An author recalls some of her more humorous moments in dentistry

Jan. 7, 2014
As much as we might enjoy what we do, after 20 or 30 years of dental hygiene, the days sometimes seem to run together — except, of course, when something funny happens to brighten the day

By Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH

We all know that our jobs can be repetitive. As much as we might enjoy what we do, after 20 or 30 years of dental hygiene, the days sometimes seem to run together — except, of course, when something funny happens to brighten the day.


Other articles by Seckman


Too much information

A mother in her mid-20s came to the office one day, bringing two children for their first appointment. The boss headed toward the playroom to introduce himself just as she bent over to pick up a toddler, exposing a creamy expanse of backside and most of a black thong. He did an immediate about-face, and I caught his eye. There was one of those poleaxed male looks on his face — you know, the one that says, "Wow! Did I just get a free shot?" I laughed so hard I was crying, and had to duck into the lunchroom.

An hour later, headed to the playroom to look for a patient, I noticed a large, sturdy mom playing a video game. As I passed Doc's chair, he jerked a thumb back over his shoulder and said, "We should be grateful it's not still going on in there." There was more snorting and laughing on my part.

Another hour went by, and he was still thinking about it. "Maybe," he said, "I could get one of those little cameras and mount it on top of my face shield . . . ."

The perils of gum

“What flavor is that?” a kindergartener asked anxiously, wanting to be sure I had the right one for her fluoride. “Is it bubble gum, like I picked?”

“Yes, it is,” I said. “Here, smell.”

“Oh, good,” she said, relaxing. “I like bubble gum. Well, my teeth like bubble gum, but my cheeks don’t.”

The sugar/acid connection

Then there was the adorably precocious seven-year-old who announced proudly that he knew how cavities happened.

"How's that?" I asked.

"Well — wait — are germs the same as cavities?"

"No, but germs cause cavities."

"Yeah, yeah, that was it, my dad told me. The germs make the cavities when they eat the sugar and poop the acid."

"Hey, your dad's a smart guy!"

The amazing flexible body part

A college student was sitting patiently through an oral cancer screening, during which I turned her tongue over with gauze. Afterward, she said, “I could have flipped my tongue for you.” With no effort at all, she flipped her tongue completely over in exactly the same way you would flip your hand to show your palm. Then she flipped it the other way. It was kind of amazing. I called the assistants over and made her do it again. We all tried, but none of us could match her feat.

“You should be in the circus,” we all agreed.

Bad boys, bad boys

I have a soft spot for cute little bad boys. Oliver was eight, maybe a bit immature, and his mother trailed him over to the chair. They were having a conversation. I just caught the end of it as he sat down.

Oliver: “. . . and then I'm gonna take my giant scissors and snip their heads off.”

Me: “Snip whose heads off?”

Oliver: (cutting his eyes sideways and giving me what he thought was an evil smile) “Anyone who cleans my teeth.”

Mom: (eyes rolling) “Oliver . . .”

Me: “Oh, no! Those have to be pretty big scissors. Where are they?”

Oliver: “In - my - back – pack.”

Me: (sounding worried) “Where is this backpack?”

Oliver: “In the car.”

Me: “Well, then, I'm safe. We're on the third floor. By the time you go get the scissors, I can run away.”

Oliver: “I’ll stretch my arm all the way out the window to reach them (stretching out one arm, scrunching up his face), EEEEEEEEEEEEE.”

Me (after a short pause): “Oliver, I don't think it's working.”


Doc: (walking past) “What are you, some kind of superhero?”


An assistant walks past, gives Oliver a skeptical look.

Me: (in explanation) “Oliver is stretching his arm out to the car so he can get his giant scissors out of his backpack and snip my head off.”

Mom (rolling her eyes)

Assistant: “Ohhh-kay.”


Mom: “Oliver! That's enough.”

Oliver: “eeeeeeeeeeeeee.”

Me: (tapping him on the forehead) “Hey, Oliver, how about if you try for those scissors later?”

Oliver: (snapping open his eyes and his mouth, wiggling all over to steel himself for the ordeal)

Me: (to mom) “Looks like a strategic withdrawal to me.”

More badness

Another bad boy was almost as funny. Justin was 10, oldest of three, and covering up his anxiety by being mean to everyone. He came over to my chair in a Wreck-it Ralph T-shirt, and I figured that was a good topic of conversation.

Me: “Wreck-it Ralph! Did you see the movie yet?”

Justin: (heavy sarcasm) “Yeah, well, it was PEE GEE 13, ya know.”

Me: “Wow. Must have been violent.”

Justin: (shrug)

Me: “Tell me about the movie. Maybe I want to go see it.”

Justin: “Oh, there was just this guy . . . . (attention caught by his brother playing a video game) and he . . .”

Me: (tapping his shoulder) “Hey! What about the movie?”

Justin: (heavy eye roll, sigh of disgust) “Can we just get ON with it, lady?”

No T-shirt? No problem

Aimless conversation is always good for defusing anxiety. If the kids aren’t wearing a cool T-shirt, we can talk about their shoes.

Doc: “Gee, those sure are some yellow shoes! You couldn’t hide anywhere with those shoes on your feet. If you were in the jungle and wanted to sneak up on a lion, you couldn’t do it because he’d see your shoes.”

Kid: (with no hesitation at all) “I could hide in the bananas.”

It’s a good day when you learn something new

To set the scene for 13-year-old Nick, our office has high school sports logos painted on the ceiling panels.

Nick: (plopping into a chair, looking up at the ceiling) “Hey, Beaver Christian School. That’s near my house. I didn’t know Christians could play basketball.”

Me (laughing): "Of course Christians can play basketball. Why wouldn't we?"

Nick (slightly embarrassed): "Oh, I dunno, I just thought maybe it wasn't allowed, or somethin'."

Me: "Even nuns play basketball."

Nick: "What're nuns?"

Humor on the road

A hygienist doesn’t need a funny kid at the office to have a good time. I learned that from a biologist. We were visiting friends awhile back, and they took us to one of those recreated historic villages. One of the buildings held some local artifacts.

Browsing along a table, I picked up an animal mandible that was identical to one I found in our woods years ago. All the teeth had the same shape, but they increased in size from front to back. I thought it had probably belonged to a deer.

"Is this from a deer?" I asked the docent.

"It is," he agreed, and I was glad to know I was right.

Then I came across another mandible, pointy at the chin, with razor-sharp teeth, that looked like it must be from a meat-eater.

"Carnivore?" I asked.

"Coyote," was the answer.

Right again (I thought smugly). "I'm a dental hygienist," I explained, "that's why I'm interested."

He nodded his head in a long-suffering way. "We've had hygienists in here before."

We're notorious, I guess.

Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH, worked as a hygienist for 32 years, including 11 years in pediatric dentistry. She is a frequent contributor to dental magazines, works as an indexer, and is the author of three novels and more than a dozen short stories. Contact her at [email protected].