on god and good teeth

Just after sitting down in a booth with my husband over a cup of coffee and a ridiculously fresh Boston cream donut, I found myself reclined in a dentist’s chair, my tongue still covered in that gritty-greasy film that a good donut leaves you with.

Between swabs of gel anesthesia, needles full of novocaine, sharp and shiny stainless steel instruments and rubber-gloved fingers all poking around in my mouth, I had a pseudo conversation about my disabled son with the hygienist.

After telling him a little bit about Calvin, the hygienist, a handsome, kind, funny guy, asked how Calvin reacted at the dentist. I told him that he did pretty well all in all. He mentioned that in college he’d written a paper about the dental health of "mentally retarded" people (his girlfriend at the time having been working with the intellectually disabled.) He explained that he’d read papers about how this segment of the population was missing an enzyme that caused tooth decay, so although they had great trouble with tartar forming on their teeth, they didn’t get cavities. He went on to say something like, “It’s the good Lord’s design”—that God had given these kids cavity protection by designing their bodies is such a way as to avoid them. He explained how, being a religious man, he believed it. With a suction hose in my numb mouth I mumbled, “I don’t buy it,” and we both laughed. What else was there to do?

My head was reeling, though not from the anesthesia or the bright light spotted on my face. Why would God go to all the trouble to protect these kids’ teeth but do nothing to protect their brains? And I don’t buy the line that God works in mysterious ways and that we can’t always know or understand his plan. What kind of divine plan—or its maker—includes the sanctioning and/or neglect of the suffering of debilitated, sick and terminally ill little kids and their families? Not one I can or would want to believe in.

I remember a fellow alumnus from my high school, upon hearing that Calvin was a happy little kid, telling me how God creates mentally disabled kids with sweet dispositions just "to make the road a little easier." Well, if I believed in that God I’d say He’d stopped way short of His potential.

Meaning no disrespect to the devout and their own private beliefs—or to the affable hygienist who I can imagine calling my friend—sometimes I think I’d prefer being stabbed in the gums with a sharp instrument over hearing theories of how my kid—and others like him—was intentionally designed, by a supposedly all-loving, omnipotent Creator, to live a life of suffering. But hey, at least they won't get cavities!

photo by Michael Kolster


  1. I'm with you, Christy. No way can I rationalize this as God's will. I believe it happens as an accident of life, with science someday to explain it. In the meanwhile you and Michael live courageously with the reality of Calvin's disabilities. And you find rewards (!) in your expression of the blog, in your lovely home and surroundings, in each other, and in Calvin.... I couldn't admire you more.

  2. dear carol,
    i am so glad that you get me. and thank you for your kind comments. when i read them i imagine you in a light-filled room with a cup of coffee or tea and max rumbling around somewhere in the room with you.