We hire strangers to do many intimate things, including groom our genitals. But there’s something surprisingly invasive about the dentist’s. If you are going to the gynecologist, you know what to expect. At the dentist, you know you’re going to be scolded about not flossing, but you aren’t prepared to necessarily feel vulnerable.
At least I wasn’t, when I went for my cleaning. I went early so I could catch up on my gossip magazines in the waiting room, but they ushered my right into an examination room. First they put me in the wrong room, then the dentist’s aid instructed me to immediately lie down. I felt like it was nap time, and then she wrapped a bib around me. Then the dentist entered, a loud mouthed, bossy woman who reminded me of several soccer coaches I’d served under. I didn’t remember actually meeting her before, but she seemed to remember me. Did she remember my teeth?
She asked me what had happened in the year since I’d seen her. How do you answer that question? I imagined describing break ups and all the good therapy I’ve been doing with another intimate stranger. Instead I went with “I got a cat.” Luckily she was a cat person, so the conversation didn’t peter out awkwardly. Cats can be a conversation killer, and I often remind myself not to talk about them, especially around attractive members of the opposite sex.
Then the dentist asked me what medication I was on (owning a cat and medication go hand in hand). This question always feels very invasive, and unnecessary. I tried to play it sly and ask her what medication I was on a year ago. She read me the list and I stopped her, “I’m no longer on the pill.” She crossed it off my chart, essentially denoting, “No longer sexually active, and she has a cat.”
Then she went to town on my teeth, occasionally vacumning up my blood and saliva. There was no conversation. She shared nothing about her life. I stared at her family photos, and the ugly kids with braces were comforting. They helped create the illusion of a person behind the drill. After using my chest as a table for her tools and various bloody swabs, she told me to floss more regularly and to see her in six months. Then she disappeared, and her assistant polished my teeth with chocolate mint polish, which sounds infinitely better than it is.
I was so relieved to see the office assistant who booked me for my next appointment. He was chipper and seemed like he was really glad to have me in the office. He even made me a personalized postcard and promised to send it to me. He wouldn’t forget about me. I would try to forget about him and his sterile friends, resolving to write a Mickey Rooney-esque blog about the experience. I haven’t flossed since. I really showed them.