Is it my imagination, or have dentists become more mysterious over the years? From childhood I recall Dr. Graboyes being the greeter at the door, the hygienist, the driller, the filler and the biller. When you went to see Dr. Graboyes, you saw HIM.

After Dr. Graboyes retired, I spent the teenage years visiting Dr. Libby, a man of few words. Not only did he ask ME to open and say “ahhhh,” he was unable to complete a sentence himself without saying “ahhh” or “ummm” several times.

This personal affect, pointed out to me impolitically by my mother, was a source of hilarity, or as much hilarity as was possible with one’s mouth held open in anticipation of persistent and penetrating pain. It probably served me right to be paralyzed with fear given my imitations of Dr. Libby’s speech patterns.

The experience with Dr. Libby inspired me to desist from seeing a dentist for nearly ten years until, in my mid-20’s, I experienced my first actual toothache. What to do? Away from home and sort of an adult, I now faced the dual, dire prospects of choosing a dentist and PAYING for the visit myself.

A client of my law firm was a maker of dentures, and he told me the best local dentist was Dr. Godwin. Armed with this endorsement, I arranged an appointment post-haste. Unlike the dentists of my childhood, Dr. Godwin was insulated from actual patient contact by a successive gauntlet of receptionist, hygienist, radiographer and assistant. Only after all four had completed preliminary prodding, poking and probing of my insurance situation and dental status did Dr. Godwin deign to descend.

He offered a halting handshake, conferred with his minions and gazed into my gaping mouth. He offered several mmmm’s and harumphs, picked at the offending molar, and finally left the room wordlessly. With my mouth filled with equipment I strained to comprehend what would happen next. I feared it would involve a needle, a drill and a lot of expense. I was correct on all counts. The need for a cap was the diagnosis, said the assistant and, if I did not mind, he was going to do the work. He assured my unblinking eyes and unclosing mouth that he would work under the close supervision of Dr. Godwin.

I know my mother would not have agreed to such an arrangement and I especially know that my wife would not have agreed to such an arrangement. But my mother was not there, and my wife was still five years from being known to me, so the 25-year-old naif had his first cap completed by a recent dental school graduate who may have been completing HIS first cap.

The happy ending, if a dentist story can have one, is that the cap seems to have been installed satisfactorily. In subsequent visits to that office over nearly two decades, I have never seen the man to whom I make out the checks for more than a minute and have still never shared an entire sentence with him. I guess that is considered progress. Mastery is now equated with mystery.