Hey, round of teeth cleaning for everybody!

April happens to be National Autism Awareness month and National Breast Cancer Awareness month, but did you know that it’s also National Mathematics Awareness month, National Poetry month and National Kite month?

On the farm, it’s ‘Get Your Butt to the Dentist’ month.

Admittedly, I’m a bit obsessed about dental care and have always been neurotic about flossing and brushing. In jr high, my friend Kris & I would kill time by holding teeth brushing contests. (Yes, I realize this is totally nerdy but we were bored. Thankfully MTV came along and saved my gums from permanent damage.)

Kris and I would also see who could chew their food the longest. This stemmed from a report that Nancy Reagan credited her petite frame to the fact that she chewed every bite of food at least 22 times. Have you ever tried to chew a potato chip 22 times? Let me tell you, it’s super nasty.

So now we’ve established that I’m a nutty tooth brusher. Thanks to that fact and a little bit of luck, I have no cavities and nearly perfect teeth. At least that’s what dentists have always told me. And I’m proud of that fact.

Some people are out there saving the world, discovering cures for disease, or collecting trophies on their mantels for athletic achievements. Me, I live for that twice-yearly affirmation that yes, I have top notch choppers. “As always, your teeth look great,” says the dentist, snapping off his gloves and rolling away on his little chair. Seriously, when you receive such accolades, where else is there to go after that?

Well of course, I can share my gift with others. And I’ve passed my wisdom onto Martin, who, in my opinion, is not particularly appreciative. And let me tell you, he was once a dentist derelict with a spotty visitation record. But I lectured him, goaded him, beat with my toothbrush and he’s come around. We reached an agreement — he’ll no longer threaten me with bodily harm as long as I shut up about the goddamn dentist.

So I’ve moved on to foster dental awareness in youngsters. My kid was an easy target and I wanted to explain things simply and concisely. You know, bring it down to a 3-year-old’s level. I think I drove the message home: “Boy, listen up. if you eat junk and don’t brush your teeth, little monsters called cavities will camp out in your mouth and gnaw away at your pearly whites until all that’s left are painful, rotten nubs. So brush or else.”

Yea, I scared him good.

“Does this have sugar in it?” the Boy quizzes us daily, eyeing whatever is speared on his fork.

“Nice work,” Martin glares at me. “Now the kid’s totally paranoid.”

I’m so proud.

This month, virtually everyone has taken a spin in the dentist’s chair. The Boy had his first visit and my magic worked — he sat stock-still. Martin and I were there for check ups, too, while the dog was just a couple miles away, getting her teeth cleaned as well. She’s the only one who walked away with before and after pictures.
The horses were the last on the list. Horse teeth are kind of funny. Young horses have fully-formed teeth tucked away in sockets in the jaw and face. Their teeth wear down and emerge at a rate of about a 1/4 inch a year. So young horses’ heads are full of teeth. In some, you can actually see the lumps in their jaws where their teeth are stored.

But the wear isn’t always even, and some teeth become too sharp or wavey, so a dentist comes once or twice a year to rasp — or “float” — sharp points and level things out.

The dentist arrives wielding a bucket and a bunch of metal files — sort of like emery boards on steroids.

And on each horse he straps on a torturous-looking midevil device called a speculum which simply holds the horse’s mouth open and guarantees that the dentist doens’t loose a digit while he’s working in there.

There’s not much for me to do other than shadow the guy and get a status report on who’s got steps, waves or ramps — fancy talk for the uneven wear patterns.

Chance thinking: “Whoa, enough already!”

Our dentist has a thick French accent, and sometimes I have a hard time understanding what he says. But I get the gist when he chides me for slacking on the horses’ teeth.

dentist: “how long it’s been since zees horses have had their zer teeth done?”

me: “um, I think it’s been…I don’t know… I have to check my records–“

dentist: “–too long I sink! Supposed to be 12 months! Zees have been longer than 12 months,” he says shaking his head.

Huck, my happy-go-lucky brown-noser thinking, “Hey this is great! When’s the fluoride treatment? I got dibs on mango flavor!”

I watch as the dentist plugs a file into a horse’s mouths and see-saws back and forth. Then he plunges his hand in between the top and bottom jaw, practically up to the elbow, to check his work. Then he rasps some more. It’s pretty innocuous but even I wince when he pulls a pair of plyers from his kit to yank a canine tooth. “Don’t worry, doesn’t hurt him,” he says. Snap! and tooth flies off and disappears into the stall bedding.

Really, the horses are a lot like people: some tolerate the dentist and others don’t. Beacon, the final patient, is the kid who flat out refuses to climb into the dentist’s chair. Kids, you can bribe with toys. With horses, that’s not an option. Beacon gets a bit of mother’s little helper. Ten minutes later behold, a willing patient.

this is your brain on drugs…

Bottom line, the next time you find yourself squirming in a dentist’s chair as a hygenist threatens with a metal scraper and a fist full of floss, be thankful that you’re not facing a Frenchman with a mammoth file and a pair of plyers!