Every six months we voluntarily admit ourselves into a torture chamber known as the dentist. From inflicting physical pain, to deceiving us into trusting them, to downright striping our dignity, we have not just good, but very good reasons to dread the dentist.
The dentist likes to make you feel your visit is very casual and friendly. It’s just “routine.” They send out postcards of cartoon teeth reminding you to come in. They remember your birthday better than your mother, and send a card for that too. They call ahead of time to make sure you don’t forget your appointment.
You come in and the office is impeccably clean. Calming music plays faintly in the
background. A beautiful woman greets you. A nice little waiting room with magazines encourages you to relax. Posters and pamphlets of patients with perfect teeth smile back at you; they love the dentist.
Going to the dentist is painful. It’s physical torture. We all know that. However, after six months, our selective memory allows us forget about it and move on with our lives. So all we see are those reminders that it’s time for a cleaning. So we keep coming back.
A single chair sits in the center of a room. Next to the chair is a fast food Tray of Torture piled with sharp metal tools a dental assistant likely just finished sharpening. They want to break you.
The hygienist slowly lowers you back in the chair. Farther and farther. Surely she doesn’t mean to put you back that far. Oh, yes, yes she does. You’re nearly upside down. The blood drifts up to your head. A bright beam blinds you. All you see is a shadowy outline above you. She commands you to,”open wide,” an unnatural position they force you into for inhumane periods of time. Jaws were not meant to stay pried open for an hour or more. She wants you frozen in a silent scream for the remainder of your visit.
The hygienist begins to poke, drill, stab, jab, prick, and floss with a vengeance. You try not to flinch enough for them to notice. Your eyes prick with tears. But you don’t dare let them spill over. You will not lose face. She must not know your pain. You taste blood. You think to yourself, “No one makes me bleed my own blood.”
Your lips are literally tearing as they place innumerable tools in your mouth. The rinse and the suction- your only two friends in the world. The shrill sound of a drill next door makes you wonder many others are suffering at this very moment. You whisper to them, “be brave.”
They get you in by claiming it’s for your own good. After all, you’d be ashamed to neglect your hygiene. So like a good clean citizen, you show up.
You’re surrounded by people and posters of people with amazing, perfect teeth (people with perfect teeth intentionally signup for this job because they like to make the rest of us feel inferior). They scrutinize over your mouth. It’s like having a bunch of runway models get together and measure your BMI. You hate yourself.
A hygienist puts a little paper bib around your grownup neck. She uses this to wipe up all your grownup slobber. She looks deep into your mouth, into regions and crevices you yourself have never even seen.
Then the interrogation. You knew it was coming. You thought you were prepared.
Hygienist: “How often do you floss?
You: “Um, fairly often.” (Phew nice dodge.)
Hygienist: Uh huh. Like how many times a week would you say?
You (Dang it. Clears throat): Maybe four?
Hygienist looks at your gums. She raises an eyebrow skeptically.
Then the lecture. You are literally being lectured about how you clean your grownup body. You are deeply embarrassed and promise to try harder next time. It’s not enough. She feels this is a good opportunity to teach you like a 4 year old how to properly clean yourself:
“Use circle motions away from the gums. Really try and get high in between the teeth when you are flossing. See like this? Oh and see that blood? That means you’re a big fat liar who doesn’t floss four times a week. Ok sweetie?”
Once she has all the tools positioned in your mouth, along with all ten of her fingers, she asks you questions about your job and family. You, of course, must still respond as if she isn’t asking the impossible. You answer the questions like someone trying to talk with their tongue pinned down in a full nelson, because it is. Remember it’s all part of their torture technique, make us feel as helpless and ridiculous as possible.
To make you feel even more childish, she lets you pick a fluoride flavor. You quietly ask for bubblegum, please. She asks you to say it again.
Finally the doctor comes in. They’ve been holding him (or her) hostage until the very end to give you a false sense of hope. Maybe he’ll rescue me! He holds a not-so-secret meeting with the dental hygienist while staring at your x-rays three feet away from you, like you aren’t sitting in the middle of the room. You silently hope he doesn’t find any cavities. Even if you have them, you hope he misses them. Because the shame of getting a cavity is like failing at hygiene. You are a dirty grownup who can’t take care of herself. They have successfully striped you of all your dignity. You really wish your mom were here.
As you leave they hand you a goody bag…
It’s finally over, you’re on your way out, and you haven’t cried (waiting till you get to the car). As you beeline it for the door, you hear the receptionist behind you:
“Would you like to set up your next six month appointment?”