At the Dentist Office

by Jerri

“Oh yes, my son is going to UC Davis this fall,” my dentist said. He hadn’t seen me since my junior year of college. I was wondering how many cavities I had since I’d last had that last check-up. Being back in that chair brought back some vague memories of being younger and stupider; I had a perpetual avoidance for flossing since I was so reliant on my parent’s dental insurance. Dr. Chen is a Chinese-English speaking doctor; a reassuring presence for many a great immigrant parents with American-born Chinese kids who developed a taste for American-strength sugary sweets

He asked me what my major was and I told him I did Visual Communications as well as English.

“Oh English, how is the English program there?” he asked.

I was looking straight into that eerie bright light as I reclined back into that chair.
“I’d say pretty, lots of writing and reading…”

We had just taken my first set of x-rays and I was wondering what might be discovered. I had had a tooth ache a couple weeks ago. Maybe there were four or five cavities. I was bracing for four cavities, but maybe there were more.

“English is my son’s thing you know,” my dentist continued, “that’s why I asked about the work load there.”

“Oh yes,” I responded. Suddenly emboldened by a knee-jerk reaction of most English types in a heavily research-science oriented university, I launched into the usual summary before he started working on my plaque-covered molars.

“It’s a decent program, you get on average ten books to read a quarter depending on the class you’re taking, lots of writing you know, lots of writing. We often found ourselves reading two novels a week…”

“I see,” my Dentist responded.

As he examined my teeth, he looked distraught. I knew that I hadn’t been flossing and it had been a while since I had a proper dental exam. Something must have been really wrong with my teeth. After rising out the gritty toothpaste that seems like a staple in most dental offices, I told him that I thought I had cavities.

He was looking at my X-rays, “Why do you say that?”

“Well I had this tooth ache a while ago,”

“I see,” Dr. Chen responded. He still looked distraught. “Where did this tooth ache happen?”

“It was somewhere in the back…on the top I think?”

“Well you do have one cavity, a tiny one….on one of the bottom ones,”


He took off his mask, “I have to ask, you said that you read ten books a quarter, but that’s usually for the upper division English classes, right?”


As it turned out, his son was going in as an Environmental Science major. When he said that “English” was his son’s “thing,” he meant that it was his weaker subject. He was actually asking me about the GEs, like any worried parent with a college-bound kid might, except I misunderstood him. He had been distraught the entire time because of that, not because of my imaginary cavities wreaking havoc.

Of course. He’s a dentist. He’s seen lots of cavities.

College-bound kids aside, I am happy to report that the cavity doesn’t need any fixing for now since it’s too small to drill even. I need to floss more often…although given the location of this tiny bugger, maybe I need to brush better.