Rick Nelson and Claude Peck dispense unasked-for advice about clothing, etiquette, culture, relationships, grooming and more.

CP: You are such a paragon of right living, sobriety and moderation. Let me guess: You have, like, one or two cavities.

RN: Oh, please.

CP: The fluoridated water must have missed our house on Elder Lane. We Pecks ran up monster bills at the dentist in Evanston.

RN: Our family dentist in the 1960s — I hated him so much, I've blocked his name from my memory — probably took half of my parents' disposable income.

CP: I never seemed to dodge the dreaded pronouncement: "I'm seeing a couple of cavities that will need to be filled." Precociously, I would argue, "But isn't that a baby tooth that is just going to fall out anyway? Let's wait and see."

RN: As a way to minimize what would otherwise be daylong anxiety attacks, my mother wouldn't tell us in advance when we were headed to the dentist. Instead, she would sandbag us as we came home from school. "Leave your coats on; we're walking up to Dr. What's-His-Name's office." Great.

CP: If not the sandbag, there's always bribery. We often were treated to a post-dentist stop at a nearby soda fountain. "Green Rivers all around," my mom would say, like this was some kind of whiskey bar and she had just come into a bounty hunter's fortune. Which sort of defeated the whole tooth-care thing.

RN: Those born after 1980 have no idea what Nixon-era dentistry was all about. I swear that Dr. Marathon Man's drills were from Black & Decker. Recalling their sound — and the icky, antiseptic smell of the place — makes my flesh crawl.

CP: Truly. The introduction, years later, of the music-playing headphones was a paradigm shifter. That, and nitrous oxide, and Dr. Kath could do a molar extraction on me without novocaine.

RN: Just hearing the words "molar extraction" is making my head spin.

CP: What must it be like to gravitate toward a profession in which your patients uniformly dread the very thought of you?

RN: Um, you're a journalist. Surely you are familiar with the sensation.

CP: We are scorned and mistrusted. That differs from a profession that instills fear and loathing. And don't even get me started on the whole wisdom-tooth thing. People talk about reliving their youth, but would they want to if it involved oral surgery and the specter of dry socket?

RN: I continually marvel at the ability of dental professionals to carry on meaningful conversations. In my mind, I'm saying, "Yes, I'm flossing twice daily," but it sounds like, "Yfh mhn phofflng tuheez bayhlie."

CP: Hah. Of course I lie freely to my dentist about my flossing frequency.

RN: I can hear the voice of my DDS pal Terese in my ear, saying, "Only floss the teeth you want to keep."

CP: A sage preventive-care proverb, one written right into a sunset in the posters a former dentist had taped to the ceiling.

RN: Or next to the "Today is the first day of the rest of your life" poster that the dentist of my teenage years had in his. Seriously.

E-mail: witheringglance@startribune.com

Twitter: @claudepeck and @RickNelsonStrib