When I was a child, I seldom if ever went to the dentist.
I guess that in those days, if you had no pain, why bother the dentist. I was blessed with healthy teeth, so I didn’t develop good dental habits beyond regular brushing.
Before moving to Ukraine, I had visited the dentist only a few years before. He was so kind as to give me a root canal and crown for the cost equivalent to three mortgage payments. Prior to that, I hadn’t seen the dentist for twenty five years. My first year in Ukraine was filled with uncertainties about their health care system. Along with that, I had a tooth that needed some attention. I put off doing anything about it for the whole year.
Finally, I had my translator, Ira, set me up an appointment with the dentist at her church. They had a certified dentist who did her work as an evangelical outreach. Free dental care if you listen to the Gospel message and receive a Bible. She did some good work on my tooth, but because I had waited so long, a large filling was needed. It lasted only six months.
By that time, she was working in the village. Getting to the village was a challenge. Ira took me to the village via two separate public transports. Once we arrived, we had to find the building, somewhere within one hundred meters from our drop off point. Seeing the outhouse to the distant right of the entrance, the building showed no resemblance to a medical facility. I felt as if I was walking into yet another world. This was quite an eye opener, esthetically speaking. There were three offices, each a different form of medical practice. I saw the true, heartland people of Ukraine and their children being served. The poverty was heartbreaking, but I was in Ukraine to help people, so I did understand.
Another six months went by and I had to revisit the village dentist. This time I received two pieces of information. First, my dentist was expecting a child and would not be working for the next two years. Second, she said that I would need to see a dentist who had the equipment to do a root canal and crown. She suggested a good one.
A while later, we went to this new dentist. He was in a new facility with new equipment and new everything. I was impressed, but was waiting for the other shoe to drop. It turned out that everything was very good. He had to pull the tooth, but ordered a bridge that connected to two other teeth. One actually needed a root canal. It worked out very well.
That was four years ago. In that time, I had to go back for work on another tooth. He was busy, so I was asked if I would see another dentist in the same practice. This turned out to be a blessing. This woman is very pleasant and gentle. She enjoys a good sense of humor, and I have one. The challenge is having it translate into Russian so that it remains funny. Ira, now my assistant, has been working with me for six years. She catches the meaning of most of my humor and is able to translate it well.
Previous to my current visits, I had gone to this dentist for a root canal and filing. This required two or three visits. During that time I tried out my humor on her and she always responded with a big smile. I would start off the visit with a joke, wanting her to be in a good mood before she started working on me. This visit, number three of three for this filling, I didn’t have a joke for her.
Her task was to remove the temporary filling installed on Thursday, and replace it with a permanent one. In the process, after the filling was in place, she needed to smooth off and match the surface of this tooth with the bottom tooth. I knew what she was doing, but my humor surfaced. The material that she used, asking me to bite down on it to check the surface of the tooth, came on a roll, like tape. When she finished everything, I looked at her seriously and said, “I have been very impressed with the quality of your work. But when I saw you reaching for the scotch tape, I began to have second thoughts.”