As a kid, I was terrified of the dentist. I would go to any length to cancel or not show for an appointment. At 12 years old, I used to think my parents wouldn’t find out, but then the office would call and ask where I was. Another appointment would be scheduled and the cycle of dental fear would churn again.
My family dentist used to tell me if anything hurt while he was drilling and filling, I should hold up my hand and he would stop immediately. But he never did. I’d be four feet out of the chair wiggling and waving my hands like an acrobat, but Dr. Braunstein would keep on drilling.
As I settled into my current dentist’s chair last week, I thought about how far we’ve come since those huge X-ray machines, gold inlays, and mercury fillings that were the norm. Today, dentistry is far less painful and much more advanced with digital dental X-rays that can be read on the spot; modern sedation techniques; and natural, mercury-free, colored fillings better suited to match the color of our teeth. Then there’s the nitrous oxide, known to some as laughing gas, that they can give you to minimize anxiety so you don’t feel the pain of the Novocaine.
There are days when I actually look forward to going to the dentist. But it helps to like your dentist — which I do. Like a hairdresser, masseuse or manicurist, people tend to talk, even confide in those who stay close and keep touching you. I always tell my manicurist that she should hang out a therapist sign as she probably knows more about what’s happening in her customers’ lives than most.
OK, back to my dentist.
Recently, I’ve had to see her more frequently for some unexpected dental work. So I came to learn that her mom was ill. It’s been a troubling time for her and I could relate as our mothers are around the same age. Like a TV show you look forward to week after week to see what will happen next, I looked forward to her mom’s continued progress. So as she stuck her finger in my mouth a few weeks ago I asked, “How’s your mom?” She was quiet for a moment then softly said, “She died.”
I was stunned, upset and sad for her. As we talked, she said her mom knew she loved her because she always told her. She went on to say that her mother constantly told her she was the best daughter she could ask for and she always told her mother she was the best mom anyone could ask for. So while I’m sad she explained, she said she was also incredibly lucky because nobody can ask for more than that.
If you read my column, then you know I’m lucky, too. You may recall that about a year ago, my mother had open-heart surgery. There were some touch and go moments, but she pulled through. Like my dentist’s mother, my mom frequently tells me how much she loves me and I have told her over and over again how fortunate and proud I am to have her as a mother.
No matter who you value in your life, now is as good a time as any to tell them. Perhaps it’s the employee who needs to hear how much you appreciate their efforts. Maybe it’s a customer who should be reminded how much you value their business. Or a partner who brings so much to the table but isn’t always complimented. It doesn’t have to be a love fest. It just has to be heartfelt.
As simple or trite as this may sound, we all know that we never know what the coming year may hold. In those few moments my dentist and I shared talking, she told me she has no regrets. Do you?
It’s never too late to fix them while you still can.