Berger’s Burg: Patients grin, bear financial pain of dental work

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I am at the age where eating Jujubes brings me three things from my childhood: memories, nostalgia and a $100 bill from my dentist.

Dentists and I do not get along very well. Even as a youngster I had problems with them. I told my first dentist, “Doc, this may hurt both of us. I only have $25.”

“Well then,” he said, “I’ll just have to treat you faster.”

Two months before my wedding, I went to another dentist who noticed that I had a chipped tooth in the front and said, “Good thing you came to me before your wedding. I will cap the chipped tooth and the three other front teeth to give you a million-dollar smile.”

“Can’t you just make it a $25 smirk?” I replied. But I knew he had me.

Gloria, my intended, said I shouldn’t do it. My mother and seven siblings said I shouldn’t do it. And, my cat meowed that I shouldn’t do it. They all said they liked me exactly the way I was, tooth-chip and all. But vain Alex wouldn’t listen. And that, dear readers, is one poor decision I regret to this very day.

The dentist employed a nifty frontal attack on my incisors. First, he shaved down the four anteriors, and two snapped off within six months. Next, he drilled the third tooth too deeply, which exposed the nerve, requiring extensive root canal work. And, finally, with the remnants of three shattered teeth requiring mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, I ended up with a “cracked” bank account.

But, in all fairness, I must give him credit. The fourth and remaining front tooth turned out “bee-yu-ti-fully.” When I paid him for all the necessary work, he wound up with the million-dollar smile. Gloria married me anyway, but not before I agreed to change dentists.

A few months later, I went to another dentist with Gloria. “Look, Doc,” I told him, “I want you to pull a bad tooth, but we are in a hurry, so forget the anesthesia.”

“You have guts,” he said to me admiringly. “Which tooth is it?”

“Go ahead and show him your bad tooth, Gloria.”

Shortly thereafter, I had to go to the dentist. I didn’t want to go. The suffering, the excruciating pain — and that was just from filling out the insurance forms. The dentist said that I have very bad teeth — even my wisdom teeth were dumb; however, since he liked me, he agreed to charge only $100 a cavity. I gave him $100 and he gave me a cavity. I quickly left him after he put another cavity in my bank account.

When we were returning home following a visit to my current tooth-smith, Dr. Phil U. Tooth, Gloria asked if my tooth still hurt. “I don’t know,” I grimaced, “the dentist kept it.” After these experiences, I promised myself never go to a dentist again. That vow was short-lived.

Dr. Phil kept sending me those dreaded reminder cards reminding me that it is time to remind me that I “should come in for a six-month checkup” reminder. It seems that he reminds me more often than Jennifer Lopez takes husbands. Gosh, don’t those six-month “between-visits” days fly by quickly? Only my birthdays and income tax days roll around faster.

On one “Extraction Day” (named for the days my wallet loses its bright smile), I drove to Dr. Phil’s office and double-parked. I needed something to keep my mind off the pain. I then tiptoed into the dental office, walked past the sign that read, “Get your 2003 plates here” and nervously sat down next to the magazine rack.

It certainly is a pleasure reading those vintage magazines. One had the review of the 1939 film, “Gone With the Wind,” and another, President Herbert Hoover’s 1928 inaugural address in its entirety. But I soon sweated thinking about the last time I sat in one of Dr. Phil’s chairs. He kept me seated until my last check cleared.

The receptionist then beckoned. She took my quivering hand and led me into the chamber of horror. Dr. Phil pranced in and began stuffing his ears with cotton. I asked if the sound of drilling annoyed him. “No,” he answered, “but the sound of screaming does.”

“Do you have any problems?” he asked.

“Yes! I answered. My stocks are down, my car won’t run, and Gloria is going shopping.”

“I mean dental problems.”

“Yes. What should I do about all the gold and silver you put in my mouth?”

“Don’t smile in bad neighborho­ods.”

“And, Doc, I think my teeth are turning yellow.”

“So, wear brown,” was his reply.

“Open wide!” Dr. Phil whispered. Whenever he says that, I am not sure that he means my mouth or my wallet. After the examination, Dr. Phil showed me the X-rays. I looked at the weird black and white figures and asked, “Where did you obtain these pictures of the moon?”

“They are your teeth, silly.”

“Well, then, can’t you touch them up a little?”

“Relax, you have nothing to worry about. I won’t have to extract a single tooth. But, of course, I may have to take out your gums.”

I immediately fainted. When I awoke, Dr. Phil said that he had bad news and good news to tell me. “What’s the bad news?”

“You need more root canal work.”

“And what’s the good news?”

“I birdied two holes yesterday!”

I no longer fear dentists. I have since learned to fill my mind at critical times with sundry thoughts, such as the story of my favorite, “A Frog Goes Into a Bank.”

“Ms. Whack,” a frog says to the teller, “I’d like to obtain a loan to pay for a set of false teeth.”

Patti, the teller, asks, “How much do you want to borrow?”

“$15,000,” the frog says. The teller asks his name.

“My name is Kermit Jagger. I’m the son of Mick Jagger.”

“Really?” she answers, with brows raised.

“Yes,” he says.

Then he digs into his pants pocket and produces a tiny pink porcelain elephant. “And I want to use this as collateral.”

“I don’t know,” Patti said, accepting the elephant. “I’ll have to ask the loan manager about this.”

“That’s fine,” the frog says. “He will vouch for me.”

Patti walks into the loan manager’s office and explains the situation. “There is a frog called Kermit Jagger, who claims to know you and wants to borrow $15,000 to pay a dental bill. And, he wants to use this (holding up the tiny pink elephant) as collateral. What is this thing?”

The loan manager smiles and answers, “It’s a knickknack, Patti Whack, give the frog a loan. His old man is a Rolling Stone.”

Readers, try recalling this story the next time you go to the dentist. It works for me every time. Trust me.

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at or call 229-0300, ext. 140.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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