed okay, for a while, but eventually started causing some intermittent pain. Then I started to get food caught in another tooth, and when I brought it to my regular dentist’s attention she insisted that everything was okay. Then, last fall, she did a crown; and just last month a piece of the crown broke off.

So I decided to try out another dentist. I thought of my wife’s dentist but she’s not entirely happy with him and, besides, he’s getting older and will probably retire soon. So I found a local dentist on the internet, with some good reviews, and I had my first visit yesterday.

She said she could replace my broken crown. She also said the crown that was hurting me had not been fitted in quite right — there was a small gap that was probably causing the pain. And she pointed out that the place where food was getting stuck had part of an old filling broken off, and a cavity was beginning to develop underneath. The filling was too old and too big to replace. I needed a crown on that tooth, and also the tooth next door.

This new dentist seems very confident. I thought I was in good hands. But after I got home I began to wonder: How come my old dentist didn’t notice these problems? She never seemed incompetent, just a little rushed. So do I really have these problems, or is this new dentist looking to do extra work in my mouth? How can you tell?

I Googled both these dentists. My old dentist went to a top dental school. I couldn’t find any review of her, but the reviews of her office were mixed. Some patients were satisfied, others cited outdated equipment and long waiting times. The new dentist also went to a good dental school. She seems to know what she’s doing. She certainly has a more modern X-ray machine; perhaps she’s even a little full of herself. But do I trust her?

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About The Author:

Tom Lashnits

Tom Lashnits

Tom Lashnits spent 40 years in New York book and magazine publishing before retiring to Bucks County, PA, in 2017. He now volunteers in the school system, produces the baby boomer blog Sightings Over Sixty . . . and is just starting to chase after grandchildren.

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