I have a friend who enjoys going to the dentist. She likes the feeling of having her teeth cleaned and walking out of the office all fresh-mouthed and white-toothed. I can hardly believe that we are in the same species.
From childhood, I have known that visiting the dentist is a necessary evil along the lines of cleaning toilets, college entrance exams, and swimsuit shopping. Avoid it at your own peril. So every six months, I willingly drag myself into a professionally decorated waiting room where a smiling woman behind a sliding window takes my name. Soon thereafter, I am called into a torture chamber that leaves me wondering if waterboarding would be preferable to the instruments of pain and discomfort before me.
A dental cleaning and exam assaults all five of my senses. First, the chair leans back and the light goes on – the one reminiscent of police interrogations. Then the assistant dons a mask that makes me feel like a hazmat clean-up scene. There are latex gloves and metal instruments that come at me from time to time, arousing my flinch reflex, even though my head can’t move against the presumably comfy exam chair.
Second, the sounds. Ooh, the horrible sounds. There’s the endless scratching against my teeth, the sucking whirl of the spit-retriever, and the whirring noise of the fluoride applicator. (I have no idea the real names of these tools, so I improvise.) The only other sounds in the room are the hygienist attempting small talk and my brief, muffled replies.
Then there’s smell. Perhaps my nose is more sensitive than most, but latex gloves stink, especially when they are brushing by your nostrils every few seconds. The odors of the metal instruments and the fluoride are not ready for a perfume counter either.
Linked closely with smell is taste. The latex smells bad, but its taste is gag-inducing. And I don’t care how many “flavors” are concocted in a fluoride laboratory somewhere, that tooth cleaner does not taste like root beer.
Finally, the sense of touch. Where do I begin? From having to leave your mouth hung open longer than a German Shepherd in 100-degree heat, to the metal scraping against one’s teeth over and over, to the fingers probing inside cheeks and lips, to the Arctic-chilled water flushing out my gathering spit, to the gritty texture of the fluoride, to the irritating back-and-forth of the floss between teeth and against gums, it’s ten times worse than cleaning a toilet – even the one my not-so-aim-conscious sons use.
By the time the hygienist is done with me, I’m eager to have the dentist get his turn over and done with. A few more metal scrapings, latex gloves tastings, and chit-chat out of the way, he will hopefully clear me for the next six months – during which the memory of my time in the electric chair will fade.
Lest you think I have overstated the case against dental visits, I have not mentioned annual x-rays or what happens if a cavity is discovered! I have had my share of bite-wings, cavity fillings, and even a cap. My mouth is prone to problems, which a prior dentist once suggested had something to do with the density or acidity of my saliva. For whatever reason, I have faithfully gone to the dentist since college, with the result of several cavities and subsequent fillings. Those of you who never floss, rarely go to the dentist, and still never have teeth problems: Good for you, but I think you merely have good spit.
After my recent visit, however, I marked my dental duty off the calendar and started the five month, twenty-nine countdown before that nightmare recurs. Now, the next question is whether I can go another summer without having to shop for a swimsuit. Don’t even get me started on that one!