Where Y'Eat: The Intersection Of St. Patrick's Day, St. Joseph's Day, And The Dentist's Chair

Mar 12, 2015

At the intersection of St. Patrick's Day and St. Joseph's Day in New Orleans, food-centric celebrations abound, but so do some unique hazards for the unwary.

Seasonal awareness is running high for foodies across the land. We can read what’s fresh these days on restaurant specials boards, see it spilling forth from farmers market stalls and even find new marketing ploys for seasonal goods at the supermarket.

Still, the dentist’s chair was one of the last places I expected to get a reminder of the food seasons. This being New Orleans, however, I probably should not have been so surprised, especially not with the way this particular reminder mixed food seasons, cultural traditions and just a little backbeat of danger in the midst of celebration.

Food actually comes up quite often at my dentist’s office, though lectures about sugar and cavities aren’t part of these discussions anymore. My dentist knows I follow restaurants for a living, so while he has me in the chair, with sharp picks and mini mirrors poking around, he pumps me for restaurant tips, and shares reports about his own dining experiences around town. I’m confident that my dental care is in good hands, but he and I are more likely to discuss muffulettas than mouthwash.

Somehow we recently fell into the topic of all the havoc that Louisiana food, and New Orleans food traditions, can inflict on an otherwise healthy mouth. It seems that local dentists can read the seasons by the types of complaints and injuries they see in their patients’ pie holes.

The most obvious danger is seafood shells. When crabs are running fat, more little corners of their hard shells are bound to secret themselves into bisques or any manner of casseroles, waiting there to chip a tooth on an overeager bite. Meanwhile, cool weather brings oyster season, and just as certainly a fresh crop of damaged teeth from their little hidden pearls.

The sportsman’s culture of Louisiana also plays a part. When duck season starts, and freshly felled birds start making their way into roasting pans and gumbos, dental injuries from shot stuck in the meat escalate too. This is actually a more recent phenomenon, I learned. The old lead shot hunters once used was soft and forgiving, on the teeth if not the birds. But since harder steel shot has replaced the lead for waterfowl hunting, well, watch out.

Holiday foods take their toll, from baked goods with partially shelled nuts to the plastic babies embedded in Carnival king cakes. Those innocent looking baby figures cause all sorts of problems, the dentist assured me.

Now the month of March in particular brings its own special menace: Beware the potatoes and carrots heaved from St. Patrick’s Day parade floats.

And then there’s St. Joseph’s Day. The devotional altars built by faithful local Italian families to St. Joseph are of course loaded with food, and some of the traditional cookies included in that spread are, by custom, rock hard. A few calls about broken teeth are as inevitably a part of mid-March as kiss-me-I’m-Irish buttons and strands of Italian-flag beads.

So remember, whether you mark the seasons by the harvest or the cultural calendar, bite softly to make sure your chair is at the dinner table and not at the dentist.