“How has work been?” The hygenist asked me as she reclined me back in the dentist chair.
“Uh. Um. Pretty good? The Christmas season is over so it’s a lot more laid back than it has been in the past few months. So yeah…”
“Oh okay! Where do you work again?!”
For fucks sake. Why does everyone have to make small talk? Why ask me about work if she didn’t recall where I worked at in the first place? In retrospect I should’ve given a ridiculous answer: “Well, the funeral business is starting to pick up slightly. Old people dying from shoveling and what not. Although since we haven’t had much snow this year, things are slower than average. It’s a shame. Maybe this coronavirus thing can pick the business up a bit?” I know they’re just trying to be nice and hospitable but I was only really there to have my goddamn teeth cleaned. Let’s just cut the shit and get to it? It had been six months since I had been there — cavity free the last time — and I was there for the typical semi-annual cleaning/scolding where they tell me I need to brush my gum line better. I’ve been told this at every dental appointment for the past four years. And I for the life of me cannot regularly brush my gum line like I’m supposed too.
Obviously I had to have x-rays which they do yearly. Even if I didn’t remember my last appointment I wasn’t surprised that I was up for x-rays again. They’re not too bad. They cram some cardboard film looking thingys into your mouth and they’re very uncomfortable but not unbearably so. I come close to gagging each time, but can hold myself together for the twenty seconds it takes for the hygenist to walk outside the room and blast my face with harsh x-ray photons. Sometimes I try to focus on the feeling in my face trying to notice the radiation blasting through my skin. Nothing.
More small-talk and reclining the a chair. “Open wide!” she says as my mouth is already open. I’ve been here before and I’m aware being at the dentist office might involve opening my mouth. The light above the chair is always slightly shining into my eyes. Making this even more unbearable is when the appointment is early in the morning where I haven’t had enough time to properly wake up. My eyes are sensitive by everything and the light is almost torture. Mostly I just close my eyes. I’m just relaxing.
I can hear Wayne Brady on “Let’s Make a Deal.” When I do open my eyes I see a bunch of pasty white people in silly costumes on a tiny TV screen near the ceiling. I try not to pay attention but there is nothing better to distract me; my eyes continually wander to the damn screen over and over again.
As she scrapes the metal tool across my teeth picking away plaque/tartar (whatever it’s called) I wonder if I had been brushing well or not. It’s a game of trying to figure out how much work she is doing compared to the quality of my brushing over the past six months. It felt like she scraped my teeth for 15 minutes. Did I do that bad brushing? Fuck. And she moved around my mouth so slowly. A minute on the bottom right molar. Another minute on the next molar. And so on past the canine teeth (right?), to the incisors, and back around. Then the top. Jesus Christ, are we done yet?
Periodically as she’s doing this she asks me questions and I don’t know how to respond. Nod or shake my head with sharp metal tools in my mouth? Try to mumble a simple one- or two-word answer? And heaven forbid if she asks me a complicated question that can’t be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ “What shift do you work at UPS?” she asks with half her hand in my mouth. “Uuuurrggghhhh, eeeeeevvvvvvrrrrrrrrinnnnggg ssshiifffffff?”
Things slightly pick up as she begins to polish and clean my teeth, the paste a chalky, gritty mess that seems to linger for hours. A clinical cherry- or strawberry-flavored chalk. But she moves quickly and time flies compared to the scraping. Eh, it’s not so bad after all. I was almost out of there.
The doctor eventually appeared about five minutes after the hygienist had left and we exchanged the same bullshit small talk. “How was your weekend?” he asked.
“Oh. Typical weekend. Sitting around bored and antsy and yeah…” I was totally lying, obviously. Hopefully he doesn’t read this blog where I’ve been melting down the past few days. Typical weekend. Boring. Sure, let’s go with that.
He looks in my mouth and prods around with the pointy tools and I wonder what he’s exactly looking for. He does this gently like he’s more searching for something than doing anything to the teeth. It has always surprised me that the hygenist does all of the work and the dentist — the big man in charge — shows up after everything is done and mostly looks in your mouth. He scrapes here and there and I wonder if he’s checking the hygienist’s work just as much as he’s critiquing mine. Does he have to correct her at the end of the day if she does a shitty job? That seems like it’d be awkward.
Of course, as if on cue, he sits up after the inspection and says, “Continue focusing on brushing the gum line as we’ve talked about before.” For fucks sake Dr. Kim I am aware of my flaws. I’m serious. Every six months I can look forward to Dr. Kim telling me to brush my gum line. Only once — once — has he said, “Your gum line looks better. Keep brushing it like you’ve been doing.” And let me tell you it took a dedicated effort to prove his ass wrong where I was able to brush my gum line consistently for six months. I won. I won once, and ever since I’ve been a constant failure.
I think that’s what bothers me most about the dentist visits. It’s their job to rag on you about brushing twice daily, flossing, and take care of that fucking gum line! But they’re so focused on what seems like such a small and miniscule issue in life. I wonder if Dr. Kim goes home and inspects his gumline ten minutes each day, fixating on his speciality, while everyone else simply doesn’t give a fuck about the minutiae of dental health? I haven’t flossed at all these past six months; I don’t care. The floss is lost in some random drawer and in my day to day life I just don’t give a shit about finding it. The same is true with brushing twice a day. Look, I have about 1,000 other things I’m trying to do in life — be happy, fend off depression, eat healthy, not be bored, read, write, listen to music, play guitar, blog, write music, record music — so brushing twice a day is totally disregarded. And the gum line? Whatever.
I wonder if dentists have any idea how little people care about their advice. Like I guess I do care, but not enough to act on it. It’s not a priority. It’s not like a doctor telling you to eat healthy otherwise you’ll die of a heart attack in ten years. This is easy to care about because it’s life or death and you eat all the time; eating is a big part of life so it’s easy to find yourself passively thinking about what you do eat. Therapy is another good example. The whole point of therapy is to improve your mental state — which is basically your reality — and the way you see the world. It’s easy to take a therapist’s suggestions, actually value their opinions, and mull over advice while constantly trying to apply them to your life. But brushing my gum line? Yeah, okay. Yell at me in six months, it’s fine, I’ll pretend to care for a few minutes and then I’ll go about my life like I always do. I brush daily and that’s good enough for me.