No need to fear the dentist

The voices of President Franklin Roosevelt and my dad pushed me to follow through Monday.

Franklin Roosevelt
Franklin Roosevelt
Roosevelt, the 32nd and longest-serving president of the United States, is remembered for saying in his first inaugural address in 1933 — at the height of the Great Depression — “that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Tom Steinbach
Tom Steinbach
My dad, Tom Steinbach, was not a rich and powerful or overly educated man. But he possessed in spades what I’ve often referred to as farmer common sense. I’ve written before of how he used to tell my brothers and me to “lean into it” if we thought we were about to be kicked by a steer on the farm where I grew up because it would hurt less.

Thus, I found myself leaning Monday afternoon into a place that has always caused me some anxiety: A dentist’s chair.

First, here is some of the back story:

Perhaps like some of you, I went for much of my 20’s without seeing a dentist. It wasn’t until my early 30’s, when I was living in Lincoln, Nebraska, that I was forced to see a dentist. I had been knocked off my feet for more than a week by a sinus infection. Once I finally was back among the living, it felt as if a marble was stuck to the upper gum in my mouth. After wandering into the bathroom, looking into the mirror and rolling up my upper lip to take a peak, I quickly called the doctor’s office and was told my condition sounded like a dental problem. Go see your dentist, they said.

But I didn’t have one. So, I called my friend and reporting colleague, Joe Duggan, remembering his stories of fishing with his dentist. He gave me the dentist’s name and phone number, which I called. The dentist, Bruce Condello, said he could see me immediately. I said I could be there in 30 minutes.

A couple of hours later, I walked out of Condello’s office with emergency root canals having been performed on two of my front teeth. It was a pain-free experience and since then, for the most part, I’ve been a regular dental patient. After I moved from Lincoln, I used to see Alicia Bullard in Winona, Minnesota, then Joe Lyman or his son, Scott, who practiced together in Twin Falls, Idaho.

I liked all of them and never had a bad experience. But then I moved to Muscatine and again went for two or three years without seeing a dentist. By then, I had become bicycle-riding friends with Dan and Diane Olson. She is a dental hygienist and their son, Nathan, owns Olson Family Dentistry. She insisted that I come in, get my teeth cleaned and have Nate take a look. She would not take no for an answer.

teethNate has been my dentist ever since. And he performed some magic on my teeth two years ago for which I always will be grateful, giving me the smile I always had wanted. As you can see, I have no reason to fear seeing Nate. Still, I was dreading my regular cleaning and checkup Monday because I knew something was wrong with one of my teeth and I feared for the worst.

In the end, it wasn’t that bad. I have to go back in a couple of weeks to have a filling repaired. Without my realizing it, part of it has cracked and busted off, creating a way for food particles to pack into a crevice that I couldn’t keep clean with just flossing and brushing. Diane, however, cleaned it with vengeance and the annoyance that has been in my mouth for probably the past month is no longer annoying. In fact, it feels almost normal.

Leaning into it was definitely something this time that I shouldn’t have waited so long to do. Once again, Dad knew best. Maybe he really was smarter than I used to think he was.

The staff at Olson Family Dentistry, including Nate Olson and Diane Olson, in the front row at the right.
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