The American Way of Dentistry

This post is dedicated to the Editorial Staff of the Trib that unloaded this bit of persuasive ignorance today.

I’m going to write a book and I’ll be darned if I know just what I’ll put in it. There’s so much to choose from. I’m going to try to keep it down to the length of a good summer read – oh – say about the size of this post. To tell the whole truth it should be written as fiction. English majors will understand what I mean by this. Unfortunately, I’ll probably write it as straight history despite the disconcerting problem of only being on the inside of one side of the controversy – my side. In future years folks on the other side may open up about their tribulations but if and when they do, I doubt that they’ll be talking to me. I don’t blame them. After all, I’m the man who has declared war on Duluth’s children, who neglected our schools while I served on the School Board and who libels the most virtuous people in Duluth.

The story is all about a mundane controversy in a small town but at its root its a story about audacity. A couple days ago I was at the food court in the local Mall blindly stabbing away at a some processed food (my glasses were being repaired at Lenscrafters) when a long absent LDV partisan sat down beside me to strike up a conversation.

She mentioned that the Red Plan fight reminded her of the musical The Music Man. My goodness! That’s a metaphor I’d been thinking of myself since last Spring. (I know. I know. As the previous post makes clear I like movie metaphors way too much.)

In the Duluth version a charming con artist comes in to sell the City new schools just as Robert Preston waltzed into a little Iowa burg to sell uniforms and instruments for a marching band. The children in the newly formed band will learn how to play music using the salesman’s ingenious “think system” which will require no study or practice.

The metaphor only goes so far and at some later date I’ll write a post explaining where the analogy breaks down.

My book will chronicle Dr. Dixon’s audacious “think system” for which teachers are at best secondary to the new schools he sells the School Board. In a desperate attempt to market this boring old history I’ll use a book cover that tries to match the Red Plan’s audacity – hence yet another movie metaphor. I purloined the promotional poster for “Amazing Colossal Man.”

But what does the Red Plan have to do with dentistry? Patience dear readers.

As the previous post explains I’m a lousy General. A better General would have immediately swung into action upon waking up this morning at 4AM. He wouldn’t have gone to Perkins to fuss around with a laptop. Rather he would be marching on to his next task like figuring out how to put up the thousand lawnsigns he’s stored in his garage.

But I’m no general. I ordered a pot of coffee at Perkins and checked my email and think about a possible introduction to my book. Being easily distracted I didn’t even get that done. Paralyzed by three months worth of unsorted paperwork left behind at home I much preferred to click the teaser for an article the American Way of Dentistry featured in Slate Magazine and dawdle away my time reading that. I just had to find out why the British have bad teeth. But the funny things is that all roads lead to the Red Plan. After reading through the first pages I had to link to the story right here in my blog.

Why? Well its a pretty good example of what a reader might find in The Amazing Colossal Red Plan. Both subjects, dentistry and school construction, are like nondescript rocks which can be turned over to reveal fascinating critters. And not merely fascinating critters but important ones and American dentistry is pretty important. But its not always easy to get people to eat broccoli no matter how important it is to eat green vegetables. Sometimes you have to dress things up a bit with a fancy sauce and used this little graphic to lure and audience to the Slate article.

I want my book cover to do the same thing.

All the dental hygienists tell me I have great teeth. Yes they are dingy yellow because I drink lots of wine and coffee and I’m not vain or sexy enough to risk weakening my tooth enamel with whiteners. I only suffer one dental problem. I grind my teeth away because that’s where I release stress. As long as I can find and afford a dentist to keep replacing the natural enamel with some synthetic compound I’ll keep my choppers. And as the Slate article makes clear the disappearance of dentists in the US may put a lot more of us at risk of living with the Brit’s ugly teeth. According to the Slate story’s author our dentistry is symptomatic of what’s ailing our entire health care industry. That’s quite a bug to find under a rock. I’d like my book to do the same thing.

So, to assure potential book buyers that my book will be interesting I’ll offer my own dental anecdote as a sample of my writing style and it even ties into my story. In fact, I passed this anecdote on to Sarah Horner, the Trib’s intrepid Ed Reporter, last year to illustrate the danger of professionals regulating each other.

Oh, and here’s a little warning. If you are at all squeamish or prudish you may not want to read any further. I don’t want to discourage you from visiting dentists. I like them and appreciate healthy teeth. Why my favorite Uncle is a dentist. Now, on to the anecdote.

One of my Father’s best friends was a dentist of good standing. He served on the Kansas State Board of Dentistry. “Loren” was also a little spacey. Think Jimmy Stewart in Harvey. After he retired he read about the small Iowa town that wanted to honor its most famous daughter, the actress Donna Reed. Out of the blue he volunteered to help them and they were very grateful for his help organizing a little commemorative festival.

Like my Dad he was a red blooded but slightly repressed All American Man from the 1950’s. He had a collection of girlie magazines – that was a polite euphemism for pornography. I never suspected my Dad had any use for the stuff until we took a family vacation when I was in high school. At one of our stops to stock up on groceries I found a girlie magazine mixed in with the vegetables and canned goods. It was heading down the conveyor belt to the cash register. I attempted to replace it on the magazine rack only to have my Dad take it from me and put it back on the conveyor belt.

When Loren’s wife discovered his store of porno he gently explained to her that he was simply keeping it for my Father in Minnesota because my Dad didn’t want his wife, my Mother, to find it. Loren’s wife was sympathetic. She was a little spacey too.

Our family traveled annually to Kansas to visit family and old friends and, if Loren could be believed, to let my Dad get reacquainted with his girly magazines. At about the same time as the grocery checkout episode we went to Loren’s home for a cook out. As Loren grilled burgers outside with my Dad and me he shared a little confidential man talk. He told us about one of the difficult and perplexing questions he and his Board of Dentistry had been forced to deal with.

A complaint had come to the Board from a small one-dentist outpost on the Kansas prairie. The dental assistant had reported her boss to his colleagues when she discovered that he had stashed secret photos in his office. This dentist regularly knocked his patients out to spare them unnecessary pain. He was also an avid photographer and his assistant stumbled on a trove of files not unlike the cache of porno that Loren’s wife had discovered. These particular pictures were all of the dentist’s unconscious female patients. The photos showed the dentist’s unorthodox procedure of inserting a metacarpal free part of his anatomy into – how to say this delicately – the area of his professional expertise.

Loren was reflective has he related this story. What, he asked himself, should the Dental Board have done? On the one hand it was true that the dentist had taken advantage of his patients. But then again, he was his town’s only dentist. Who would take care of the community’s dental needs if it lost its only dentist? The Board decided to err on the side of professional necessity. They did nothing.

And just why did I tell Sarah Horner this story? Well, it was shortly after an engineer critical of the unlicensed architects JCI hired to slap the Red Plan together complained to the State Board of Everything related to construction licensing. That Board in its wisdom found nothing wrong and dealt out no warnings or punishments or, if it did, made sure to keep the wrist slaps secret. Some of those Board members are now involved in the construction of the Red Plan.

Thank goodness they weren’t dentists.

Oh, and don’t worry about such an episode like the one just described being repeated. As the story in Slate explains about 40% of all new dentists are women.

And what did Sarah make of my anecdote? I’ve always fretted that she was a little too sympathetic to the Kansas Dental Board.

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