You mean people pay you to do this to them? I thought you had captured these people and brought them here against their will! How do I become a dentist?"
― Michael Buckley, "Magic and Other Misdemeanors"
I remember the first time I met my dentist, not my long-ago dentist—actually, there have been several—but my new dentist, the one I found through a friend of my daughter's after I moved upstate. His office in Kingston, NY is about a forty-minute drive from where I live, and I was in toothache agony until I got there, my husband driving, of course. I'd already been to a dentist in my small town that day and all s/he wanted to do was take my blood pressure and insurance information. I walked out, called round to friends and family to get referrals, and zipped up to Kingston.
I am not a fluoride baby; no one in my generation is, and I lived in England for ten years. If memory serves, the Brits resisted fluoride in drinking water until--hard to believe--2021. And don't get me started about National Health British Dentistry. National Health everything else is okay, more than okay, but not dentistry. No instruction in preventive protocols. No regular cleanings. My husband and I have paid the price. Our mouths are pock-marked with fillings and implants and god knows what else. Not to mention that I have vivid memories of my long-ago pediatric dentist giving me a lollipop as I walked out the door because I had behaved myself in the dental chair. How sweet, no pun intended.
Enter Dr. Thomas Cingel DDS, a graduate of SUNY Buffalo, raised in a modest middle class family, an upstater, married to a mid-wife and raising two adorable children. His office is an oasis of competent health care and human connection, more so, if that is possible, during Covid. But it was before the PPEs and masks that I first took notice of Dr. Cingel as an exceptional person, as well as an exceptional high-tech artisanal dentist. He had told me a story about seeing a "live" painting for the first time in a museum. I'm not even sure he'd remember this as he tells many stories to many patients every day, but I do. I'd never met anyone who had not been to a museum, because everyone I knew when I grew up in a big city, and then lived overseas in a big city, wouldn't think twice about going to a museum, or how special it is. I wanted to respond, but I couldn't. My mouth was open as he was working on something—a sick molar probably—but I listened attentively and took it in.
All dentists love to talk, but not all of them are good storytellers, or have written amusing, illustrated books called Avid Flosser about the importance of flossing, or are taking a class in stand-up comedy because they are hyper-aware of the absurdity of contemporary life and care, really care, about people. I lucked out with Dr. Cingel, and so did my aging teeth, whatever is left of them.
This post is dedicated to the front line workers in Dr. Cingel's office: Sharon, Karen, Jackie, Kayla and Dagny.