Written Aug. 25, 2009
Okay, so I was sitting there this afternoon in the dentist chair with all these thoughts floating around in my head and decided I would write a facebook note and share in excruciating detail my experience. Hope my discomfort makes you laugh. I mean, after all the dentist is a weird place. They play soft music so you SHOULD be mellow, they put you in a padded chair so you SHOULD be comfy, they lay you back in a reclined position so you SHOULD be relaxed but then they come at you with gloved hands carrying sharp tools, shove them in your mouth and then all you can taste is latex, metal and soon your own blood.
All of a sudden your hands are clenched in a silent prayer for mercy and your eyebrows are so furrowed they’re meeting in the middle of your forehead. Your eyes are darting left to right because you don’t know where you should be looking. You can’t stare straight ahead because a cold harsh light you’re sure was used in the inquisition is directly above you making you wonder what dental atrocities are being uncovered in your mouth. You can’t look to the right because a stranger’s masked face is just inches from your own and you don’t want to be that creepy patient that just stares into the torture administrator… I mean, hygienist’s eyes. You can’t look to the left because… well, there’s just nothing interesting over there and it would be even more creepy to be staring off into space at an invisible point on the wall. Closing your eyes is an option but what are you? A zen master? An expert at self-hypnosis? No, I didn’t think so. And no amount of internally chanting “find a happy place, find a happy place” will lower the volume of the scraping going on just below your nose. So you keep your eyes roaming and try to STOP your tongue from doing the same thing.
I imagine the only thing more creepy to a hygienist than a patient who stares blankly into your eyes is the patient who has no firm control over their tongue. Or, worse yet, the patient that has “tongue sex” with your fingers ON PURPOSE. (Side note, a friend of mine just graduated dental school and she has first hand experience with this phenomenon. Lucky her, it was an inmate in prison! I’m sure he thought about that for weeks.) And now that you’re thinking of your tongue doing the horizontal mambo with the hygienist’s fingers it seems impossible to avoid. You zig left, she zags the same way. You go right, there she is again. “To the roof of your mouth!” you command the pink muscle but alas, foiled again. There’s no escape and not for the first time in your life you wish your mouth was bigger.
And then what glorious humiliation is now unfolding? A build up of saliva has begun to seep out of the corners of your mouth. Yippie! The latex octopus retreats only to return with what looks and sounds like a miniature version of your vacuum hose. And it’s clear! I can actually SEE my saliva being sucked out of the pools that have formed around my gums. Who wouldn’t want that? SHLORK!! “Oooops, sorry!” says the dental terrorist. No worries, just a bit of cheek tissue. It grows back, doesn’t it? And now “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison is playing on the stereo and you laugh to yourself because it’s one of your favorite songs and your feet involuntarily start tapping. That must have cemented your status as “The Crazy Patient” for the day.
You are the embodiment of an oxymoron… toes tapping, mouth slack-jawed, hair lazily falling to the side juxtaposed with tensed muscles, clenched fists, nervous eyes scanning the room. The image makes you want to laugh but since you can’t you start to tear up and the drop that rolls from your eyes elevates you to “Crazy Patient of the Week”. You wonder if there’s a prize. Oh look! There is. It’s called floss. I hope that whoever thought up the idea of one person flossing another person’s teeth is enjoying a nice hot toddy with Lucifer right now. What the hell? If that’s not the most awkward interaction between two people I don’t know what is. Yes, some of my teeth are really tight together. I should have had teeth pulled and braces at 15 but I chose short-term vanity over long-term dental care. Sue me. But I don’t know why that means the hygienist has to saw the floss back and forth like she’s chopping down a sequoia. On the other hand, I got a nice static charge built up in my hair from the back of my head being shaken to and fro. If I had a balloon right now it would stick. Fun!
So now the near death experience is almost over. You know this because the chair is being moved into position for the dentist to come and “evaluate”. As you wipe your mouth and swallow the rest of the grit left behind by the rotating wheel of liquid sandpaper known as the “polisher” you almost feel violated. But then you remember you actually volunteered for this gig. And are spending over $100 for it! As you’re going over in your head the things you’d rather spend $100 on (shoes being number one on the list), the dentist appears. You’ve been going to him for over 30 years and in all those years you’ve never once had the moxy to give him a nose hair trimmer for Christmas. You’re lamenting that fact right about… NOW. Why doesn’t HE have to wear a mask? Geez. Hair club for men needs to research the chemical makeup of the lining of his nostrils and put that shit to good use. Clearly it’s a fertile piece of real estate. More scraping, only this time it’s accompanied by genial bantering between the dentist and hygienist. He even stops to gesticulate with his hands. WHAT? WHAT?!!!
At this point you’re unclear whether or not you should close your mouth or sit there like a tranquilized monkey with your mouth hanging open for no good reason. You choose the latter in the interest of time savings. You can’t be expected to open and close your mouth 51 times. 50 times, yes, but the 51st time would just take too much time that you just don’t have. Thankfully he remembers his patient, you, and resumes his inspection. But really, the story they’re sharing is enthralling. Children finding their presents from Santa in the closet before Christmas. You’d chuckle in that “I’m from Martha’s Vineyard, holding a smart cocktail in my tennis whites talking to someone named Muffy” kind of way… if you weren’t busy trying to keep your tongue away from the dentists fingers, your eyes averted from the hair forest above you, and the saliva from making its way down the entire length of your chin. Yes, a few more wiggles with the sharp pointy object and lo and behold you’ve been declared dentally sound. A pat on the back and a jaunty “Merry Christmas, I guess!” from the dentist (you see, because in 6 months Christmas will already have passed.) and you can finally give your Martha’s Vineyard chuckle a try. You cough instead because your mouth is like the Sahara. Oh well, good try old chap. The hygienist gives you your parting gifts of toothbrush, evil floss and the bill.
You make your way to the front desk trying to will your glands to now produce MORE saliva instead of less and feebly attempting to find your chap stick so you can give your parched lips a bit of a reprieve. There you see the same receptionist that has graced the desk for those 30 plus years. Her face is alarmingly tan. Like, freakishly so. She’s a nice enough lady and always asks about your family. Always. The same questions. Always. “Where’s your sister now?”. “She’s in Charlotte.” (and has been for what.. 14 years now? That means I’ve answered that question 28 times. 28. 28!!) She did say she liked my hair so we’ll lay off her. You write your check, make your return appointment for March and breeze out of the office. In the car you check your teeth, run your tongue over them and feel how smooth they are. Eh, I guess getting your teeth cleaned is a lot like childbirth. The end result is worth it and you forget the pain. Although, I really would have rather brought home a new pair of shoes.