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I can smile thanks to Sylvia Meacham picking on me when we’re face-to-face
dental hygeniest

Sylvia Meacham picks on me.

It’s been going on for a number of years.

Our paths cross just twice a year.

But I’m not trying to avoid her even though most of the time when we come face-to-face she does most of the talking.

She does let me get in a word now and then.

Sylvia is not a bully. Far from it.

She is always considerate and cheerful.

And she always puts a smile on my face — literally and figuratively.

Sylvia is a dental hygienist.

She’s part of Sean Sangalang’s practice, a dentist I’ve been going to for 25 years and counting.

Dentists are one of the few vocations where practitioners are trained and dedicated to making it possible for you to put them out of business.

If that sounds daffy consider this: If you follow their advice, brush and floss regularly, and have twice a year dental cleanings they couldn’t even afford to practice at a Costco as their brethren that focus their attention on vision and whether you can hear a pin drop,

Save for less than stellar DNA and accidents, you can avoid most dental problems while the same can’t be said in general of vision and hearing issues.

I’m sure Sangalang would appreciate it if I flossed.

To be honest, I’ve tried but it is more than a bit awkward and difficult for me to do.    

 I’ve tried flossing perhaps four dozen times over the last 40 or so years. I never quite get it down right.

As for those disposable dental picks, I’ll use then occasionally. But rarely do I use them even once a month

What I do are two things.

I have my teeth cleaned twice a year and I brush.

I’m not one of those twice-a-day or after every meal brusher.

I’m much more anal.

I became so after I discovered that brushing your tongue with toothpaste is a much better way to control a bad taste in your mouth and bad breath for that matter.

So how times a day do I brush?

When the five packs of Crest toothpaste goes on sale at Costco I will buy four packages at a time. That is 20 tubes of toothpaste. For most people that’s as much as a two-year supply. For me it covers my needs for four months tops.

On most days I’ll brush six or so times

I get that it sounds anal and sounds excessive.

That said, my last cavity was when I was 16.

It is the natural progression of using fluoride once viewed by many as a communist plot.

Fluoride’s ability to strengthen tooth enamel came to light as far back as 1901. That’s when a dentist new to Colorado Springs came across endless people with brown stains on their teeth that was traced back to their water source.

Subsequent studies revealed they also had stronger teeth that were significantly less susceptible to decay.

Then in 1945 when fluoride was added in a measured degree to the drinking water of Grand Rapids in Michigan to avoid staining, a study following 30,000 children into adulthood over a 15-year period saw a 60 percent drop in tooth decay.

To be honest, it wasn’t a dentist that drummed into my head the importance of preventative dental care.

It was my mother.

And it wasn’t from a daily inquisition as to whether I brushed my teeth. It had everything to do with her attitude toward dental care and priorities.

Keep in mind my mother did not have the luxury of indoor plumbing until my grandmother sold her working cattle ranch when she was 16 and built a home in Lincoln using her own hands. (Meanwhile I’m challenged to build a wooden box.)

She drilled into me the importance of seeing a dentist and taking care of your teeth — essentially addressing basics — before splurging on luxuries.

Her underlying point — you only get one set of teeth after your baby teeth are history and used to shake down the tooth fairy for quarters.

But what really hit home was the day she agreed with the dentist that my wisdom teeth had to come out.

Understand she was a widow — that is such a hideous word if there ever was one — with four kids she was raising while working six to seven days a week.

She didn’t have the money to pay for an oral surgeon but she found one who would take payments over 24 months.

In the span of a week, I experienced two watershed events that had an impact on me to this day.

The first was realizing my mom viewed dental care so important she’d go into debt and if she had to make sure her kids were taken care of which meant she had to go without.

The second was three days after the oral surgery when my mom awakened me and announced it was Monday.

I had my wisdom teeth removed on a Friday afternoon. I remember the oral surgeon giving my mother a prescription telling her to give me two pills every four hours to ease the pain.

I had no recollection of the next 72 hours.  Mom faithfully made sure I was awakened every four hours to take the two pills.

She even scheduled work breaks so she could come home and wake me up — as out of it as I was — and give me the pills.

A week after the surgery, I was in the oral surgeon’s office with my mom when he asked how things went. Mom related what she had done.

I thought he was going to fall off his chair or at least have a coronary. My mom, who had twice the wit and four times the smarts than I ever hope to have, had followed the instruction to a “T”.

The surgeon after being told I had no recollection of taking the pills stressed over and over again how dangerous that was.

Since then I’ve eschewed anything stronger than aspirin and have to be absolutely miserable for three days before I will take anything as potent as a NyQuil.

Each time I had hernia surgery I refused to take any pain medication except what they required me to do in order to be released from the recovery room after surgery. Each time I went home with a prescription and each time I’d eventually dispose of almost a full bottle of Vicodin.

From where I stand the advice dentists — and oral surgeons — dispense is worth more than all the gold that has been used over the centuries to fill cavities.

Everything, that is, except for flossing.

On the flip side given my obsession with brushing my teeth, I haven’t had another cavity in 51 years and all of my teeth are still intact.



This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at