Some of my best friends are docs — MDs, DOs, PhDs, even dentists. Having made that clarification I must confess, along with many of you, I do not enjoy going to the doctor’s office, especially, the dentist’s office. My dentist is a great guy. I really like him, but I am terrified when I hear a drill that is headed toward my mouth and try to blink out that zillion-lumens light shining in my face. Sorry, Dr. Willis, just being honest!

My first encounter with a dentist may have set the stage for the drama that has followed me the rest of my life. At the age of 17 months, I fell and bumped my chin, biting off the tip of my tongue and driving my two new upper incisors into my gums. First stop: doctor’s office, where the tongue tip that was dangling by skin was reattached — no anesthesia. According to eyewitness accounts, I was pretty traumatized.

Of course I have no cognizant remembrance of the event, but I heard about it from a very reliable source: my mother. If I remembered, I’m pretty sure I would still have nightmares about that day. As it turned out, a dentist, who was waiting to see Dr. Strother, was kind enough to offer his services. So after the tongue stitching, we traveled to the dentist office, where my two front teeth were “adjusted.” Unfortunately one of them couldn’t be salvaged; so, until my permanent teeth came in, I had a gap in my smile.

Soon after I visited his office, that dentist moved to California.

My first memory of being in the dentist’s chair was a few years later. What I remember is being “gassed.” Nowadays no reputable practitioner would use chloroform to anaesthetize a young boy for dental work, but this incident occurred — shall we say — “back in the day.”

Coming out from under the sleeping gas, I remember the doc and his assistant floating in the darkness and a bright light. There was also “elevator music” in the background. I had never read about near death experiences with a light at the end of the tunnel, but it must have been something like that.

As an impressionable child, those two encounters influenced my view of dentists.

So when 5-year-old Katie Grace opined on the phone one day, “Papa, I don’t like to go see the dentist,” I was in total agreement.

“I understand completely, Katie Grace. I don’t like to go to the dentist’s office either!”

Before I had a chance to add that some of my best friends are dentists and I enjoy visiting with them as long as they keep their hands and shiny instruments out of my mouth, she continued her little talk.

“But you know something?” Suddenly she spoke in her normal, stinking cute lilt, “I love the stickers and prizes they give me at the dentist’s office!”

Isn’t that the way most of us are? Whether we’re 5 or 95, we enjoy the fun stuff, the free stuff, but we whine about the things that are unpleasant, perhaps painful. Yet, to be honest, suffering and sorrow often make us stronger and produce spiritual growth. It is in difficult times that we learn to depend on God and rely on His presence to see us through.

Naturally we want the “stickers and prizes,” but it’s the other experiences in the dentist’s chair that give us a pretty smile and make it easier to talk, eat and chew gum. With God’s help, let us seek to accept the unpleasant times with the more enjoyable times. He has a plan for His children, and in the end, He wants to give us what is best, even if it hurts sometimes.

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Steve Playl is a hospital chaplain, freelance writer, college instructor and former pastor. He can be reached at

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