Thank God for Modern Dentistry (My International Root Canal)

View from dentist's chair

I was sitting in a dentist’s waiting room in an Adventist Dental Center in Antananarivo, Madagascar. On the TV was some kind of closed-circuit religious programming that mostly involved cheerful white people in a talk show format, and also biblical reenactments.

Then I heard this:

Noah’s flood was a real event that happened when the earth was about 1000 years old.


Seventh Day Adventists are young-earth creationists?

Adventist Dental Care Waiting Room, Antananarivo, Madagascar
Was God testing me?

And I was about to lay on my back and let them poke me with needles and drills?

View from the dentist's chair in Antananarivo, Madadgscar
Which I did.

I have brushed up against this religion several times in my life. I visited an Adventist dentist in Cameroon. I lived in super-liberal, hyper-educated, Takoma Park, Maryland, which was the former world headquarters for the church, and the church still has a strong presence smack in the middle of town. I dated an Adventist woman—a South African, coincidentally. She was okay with my atheism.

I knew something about Adventists having a woman prophet. Was it Mary Baker Eddy or that other one? I knew they were vegetarians. But beyond that, I made no real examination into this religion. I figured that if there was anything offensive about this church—say, its politics—I would have heard about it.

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) does a lot of humanitarian work around the world—I will probably be doing some work with them. The church advocates for stronger action to avert the dangers of climate change.

Seventh-day Adventists declare their advocacy of a simple, wholesome lifestyle, where people do not step on the treadmill of unbridled consumerism and production of waste. They call for respect of creation, restraint in the use of the world’s resources, and reevaluation of our needs as individuals.

I am already on board. You sound like my kind of people.

Several thoughts went through my mind as I lay there with my mouth full of fingers, needles and drills, including, If this were torture, to what crimes would I confess to make it stop?

But I was also thinking about x-rays—when I wasn’t wincing in pain, that is. The dentist had taken an x-ray—technically it’s called a “dental radiograph,” but it’s an x-ray to us laypeople. It uses x-rays to penetrate through teeth and other tissue and reveal what’s going inside our teeth and gums and bones.

Jesus, Dental Assistant
I’m not distracting you, am I, doc?

She checked the radiograph before deciding on a course of action: a root canal.

Your job relies on x-rays, I thought. Relies on x-rays. So x-rays are a reliable natural phenomenon—a trustworthy part of this medical protocol.

But x-rays are also used in astronomy. The reliability of x-rays allows scientists to determine the ages of some stars. And that’s the bad news for young-earth creationists who also believe in modern dentistry. X-rays tell us that stars are a lot older — a lot older — than 10,000 years, the upper estimate of how old young-earthers say the whole universe is.

Come on! What kind of special pleading, compartmentalization, or willful blindness does it take to be a dentist who depends on x-rays every day, but rejects x-rays when they collide with your recalcitrant religion?

That was a rhetorical question. Don’t quit your job or your religion. You’re fine. Keep on doing the good that you do, Seventh Day Adventists. Not just dentistry for communities in Africa, but in social justice, disaster relief, economic opportunity, protecting vulnerable children, gender equality for women and girls, community wealth, hunger and nutrition.

In the end, my root canal was left half finished and then sent to Pretoria, South Africa, along with the rest of me. This is where I am now. The work was completed by a South African dentist with state-of-the-art equipment and techniques.

And there was no disconcerting entertainment in the lobby, flying in the face of science.

In the exam room, though, on the wall, a squiggly metal wall sculpture… Angels.

Pretoria dentist wall hanging
Oh for Christ’s sake…

1 comment

  1. Deepster Langan Reply
    January 5, 2016 at 9:48 am

    I always recommend my dentist and his friendly staff to all my friends and family who are looking for a dentist. The Torrance dentist is outstanding. He recently replaced two very old fillings for me.

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