I survived the dentist last night, with a clean bill of dental health and I don’t have to go back for six months.  After a period where it seemed like I had cavities every time I went in, or at the least decay the dentist was “watching,” this is a welcome stay of execution. 

As I was sitting in the chair, ignoring the awful scraping of metal on enamel, I began to reflect:

Just don’t talk to me.  Talk to yourself if you must, narrate what you’re doing, but leave me out of it.  And definitely don’t ask me how I’m doing.  If you don’t see my fists clenched or tension wracking my face as I wince, I’m probably just fine, or at least coping alright. 

When do they expect us to swallow?  What is my tongue doing?  It’s hard enough to focus on keeping my jaw cranked open constantly without worrying about my tongue.  When she’s “polishing” my teeth, it’s a constant logic puzzle.  I have to guess where she’s likely to go next, so I can work on keeping my tongue out of the way, lest I get buzzed by the tool or the dubiously minty flavor of the polish. 

Why is a metal tool the one chosen to scrape my teeth anyway?  At my dentist, they use a WaterPik.  It took me several visits to figure out what tool they were shoving in my mouth that sent needles of sharp pain at my gum line.  Whoever figured out that you can use water to accomplish this is a marketing genius.  “It’s only water,” he would say, “but it comes out with so much force it only feels like needles.” So therefore it must be harmless.  Right, just like the water the carved Niagara Falls, and the freezing rain that’s encased my entire block in a sheet of ice and taken down trees and power lines in my neighborhood.  It’s only water. 

I think the hygienists must have a pool to see how many can speculate where the cavities are, and what their accuracy in prediction is.  They poke around, tapping, scraping, digging, and mumble, gravely, “Oh, I think I see something here.”  Then they report to the dentist, “I saw some decay in number 8 and number 17.” And, damn! If they’re right, it must just send a shiver of pomposity up their spines.  As if all they had to do was go to dental hygienist school and not dental school to figure it all out.

“Are you flossing?”  “Mmmph,” I mumble assertively.  “Every day?”  “Mmph Hmph.” I affirm.  They never believe me.  I’m the most religious flosser I’ve ever known.  I get popcorn, broccoli, pasta, crackers, orange pulp, and spinach caught every place they can think to hide, sending me straight for the floss.  But they want to have contempt for my habits and my gum line, so the accusations and doubt hang in the air. 

At least I don’t have to go back for six months.  When I was a kid, I considered which I disliked more – going to the dentist or the doctor.  I was infrequently sick, so I only had to go to the doctor once a year, compared to the dentist’s twice a year dictum, but at the doctor there were often shots and nakedness.  For me, the dentist was less traumatizing, as I never had cavities back then, and the hygienists always told me I was their best patient.  I opened my mouth wider than anyone else, and I was much better behaved than the adults.  So they said.  And I chose to believe it.

Also, as a child, I would come home with my mouth feeling too clean.  I wanted desperately for it to feel and taste normal again.  I would hit the candy and junk as soon as I was out of sight of the dentist’s office.  I could never understand the appeal of the promised “Fresh from the dentist’s office clean” some toothpastes assured.  Now, every time I go, I feel guilty for whatever I’ve done to deserve the scraping, poking, and criticism, not to mention the cavities, and drilling that sometimes follow.  I leave the office with renewed promises to be a good girl.  Despite how hungry I may be from my early dinner, I don’t want to put another thing in my mouth and “ruin” what the hygienists worked so hard to accomplish.  My resolve usually lasts 2 hours. 

Now, however, the dentist is always in my calendar, 6 months out, whether I’m sick or not.  And it’s only by going there that I find out I have cavities.  And they have the WaterPik.  At least with the doctor, nowadays, I go when I’m sick or have some sort of mysterious issue, and my mind (if not my body as well) is always relieved by seeing my kindly old GP.  In comparison to my brain surgery and subsequent recovery, needles and nakedness are small potatoes.

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