At my rural West Virginia home, we consumed generic “Big K” soda by the two-liter. We guzzled so many two-liters one might think we had embraced the metric system, but really we were just avoiding the iron-tainted well water.
My tummy loved the sugar-laden soda, but my teeth rebelled. Around age eight I was taken for my first visit to the dentist who announced I had more cavities than teeth. Over many painful weeks I gained enough silver fillings to make a pirate jealous.
During college, I developed a “cheap is good, but free is better” mantra and took my dental maintenance to the university clinic. At least six student hygienists and dentists profited from my misery as they learned how to remove silver fillings and replace them with enamel-colored amalgam.
Ten years later, the dental world rioted about mercury levels in the amalgam, and so I submitted to a third, and hideously costly set of procedures. While painfully ensconced in my gum line, the dentist declared I also needed a root canal. He cashed my check and went on a two-week Caribbean cruise.
Later, he advised the removal of a tooth beyond repair, and crowns for two of my teeth. Only nitrous oxide preserved the love in this love-hate relationship.
A few years later our family moved to a different state. The new dentist ordered a fresh set of x-rays and announced that it was time to replace my crowns. We had to schedule the appointment for a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday because he left town every Thursday morning to spend four days at his beach house.
Another visit after cleaning and small-talk, the dentist recommended surgery under general anesthetic to remove my wisdom teeth. I joked that any naturally occurring wisdom had dissolved in those fizzy two-liters decades earlier. He just smiled as I wrote the check.
Two weeks later I got a postcard announcing his early retirement.