Tiny by
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Prompted By The Dentist

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My pediatric dentist was a tall man, so of course, he was called “Tiny”. As my second teeth came in, it was clear, even before braces were discussed, there was not enough room in my small mouth for those large teeth, so he spoke with my mother about extracting two, possibly four (top and bottom) of the incisors. They wouldn’t be missed and would leave room for more of those large second teeth.

An appointment for the extraction was made. “Tiny” Konikow would do it himself in his office, though I would be under sedation. My always-nervous mother probably made me nervous about the process as well. I think I was 9 years old. Going into the procedure, it wasn’t clear if two or four teeth would be removed.

I was in the chair, it was reclined way back. He and his nurse were very reassuring. I remember seeing the mask coming toward me. I think they used ether, as I remember the smell of gas. Tiny asked me to count backwards from 100. I got to 99 and was out.

I had the most peculiar dream. I lay on my back with my feet in the air, up against a wall (presaging my love of Pilates, perhaps?). Suddenly, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather, the three good fairies from the Disney version of “Sleeping Beauty”, were buzzing over my head, singing to me. Crazy, right? Then the dream was over and the dentist called me back to reality. The operation was over, gauze was packed in my bloody tooth sockets. He reassured me that all had gone well. He would get my mother.

I remember quickly pulling out the gauze to see if there was blood on both sides. I wanted to know if the top and bottom teeth had been pulled (it never occurred to me that the blood would soak through anyway). The dentist came back with my worried mother, assured her that all had gone well, that FOUR teeth had been pulled (my preference; if we were going to do this, let’s get rid of all of them) and that I would heal quickly. I couldn’t eat much for a day or day, needed to rinse with a special solution, but it was really easy.

And I got Barbie’s ballerina outfit as a special treat for being such a good patient! I really wanted that outfit.

Original Barbie ballerina outfit with booklet description.

In a few years, I would still need to be in braces, head gear, and all the other accoutrement. But this was a start.



Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: right on!


  1. John Shutkin says:

    What a terrific story, Betsy. And your memories of it are amazing. I can hardly remember what I dreamed last night, let alone sixty years ago. And though, of course, I saw Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and remembered the good fairies — just as in your featured image — I would have gone ) 0 for 3 in naming them. And, finally, that you could remember the ballerina outfit is also impressive — though it is also just the sort of gift I could imagine you getting. (Though I must say, with your amazing collection of family photos, I am a bit surprised that you don’t still have one of you dancing in it.)

    The reference to ether, and ether masks, is also quite evocative for me, as I recall my father, a surgeon, on the subject. He considered it an amazing medical breakthrough (they could never get enough of it at overseas outposts in WW II), but increasingly dangerous as a sedative. Not only could it have highly problematic effects on the patient — far beyond just crazy dreams — but it was highly volatile and even its storage was considered pretty dangerous. He was very happy when it found its way out of operating rooms — and, of course, dentists’ offices.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I no longer remember my current dreams, John. But that one has stayed with me all these years. And that ballerina outfit was for my Barbie doll, not me. I still have it. I took the photo for this story last week. I have my original Barbies (two of them), Ken, the catalogues and all the clothing, accessories, etc. All in fairly decent shape, might I add. I loved the ballet and my earliest ambition was to be a dancer. Alas, that was not to be.

      I’m not sure the dentist used ether, but I do remember some sort of gas smell. I don’t know what else would have caused the oder, so I presume he was still using ether at that time.

      • John Shutkin says:

        Oops; you’re of course right, Betsy; it was a Barbie outfit. And I realize that, while you’re petite, not even you could fit into that one.

        I am pretty sure that it was still ether that was used at that time. Ether that, or some other gas. (Sorry; punsters gotta pun.)

  2. Sorry for those necessary extractions at such a young age Betsy, and a sweet Barbie gift for a brave little girl!

    But tell me – do you actually still have your Barbies and her outfits, and now saving them for Rosa?!?

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes, Dana. I do still have my original Barbies, with all the original outfits, catalogues, etc. Rosa is still a bit young for them, they are delicate (and OLD now). Maybe someday she’d enjoy playing with them. I was 7 when I got my first one. I also have a doll that my mother’s uncle brought her from France in 1918. He played clarinet in the Marine band that was on the ship that took Woodrow Wilson to Paris to sign the Treaty of Versailles that ended WWI. Uncle Harry Perlis brought my mother back a porcelain-faced doll, which I now own.

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    Wow, I am ever amazed at the mementoes you have retained over the years—you must have some amazing organization systems in place. Makes me feel less guilty about the stuff I still cart around. Overall, your dental experience sounds pretty positive (including the Disney dream). You always seem to manage to come through adversity with plucky determination.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      “Plucky”; great word, Khati! Thank you! I think my husband thinks I horde stuff, but I’m not quite that bad. My Barbie stuff was part of the three boxes of my childhood that I brought back from Detroit on a plane after my parents divorced and my mother sold our house. I’ve mostly saved photos, lots and lots of photos (and inherited my mother’s as well, which are not sorted into chronological albums like mine are. As for the dental adventure, perhaps it was worse than I remember and I’ve brightened it up. After 60+ years, I’m OK putting a positive spin on it.

      I just heard from a Detroit cousin who saw the same dentist but has had lots of dental troubles and blames him, wondering if I experienced anything similar. I did not. I have good teeth, so cannot lay blame on the dentist.

  4. Suzy says:

    This is a great story, Betsy, and I love your dream about the three fairies from Sleeping Beauty. Also the Barbie ballerina outfit you got as a reward, which of course you still have! At the end you mention braces and head gear – would love to compare notes with you on that. I had forgotten about wearing head gear (only at night for me), so thanks for reminding me of that delightful experience.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      The headgear was mostly worn after-hours, but I really wanted to speed up the process, so got in a bit of wearing time during the day. I had two different kinds. One was a “face bow”, which clipped into the hooks on the back upper teeth and pulled every back. That went around my neck. Later I had a true “head gear” that fit over the top of my head. I don’t remember which teeth it hooked onto, or what purpose it served, but ultimately, both did their jobs and I was out of braces in about 1 1/2 years, which was ahead of schedule (as I’d hoped). Then I had a form of retainer, but not the kind most kids had, which looked like an appliance with a bridge for the palate and wire for the teeth. We joked that mine looked like a mouth guard for a football player, or like I was biting into a SuperBall! It was black rubber with a mold of my teeth, as they SHOULD be when they were perfectly aligned and I bit into at night (or in the evening, if I was just hanging around doing homework). I took it to camp in 1966 and wore it during rest hour too, as well as when sleeping. But not out in public, as I couldn’t speak when it was in my mouth. I think I only HAD to wear it for a year or two, but I wore it until I went off to college. Why not? It continued to hold my teeth in their correct position and teeth do continue to move, so I kept them in place as long as I could.

      Your sarcasm about the “delightful experience” makes me wonderful how I put up with all the pressure on my mouth. I know I couldn’t now, as I am SO sensitive to any sort of pressure – it will give me a migraine straight away. I must have been made of tougher stuff back then. I guess we all did what we had to in order to get through the ordeal.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    Your experience reminds me of my older daughter’s. She’s also a small person with a crowded mouth. Her pedodontist pulled 4 baby teeth. I’m not sure whether he used ether or something else, but he sent her home with gauze and declared her good to go. He knew we were taking a train to Detroit that afternoon but said she would be fine. She was not a happy camper, and I didn’t even get her a Barbie to make her feel better. What a lovely dream, by the way.

  6. I experienced my earliest drug-induced dreams, induced by my dentist, probably at the age of nine. They used nitrous oxide on me, delivered via two smelly pipes in my nose.
    The dreams revolved around a thatched-hut/palm tree motif that regaled the dentists curtains. I guess it was my first — and only trip to the south seas. Quite pleasant, wherever it was I drifted off to, and made me prefer getting a filling to a hygienist’s cleaning (no nitrous oxide).

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      So somehow, even at tender ages, we both had pleasant, drug-fueled, pleasant dreams, courtesy of our dentists, Charlie. You went to an exotic island and I had Disney fairies singing to me. Guess we were at different places in our lives, but we enjoyed our trips!

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