Norway has been good to me, dentally. My grandpa was also good to me. Orthodontics are subsidized but still cost out of pocket. So the year I had no cavities I started wearing a retainer.

One thing Norwegian children have been through together, is the school dentist. In my part of Norway, the school dentist got the nickname “pinaren”, which translates to “the tormenter”. An awful lot of kids ended up afraid of the dentist.

Somehow or other, I didn’t. I got my first filling at age 8 while I was still living in California. They filled my mouth with all kinds of weird things there; I remember a ring-like device jammed in to keep my mouth open and some sort of small rubber sheet jammed in there, too, in addition to the usual suction device and tampon. In Norway, it’s just suction and a tampon.

When I was 12, the school dentist looked me over, then called my grandpa in. Grandpa had been waiting in the hall. Seriously, the dentist told me grandma that I had no cavities. I teared up in joy and relief and knowing I had no cavities but why the serious tone? That’s when the dentist suggested is was time to take care of my serious overbite and crooked front teeth. So Grandpa ended up taking me to the orthodontist’s.

Back then, there was one place in town and one orthodontist “all” the kids went to. A friendly bearded, guy who made me a retainer, a big pink thing molded on both my lower and upper teeth. I was clueless so I wore it during the day. Didn’t realize it was to be worn at night until some graceless adult said it was nice something shut me up. (That’s when I realized it was to be worn at night, duh. And that some grown-ups aren’t really grown up.) I had nevertheless managed to wear it enough to make a difference. After two years of that, a weak, my receding chin was strong and properly positioned. I got another small, light retainer to wear to straighten out my upper front teeth and close the gap between them.

Kind of weird to think back and realize my look since age 15 wasn’t the one nature gave me. But yeah, sometimes when I look in the mirror, I send Grandpa (and the school dentist) a bit of thanks.

Orthodontics for children is subsidized and so is mandatory oral surgery. The one wisdom tooth that had to be removed with a scalpel I ended up paying only half price for; the social security office refunded me the rest.

Today I got my teeth X-rayed, checked and cleaned. In Norway, the dentist does all that. Not like the US, where a dental hygienist does all the advising and cleaning and flossing, and then you see the actual dentist for 5 minutes in case of cavities.

The art in my dentist’s waiting room: Monkey? Child? Clown? At least it’s not scary

My current dentist has a surprisingly light touch. He pokes and prods and scrapes and I hardly feel it. This time around, he seemed to be even gentler than ever. I wonder if it’s because I was saying to myself “Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om” (I’m trying out some things). At any rate, the annual check revealed no issues, no cracks or holes in either teeth or aging fillings, and a price hike from last year.

Dentists in Norway are not subsidized like doctors. My GP works for the city and is part of the universal health care system. I saw him today, too, and paid NOK 155. My dentist, who runs a private practice, as most do, charged me NOK 1150 (includes the pretty pictures of my teeth). It’s cheap insurance, really, to keep my choppers chomping (why aren’t they called “chompers”?).

I don’t remember the clown painting from last year. I also don’t remember the drawing of a sleeping cat on the wall opposite the dentist chair, a perfectly round circle with triangular ears poking out of it. The cat, not the chair. But I like that there’s a picture of a cat on the wall. I like cats. And sleeping cats have always meant that all is right with the world. Today, at the dentist’s, it did feel that way.