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Sacrificial Dentistry

by Chris Sorrenti

Long before nitrous oxide, ceramic fillings,
or floss founds its way into most bathrooms,
and insurance to cushion the sting of cleaning and cavities,
the ever-feared needle and drill...pull of a molar gone too far,
parents were on their own to cover family trips
to that silver-and-gold-plated chair.

In my own case, along with brother and sister,
in hindsight, we were lucky being only three,
unaware of the sacrifices Mom and Dad made for us
one tooth at a time,
for though annual checkups weren’t part of the plan,
whenever toothache beckoned,
no questions asked…we were rushed back to the chair.

From childhood into teenager, I wore out fluoride squeezed toothbrushes
faster than they could make them,
but with a weakness for sweets, especially processed cocoa,
to this day my mouth’s left and right have matching gaps as proof.

“Weak teeth” my mother called me,
our dentist at the time furious at how in one year I had let “things” go.
A malady it seemed inherited from my parents,
who as I can recall never made it to that evil but necessary chair.
Any money they had for such luxury going to us kids first,
though as old school parenting dictated,
neither let us see what pain they endured in wallet or mouth.

Mom was the worst of the two, who while only in her thirties,
lost all her teeth at the hospital.
A lesson not lost on me, watching her adjust to a mouth full of plastic.
I felt sad for her and me in how face and smile had permanently changed,
and how old she looked each night, upon removing them for cleaning,
realizing if I was to keep what was left in my own mouth,
a change in snacking habits would have to be made.

A few years later, upon joining the workforce,
thanks to a strong union and collective bargaining,
for a sacrifice in percentage of salary increase,
my employer brought in a plan, covering the holy trinity of dentistry;
check ups, cleaning, cavity repair at 80%...50% for major work.

Now, myself, wife and child make regular trips
to what has transformed into a ceramic plated chair.
Long gone the sugar-coated binges, aspartame preferred in my coffee,
and aside from an occasional craving for chocolate,
quantity-wise even that’s been toned down. Coupled with flossing,
I still wear our fluoride squeezed toothbrushes faster than they can make them,
but thanks to dental insurance, my teeth are examined and cleaned twice a year.

As for Dad, I later found out, money aside,
he didn’t like to sit in that silver-and-gold-platted chair.
The past having finally caught up with him a few years back,
when one day I visited my folks, only to find out that after years of neglect,
a front tooth had simply fallen out of his mouth.
Not long after, like Mom years before, he traded in what was left
for the plastic kind.

© 2006
Revised © 2018

580 hits as of July 2022


Posted on 12/27/2018
Copyright © 2023 Chris Sorrenti

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by Kristina Woodhill on 12/28/18 at 04:35 PM

Yes, those of us with harder teeth are lucky. Your poem takes me to my student teaching days with a high school boy whose teeth were almost all rotten and had to come out, due to poverty and other bad eating habits or genetic circumstances. It was an eye opener. This is a kind tribute to your folks. Thanks, Chris.

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