When I was in elementary school, we had occasional visitors that would disturb the entire school for part of the day. I remember one thrilling day when we all got Happy Meals for lunch – I’m pretty sure Ronald McDonald was there at some point. That was back when I still ate McDonalds. I also remember someone bringing in birds of prey, which then pooped on the gym floor. And we all got those hearing and sight tests at least a few times. Not once did the dentist ever come to my school, but they came to my school in Samoa.
I had heard about the dentists coming to schools long before they showed up at my school. Other PCVs told me that they show up and check all the kids’ teeth on day one, send them home with permission slips, then pull all their teeth on day two, and that’s pretty much how it worked.
The dentists had some pretty nifty equipment. They had two exam chairs that folded up nicely, and they even had the nice stand lamps that always manage to blind you, although on a few occasions I saw the cell phone flashlight being used instead of the lamp. Every kid came to school when the dentists came, even my students who had been absent for weeks previous. The first day was just a routine cleaning and check-up, no big deal.
The second day, all the students came with their parents and younger siblings, and they set up quite the assembly line. Parents signed permission slips for students to get teeth pulled, then the younger siblings got in line, then the parents got in line. First, they would get a shot of novocain to the cheek, which made me squirm just looking at it. Whenever I get one of those at the dentist, it always comes after they put numbing gel on my cheek so it doesn’t pinch as much (that’s a lie the dentist tells you – the shot always hurts). Then the kids would stumble outside, gagging, and grab a cup of water to rinse their mouth. Next came the waiting period to let the novocain take effect. Most kids got less than 5 minutes between the shot and when they got teeth pulled, which was the last step of the process. The dentist would push their head back against the wall, dig around with those horrible, shiny instruments, and after some squirming, cringing, and, rarely, crying, from the kids, the tooth popped out and they were handed packets of gauze in return. Most kids only had one or two teeth pulled, but some had more pulled. The day after, I had dinner with the family across the street, and the two girls had both gotten teeth pulled the day before. They used their hands to show me how big their cheeks had been after the novocain shots. I contemplated telling them about “chipmunk cheeks,” but decided that even if I could figure out how to explain it, it would get lost in translation anyway.
Dentistry could possibly be the next great spectator sport. They had the whole assembly line set up against the windows of a classroom, so everyone waiting outside had a great view of all the goings on. I sat on a chair and watched for a good hour or so, then decided that I would never go to the dentist again if I had to watch someone else go through it first. I’m amazed there was as little crying as there was. When I actually heard the squelching pop of a tooth being pulled out of its socket, I gave up. I can safely add “dentist” to the list of occupations I never plan to hold.