Be Sure to Brush Your Gums

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

When we moved South in 1971 and started the search for the essentials: doctor, church, library, and dentist, we did not imagine that we’d have to go so far afield to find these professions represented.

Dave was busy at the new plant in Fairburn and I was scouting for a good place for us to live. Friends in New Jersey warned us not to expect too much. The area where we were headed was best described as rural, after all, while Haddon Heights was very old and established.

The location of the Fairburn plant – Owens Corning Fiberglas – made it natural to look at the Southside, and we chose Peachtree City for its openness. We bought a lot near the brand new Presbyterian Church, so close we could walk to services and activities.

There was also a new library in Fairburn, much appreciated by the girls, and we took up with a doctor and a dentist near Palmetto, thanks to references from local co-workers.

My first visit to the dentist included one of those jaw-dropping moments we get when things are truly a surprise. The dentist asked: “How often do you floss your teeth?”

“Floss my teeth?” I was in my 30s and had never know anyone who flossed his/her teeth. I thought that was one of those elitist things medical and dental fanatics do. The Georgia dentist, a patient man, explained in graphic terms what could happen if I didn’t start flossing right away, and continue to do so at least daily for the rest of my life. It was not a pretty picture.

Our daughter Mary reports that one’s dental care in Germany is somewhat different from ours here. Dental hygienists, who have their own offices, clean teeth, make note of suspected cavities or infected gums, and educate. They can take care of some problems, but extractions, periodontal treatment, and bridges are the realm of the dentist.

I’m not sure who does cosmetic dentistry in that division of labor, but it is apparently not commonplace in Germany. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel was running for office, her teeth left a lot to be improved. She’s a nice-looking woman, albeit slightly dowdy. Someone gave her some good advice and her newly touched-up teeth are ready for close-ups.

Here in the States dental health improves due to better personal care, and cosmetic dentistry now pays the dentist’s rent. I’m not shilling for anyone in particular. I do, however, urge celebrities, candidates for public office – anyone whose grin fills the TV screen – to invest in a little bonding and bleaching.

You never forget culture shock when it comes at you out of the blue. We were on a cruise ship on the Danube River, and a middle age woman traveling alone took us on in her quest to learn English. She speaks Hungarian and tried to help us in return, but without much success.

We found out that she is a dentist, from Kiel, so at least we had a little bit of commonality. We all brush our teeth.

“What most people don’t realize is how important it is to brush the soft tissues in the mouth,” Gertrud expounded. “The tongue, for example, is just covered with bacteria and should be brushed vigorously once or twice a day.”

That called to memory an adventure on our very first visit to Germany. Somehow we ran out of dental floss, so we walked into what appeared to be a drug store and began to ask questions and gyrate arms. This was about 1985 and it was clear they hadn’t a clue what we meant by demonstrating a sawing motion across our teeth.

Eventually someone came out from the back of the shop and, having just a bit more English than the flustered clerk, managed to refer us to a dental supply store, and suggested we ask for “Zahnseide,” I think, or tooth-silk.

Europeans simply don’t obsess over their teeth and find our diligence puzzling. I still recall a morning when we were getting ready to catch a bus in Edinborough.

“I’m coming,” I called down to Dave. “Just gotta brush my teeth.”

“Americans,” our snaggle-toothed Scottish landlady marveled. “Always worrying about their teeth.” I thought, “Lady, if you had brushed half as often as I did, growing up, you’d have a few more left in your mouth.”

Or as Gertrud reminded us when we parted ways at the foot of the gangplank, “Don’t forget to brush your tongue.”

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