“Open wider, close a little, a little wider, close, open, wider, not so wide,” says the dental hygienist of a highly rated cosmetic dentist in Albuquerque while I’m getting my routine checkup, in a constant stream of hushed commands.
While she scrapes my teeth, I distract myself with signs on the wall. “Ask your dentist about sedation dentistry today,” one sign reads. With nothing else to do, I repeat the phrase countless times in my mind. Ask your dentist about sedation dentistry, ask your dentist, ask your dentist, ask, your, dentist. About. About. About. Sedation. Sedation. Sedation. DENTISTRY.
The hygienist moves the robotic hinged arm of the mercilessly bright light and continues her work. My mind wanders further, and I look around the room for entertainment.
Oh Geeze, is that ceiling tile bulging? Hmm… I’ll bet the hygienist is embezzling money from the dentist and hiding it up there. Maybe it’ll come crashing down, revealing her thievery and crushing my toes in the process, giving rise to protracted litigation involving the dentist, the criminal hygienist, and the insurance company. What are juries awarding plaintiffs with disfigured toes these days? We are in Florida, where flip-flops are standard apparel and, thus, toe disfigurement would be highly visible, causing immense pain and suffering, not to mention loss of marital consortium, right? Maybe if I wiggle this chair a little, I could make that ceiling tile fall.
“Mrs. Molinari, please stay still, and open a bit wider,” the hygienist commands.
Ouch, ouch, hey, easy! Is that a gaffing hook she’s poking me with? My gums must look like raw ground beef with this violent treatment. She probably has to use that electric squirt gun just to wash away all the blood evidence. What’s with all these electronic instruments anyway? Don’t they trust us to rinse and spit anymore? No – they insist on putting that hooked tube in our mouths to suck away the slurpy concoction, and then they make it clear so we’re forced to see our own mouth sludge slither down the pipe.
The whirr of the hygienist’s tools makes me wonder how many microscopic droplets of saliva and bits of tooth deposits are flying off the high-speed rotating parts at the mercy of centrifugal force. It’s no wonder they cover everything with plastic wrap these days. When I was a kid, the dentist used his bare hands and no eye protection other than his horn rimmed glasses. Besides, he was probably a chain smoker like every other doctor in the 70s, so a few measly spit germs was the least of his health concerns.
Sheesh, this hygienist looks like she is prepared for nuclear holocaust. Goggles, cap, lab coat, latex gloves, surgical mask, shoe covers. Is she protecting herself or me? Only a forensic crime scene investigator would be able to detect it, but I’ll bet this whole room is completely glazed in spit splatter evidence.
With gum-poking complete, the hygienist begins to polish while I focus on pamphlets perched on a small wall shelf. Invisible braces. Electric toothbrushes. Teeth whitening. Veneers. Implants. What else will these dentists come up with to make money off of us? Why don’t they just stick that little spit sucker into our wallets?
Just then, a large plop of raspberry flavored tooth polishing paste flies off the hygienist’s rotating tool, landing just under my right eye. She seems disgusted, despite the fact that, for the last hour, she has been chipping tarter deposits off my gum line and stabbing me with a fishhook. She wipes the offensive blob off my face with the corner of my paper bib. I feel like a big giant baby who just spit up.
A few minutes later, my tormenter turns off the interrogation lamp and announces, “Okey Dokey, Mrs. Molinari, we’re all finished here.” I give my chair one last wiggle in an attempt to dislodge the embezzled money in the ceiling, without success.
She hands me a bag of sample-sized products, which I know is nothing more than bribery to keep quiet about her crimes. As much as I want to blow the whistle on the hygienist for treating me like a human pincushion and stealing from the poor dentist, I cannot deny my excellent dental health and secretly appreciate her thorough handiwork. I run my tongue over the smooth surface of my teeth, and give the hygienist a quick wink.
It’ll be our little secret.