I’m seeing a new dentist. I suppose that makes it sound like we’re dating, but it’s actually more serious than that. This guy, after all, has greater responsibilities than selecting a restaurant and picking up the check. (Do men even do that anymore?) In short, his duty is to make sure I keep my teeth as long as possible. Bonus points for accomplishing the goal with a minimum of pain.
Until last Monday it had been, oh, a while since I last seated myself in a pleather dental chair. But just over a week ago I took a loaded clipboard and a cheap black pen from a friendly receptionist, plopped down in an empty waiting room, and began to fill in approximately three thousand blanks while waiting for my name to be called. Turns out the paperwork required for a professional floss job is more invasive than a dating service questionnaire. They requested info on everything but my astrological sign (Gemini) and whether or not I want children someday (Yes). Even my marital status and social security number were up for discussion.
Of course, it would have gone a lot faster if a) they’d shown a little restraint in the inquisition department, b) I wrote as speedily – and as legibly – as I type, c) I could have stilled the jittery knee on which I’d balanced the clipboard and d) my own list of dental-related questions would have shut up as requested. How often do you have to floss in order to say you do it regularly? I found myself wondering. Is monthly enough? Will weekly work? And What are the moral implications of lying to my dentist about the last time I had my teeth professionally cleaned? Do you go to hell for that, or is it an understandable white lie? Do all your teeth fall out in retribution? And, finally, the tiny, niggling little If I lie, will they find out and dump me?
Still wondering if I’d gotten all the answers right, I handed the clipboard back and then dug through my bag for my latest read – a fun, but not particularly deep or intricate book that’s perfect for a waiting room. And then they called my name. Swallowing hard, I gathered my stuff and followed the hygienist into the back.
With all the nervousness and questions, it’s no wonder the visit itself was pleasantly anticlimactic: Two hours of scraping and polishing and rinsing and digging and, yes, pain. Most importantly, though: No cavities. My teeth felt loose and puffy afterward, and encased by the same tingling ache I always experienced for days after I skipped my eighth grade history class to have my braces tightened.
I wrapped up the appointment by solemnly swearing to become better acquainted with dental floss, then gathered my stuff and beat it to the receptionist’s desk, where I set up my next appointment. Six months and counting.
Turned out I wasn’t done, though. As I swished through the waiting room and toward the door, still running my tongue over my newly sparkling teeth, one of the hygienists called me back to personally tell me goodbye and invite me to return, saying that I was fun and a pleasure to work with. I felt absurdly pleased, like a kid who wins high marks for cooperation on her third grade report card. Though I can’t say I enjoyed the visit myself, I can’t complain – I do still have all my teeth, after all, and that is the goal.