The oral hygienist smiled.
A sea of little faces just stared back at her blankly.
These kids just witnessed a stunning audiovisual presentation on a giant chipmunk's first visit to the dentist? And they had no questions?
As a concerned parent, I certainly had one.
"Madam," says I. "Just who is the Chap the Chipmunk individual and since when is it the practice of this clinic to provide dental services to mutated rodentia?"
You should have seen this monstrosity. He had a bigger overbite than Jimmy Carter.
The fact that he was dressed as Howdy Doody may have allayed the fears of a bunch of gullible preschoolers, but a 5-foot chipmunk is a 5-foot chipmunk in my book.
What is this? The Dental Clinic of Dr. Moreau?
I wanted some assurances that the equipment was thoroughly sterilized after this bizarre foray in veterinary dentistry.
Not to be a bigot, but there's no way my kid is getting his fluoride from the same dispenser as the Chipmunk That Devoured Cleveland.
The dental hygienist assured me that there is no such creature as Chap the Chipmunk. Now there's a load off my mind.
Apparently, hygienists use the Chap the Chipmunk fable to make small children feel better about their first real trip to the dentist.
I say "real" because most of them had been to the dentist before. They just didn't remember it. Their parents took them to a strange building. A tall figure draped in white jabbed their teeth with a sharp object.
They screamed the torments of the condemned for several hours and that was that.
When I was a kid, that was pretty much the dental experience until the age of 18. After that, you quit going all together. You only visited the dentist on the Chinese Year of the Rat.
By that time, you usually looked like Leon Spinks.
Nowadays, little dental patients get stickers, balloons and a lovely parting gift. The only lovely parting gift I ever got was the ability to close my jaw all the way. Eventually.
Sometime during the last 30 years, researchers discovered that children are human beings. We now actually care what they think and feel.
At the very least, a calm child is more likely to let the dentist keep all five of his or her fingers.
Not so when I was a kid.
I may as well have been Chap the Chipmunk. Dentists and hygienists treated me as if I were the family pet. They never talked to me directly.
Any serious discussion was directed toward my parents.
"Tell me, Mrs. Henderson, has Tommy ever had an allergic reaction to massive amounts of bloodcurdling pain?"
If a dentist spoke to me at all, it was purely in the interest of sadistic teasing.
"Don't mind that scraping feeling, Tommy. I'm just carving a miniature replica of Mount Rushmore on your molars."
The hygienist and dentist both asked my son how he was feeling. They even let him play with some of the dental instruments -- including "Mr. Suck."
Mr. Suck is not (as one might imagine) the long-lost, if dimwitted, brother of a character on "Star Trek." It is the instrument used to suck saliva out of the patient's mouth.
Seems to me to be quite a formal name, considering the job duties.
To make matters worse, my son later announced that he wants a similar job when he grows up.
My son's biggest concern at the dentist was whether to take a glider or a yo-yo from the free toy basket. My biggest concern as a kid was whether or not the dentist was going to let me leave.
I remember what Laurence Olivier did to poor Dustin Hoffman's teeth in "Marathon Man." If you haven't seen it, don't. Let's just say it's a far cry from "Chap the Chipmunk."
Unless, of course, Chap is really a Nazi war criminal.
Could be. Those 5-foot anthropomorphic chipmunks in Howdy Doody outfits are always the last ones you suspect.
Personally, I still have my doubts about Chap.
Yes, dentistry is good. Yes, dentistry is important.
It saves you from being one of those people who can't say the word "sequestered" without spraying everyone in the room while their lower plate zings out like a cash register.
But is dentistry "fun?"
Not for me. Let Jerry Seinfeld call me an anti-dentite. I grew up with a dentist whose idea of anesthesiology was a ball-peen hammer.
Going to the dentist will never be fun for me. No matter what Chap says.
I will always check my teeth later to make sure there aren't any presidents carved into my molars.