I love going to my dentist. Really. I used to be scared. Petrified. Too many childhood memories of root canals and fillings. So, I just avoided it. For years. After all, why pay money for torture. But then I had an emergency and wound up with a dentist who doesn’t believe in pain. Like a banker who doesn’t believe in money. Or a driver who doesn’t believe in cars. Go figure. But my dentist is slow and gentle on the needles. Easy on the grinding. Sometimes I fall asleep in the chair. So now I floss and brush and go for checkups. I even go for regular cleanings. A little poking and scraping, an x-ray every now and then and its over. Nice. Easy.
A few years ago, the hygienist gave me this kind of dental tape and I decided to get serious. So I began sticking my fingers in my mouth and dragging that white tape around my gums. Felt good. But when I showed up for cleaning, she asked “Are you flossing?” Turns out I’d been using kid’s floss. That was confusing. What did they expect me to do with their little semi-annual gift of tape? Use it to tie my shoes? Hang my laundry? Normally, a cleaning is fairly benign. I can nod off or watch a movie. On a previous trip I saw the latest James Bond flick. Didn’t want to get out of the chair afterwards.
But on my last cleaning, something different happened. I got a new hygienist. I couldn’t read her name tag, but it must have been something like Olga the Butcher or Vladya the Peeler. I should have noticed something was wrong when I saw that the movie Avatar was stuck on the screen. It was a bad omen. Something terrible had taken place in this room and had broken their machine. But I didn’t get the hint. Instead, I sat compliantly down in the chair and let her tilt me back. Dropping me down, moving the light into my eyes. She put me at ease by talking about the weather and what I did. Whether I was going on holidays this summer or not. That should have been a clue that she wasn’t sane. Summer vacation is a national imperative. But by the time I thought about the strangeness of her question, it was too late. She started with the grinder. At first there was a high pitched sound, like a miniature sander. Then it made contact with my mouth with a gargling like a garburator with a bone in it. She pressed down and I wondered if she was trying to bore holes in my teeth. I knew she had to take off the plaque, but it felt like she was trying to take off my gums as well. Shooting pains started to lance up into my jaw. My shoulders hunched up around my ears and my hands got a death grip on the arm rest. I hoped that maybe she would notice and lighten up. For a second, she withdrew and I started to relax. But it was not to be. She returned to the grinding and I resumed my imitation of a man holding an electric fence. They must teach students how to ignore body language at dental college. Eventually, she stopped. But there was little time to reduce my heart rate. There is a clink and clatter and she holds up a new implement of torture. It is an elongated corkscrew-like device, honed to razor sharpness. The handle is a bright yellow. The kind of yellow used to warn of radiation or biological hazards. She jabs it into my mouth, pulling and scraping the sides of my teeth. The grinding is horrific. I wonder if she is trying to take off all the enamel, to get right down to the roots. Intermittently she takes it out, flips it 180 degrees. As if the end she’s been using needs a rest or has gotten dull probing at my jawbone. She dives in again, occasionally poking it into my gums. Just to make sure I am not catatonic from the medieval cruelty going on.
“No passing out, sir. No dying on us. Yet.”
Eventually, the buzzing and scraping is over. Now it is time for the polish. She asks what flavour I would like. Delirious, I say “Pina Colada” vainly wishing they made an alcoholic version. She buzzes around my mouth again, this time, with something akin to a floor buffer. And then it is over.The dentist comes, probes and pronounces that every thing “looks good”. I shake hands and the hygienist asks me if I want to make the next appointment right now. And to my horror I hear my own voice saying,
“Yes, that would be great.”
Clearly, I’ve lost my mind.