Over the years I have had many close but not intimate encounters with those who make a living by looking down in the mouths. And very few of these encounters have been pleasant.

My very first occurred when, at eleven years of age, I made the horrendous but fortunate mistake of chipping off half of one of my incisors by trying to belly-flop my sled down a patch of roadside ice backwards. No one told me that that would cause the runners to dig into the snow and me to slide off face first into the ice.

I told kindly old Dr. Lucas, “Doc, it hurts when you do that.” He said, “I don’t do that!”

Well, the advice came too late, so he did a masterly job of fitting me out in a beautiful gold-trimmed bridge that would last for the next forty years. But the $50 bill really took a bite out of my family’s budget. These days’ cool cats are purposely filling their beautiful white teeth with ugly gold grills. I thought my bridge was ugly, but the hip-hoppers think gold is cool.

But the bridge was only the beginning of my dental woes; you see, the examination of my other teeth revealed 10 other cavities much in need of attention, and even more dire was the news that Dr. Lucas only used Novocain for pulling teeth, not for fillings. Let me just say that the jolt of pain I endured in his filling my most serious cavity still remains the single greatest pain I have ever felt.

When I saw the movie “The Boys from Brazil” and watched Laurence Olivier playing a Nazi dentist using his drill and probe explorer to torture Gregory Peck, I knew exactly what Peck was going through.

That and other grinding encounters instilled in me a natural dread of dentists, the result of which only became manifest when, as a teacher at NDSSS (now NDSCS), I decided to get my teeth cleaned at the dental hygiene department. I had several of the lovely hygienists in my English class — Jeanie Freden, Polly Pfister, Judy Peterson, Rene Rubertus, Darby Casper and Audrey Boehler come to mind, (albeit they were from different year classes) but it was Audrey who drew the challenging task of scraping a set of teeth with enough calculus to stagger Albert Einstein: “And looking up like a fish before his scaler/I caught the friendly gaze of Audrey Boehler.”

I borrowed those lines from a poem I wrote describing the ordeal of my first cleaning, and thanks to the tactful and gentle technique of Miss Boehler, and the ability of onlookers like Dr. Casad and Helen Moore to avoid gasping at the sight of all that blood, the memory of that long afternoon still remains a pleasant one, even though they didn’t use Novocain either, just humor and good conversation.

Incidentally, Jean Freden and Judy Peterson only recently retired from fine careers teaching dentistry at NDSCS. And Polly Pfister’s sister, Dr. Joan Pope, has been my dentist right up until last year when she retired from Three Rivers Dentistry. The Pfister family has had four generations of dentists here in Wahpeton. Moreover, my niece, Brittany Sommerville, also now teaches dentistry at NDSCS. They all have beautiful smiles — not a grill to be seen anywhere among them — Thank God!

There was one other good thing to say about kindly old Dr. Lucas: his charges would be seen as ludicrous by today’s standards. Any cavity, no matter how big, was $4 and if you needed one pulled — that was $3. Almost worth the pain. I won’t go into the astronomical fees being asked these days. They would make your jaws drop. And if there were a dentist standing by, he might just say, “50 please.”

But I exaggerate. And before I end this piece I want to acknowledge the tremendously fine work of my life-long dentist Dr. Gerald Brudvick. I felt a real sense of loss when he retired — all his work seemed to me meticulously perfect. Root canals, crowns, everything and even extractions were done with painless perfection. I hope he has a great retirement and he probably knows better than anyone, “you shall know the tooth and that tooth will make you free” and possibly even rich.

And there were others working in Dr. Brudvick’s office that contributed to that neat positive recollection: Barb Nelson was his hygienist and Pam Sethre his assistant, and there was a neat receptionist named Sue with whom I always exchanged cheerful banter on almost every visit. (Sorry Sue, forgot your last name — but not you.)

Let me finally complement the good work of hygienist Wendy Wermerskirchen and Dr. Joan Pope at Three Rivers, not just for their fine work in dentistry, but for their heartfelt stands against the hideous practice of unnecessary abortions rampant worldwide. I truly believe that America, founded on LIFE, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, could lose the blessing God bestowed upon it if abortion is allowed to become routine.

One cannot read Psalm 139 and come away blasé about the sacred God-given miracle of life.

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