Dental Date

by Jon Cotner

Bobby & Dianna

Does he eat sweets?

Dianna: “If he wants a cookie, he can have a cookie. I’m not crazy about keeping him from sweets. But there’s no soda.”

Spring is in the air, so Claire and I make a dental date. This slideshow documents our trip to Dr. Young’s Chinatown office.


Claire hands Michael a pair of heels that need new soles. Michael’s Shoe Repair always impresses me. Now that I’m thinking about teeth — seeing teeth — Michael’s teeth impress me too. He brushes twice per day and rinses with Listerine both times.

Jacob, Lily & Polina

Just as we’re leaving, a family brings a turquoise belt. The girl needs holes punched because it’s too large. Polina says the kids go to a dentist who puts TVs on the ceiling to distract them.

Carroll Street Station

The MTA machines accept neither cards nor bills. I sneak through the turnstile behind Claire and nearly crush my knee. Our train approaches.

Chinatown Firehouse

We exit at East Broadway, then head north. Claire guides us to Canal Street — where a sharp-toothed dragon adorns the local firehouse.

Pace High School

Two blocks away a group of high school students perform dragon dances.

Stevin, Cici & Rob

Does the dog have any dental habits?

Stevin: “Cici loves chewing peppermint.”

Rob: “That’s her primordial toothpaste.”

Mott Street

Turning on Mott Street, we pass women selling ginkgo nuts and sticky rice. A man says the rice gets wrapped in lotus leaves.

128 Plaza

Dr. Young is in the brick building at 128. It houses more than 40 medical offices.

Seventh Floor

Pleasantly dim corridors lead us to suite 707. The wallpaper is soft lavender. The door stands open.


Hi, we’re here to see Dr. Young.

“Welcome. Is this your first visit?”

Receptionist Desk

I tell Ling I’ve visited once before, and she moves to the cabinet, where she pulls my file. Claire mentions it’s her first time. Ling assembles the paperwork.

Ugyen, Choden & Ugyen

All of a sudden our friend Ugyen arrives. We can’t believe the coincidence, and he introduces his niece (also Ugyen) and his wife Choden. Ugyen and I learned about Dr. Young from the same source — a guy named Tenzin, for whom Ugyen used to work at a healthfood shop. Ugyen now runs his own store.

Choden & Ugyen

When Choden and Ugyen take off their coats, they reveal matching hoodies. They bought them from a vendor because they got cold walking. Niece Ugyen, 12 years old, tells us she chaperoned Choden and her uncle on their first date.

X-Ray Machine

I wander through the office. Just beyond Ling’s desk is a standing X-ray machine. The lead blanket brings back visiting dentists as a kid; I remember how heavy those blankets feel.

Exam Room

Down the hall I see a patient’s feet in the doorway.

Exam Room

Inside another room is Dr. Kevin Young himself, at work on somebody else.


Are you Dr. Young’s assistant?

“Yes, I’m Jin. Here’s an X-ray developer.”

Sterilization Machine

Next Jin points out a sterilization machine. I appreciate the hot pink trays.


Today’s tools soak in bubbles.


Claire’s name is called. She comes down the hall and finds me contemplating this arrangement of objects.

Dr. Young

“Have a seat, Claire.”

Tooth Cleaning

Dr. Young inspects Claire’s teeth. He compliments them, and says there are no problems. He starts cleaning. Despite norms — according to which cleanings can cost $200 for uninsured patients — Dr. Young charges $50. “I don’t want to rip people off,” he says.

Tooth Polishing

Dr. Young met his wife Dr. Zhilang Mei during their dental studies. He attended Stony Brook; she attended Columbia. They founded this practice, opened another near Bay Ridge, and live in Queens. When I mention the hot pink trays, Dr. Young credits Dr. Mei: “Zhilang selected them as well as the purple chairs.”


Claire rinses. I move into the chair.

Tooth Cleaning

Dr. Young discovers some plaque behind my lower teeth. The bar I wore as a kid did nothing to correct crowding. He scrapes, and I grip the armrest.

Tooth Polishing

Dr. Young and Dr. Mei have an eight-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl. The children don’t fear dentists because their dentists are their parents. Dr. Young remains gentle while being thorough. My teeth are on the verge of new life.


As we walk to the receptionist desk, Claire and I pass Ugyen. He’s wearing the right shirt for Dr. Mei’s chairs. We plan a late-spring picnic.

Hall Sign

I wonder if spitting has been a problem.

Dr. Mei

Along Ling’s desk I notice the photo of Dr. Mei with Mayor Bloomberg. Dr. Young had mentioned it. We pay our bill — $100 even.

Dr. Young

What does the scroll mean?

“It’s hard to translate. ‘Doctor with spirit,’ or ‘doctor who cares.’”

It’s also hard to practice. Thanks Dr. Young.

“My pleasure.”

Seventh Floor

We find the elevator and return outside.

Mott Street Vendors

It’s 6 p.m. All the bok choy and spiky fruits make us hungry.

Malaysia Jerky

The store known as Malaysia Jerky consists of one intense case. We had no idea shrimp could be jerkied.

XO Kitchen

For dinner, Claire and I stop at XO Kitchen. She chooses it because it’s packed. The menu has 169 dishes — steamed noodles, fried rice, BBQ, dim sum. They even offer spaghetti.

Wan, Xi, Michelle & Tian

Any recommendations?

Wan: “The wonton noodles are the best I’ve tasted.”

Xi: “The curry rice is too salty, so I ate ginger pudding.”

Previously: New Year’s Eve Plans

Jon Cotner has made other slideshows about the holidays. You can find more information here.