On a recent appointment for a teeth cleaning, I was conned by the old bait and switch: I got a substitute plaque hacker and had not been alerted to the change. You might say I went to the dentist and got a temporary fill-in. She explained that she had once been a dental assistant but had been retired for about 2 years. “Oh boy,” I thought, “a rusty hygienist.”
I’m not saying it was rough, but I did file assault charges with the police, and when they looked at my gums, they said they were upping the charge to attempted 5th-degree manslaughter with a dangerous weapon. Then they told me she had a long list of priors.
Right at the start, she insisted I get X-rays even after I told her I didn’t want them. After 5 minutes of hard-sell pressure (you know the drill), I finally caved and said I’d get them if it made her feel better, which knocked her back in her swivel seat. She protested it was for me, not her, so I said again I didn’t want them. Then she got huffy and confessed she was afraid of her own liability. I asked how much they cost and she didn’t even know but then looked it up and said, “$80.” I said, “OK, if it’ll make you feel better,” and this time she didn’t protest.
Incidentally, X-rays hurt. Hygienists tell you to bite down such that hard, stiff plastic is poking into the tender tissue of the roof of your mouth, and they leave the room while they explode radiation into the very mouth you’re trying to protect. As ideas go, that’s pretty rad.
After she removed my lead apron, she asked if I flossed every day. I truthfully said yes. (I really do—not through any periodontal piety or anything; I just can’t stand the feel of stuff stuck between my teeth.) She doubtfully asked again with the emphasis on “every,” “Every day?” She hadn’t even looked in my mouth yet and was already insinuating I was the kind of guy who would exaggerate a lot and even make things up if it suited me. The idea!
Later, during the enhanced interrogation, my gum gouger actually asked me if my gums had bled “this much” before, and I said, “I don’t know; I can’t see how much they’re bleeding,” and she shot back, “You can taste the blood.” I thought, “That’s true, but I don’t know how to assess quantity of blood based on taste. (Let’s see, that tastes like about 4 ounces of blood.)” Besides, I didn’t know how much my gums bled all those other times because no dental hygienist ever showed me how much blood pooled in my mouth; they always just sucked it out. It was like she was blaming me for her cutting my gums to shreds.
In another attempt to blame my bleeding on someone other than herself, she asked me, “Does your doctor have you on a daily dose of aspirin?” and I just truthfully said, “No.” I didn’t want to get into the fact that I don’t even have a doctor. I didn’t want to get another lecture from her, this time on how I should be paying other doctors to find more stuff wrong with me. I have plenty of friends who’ll do that for free.
As a side note, this was the first time in about 60 years of teeth cleanings that a dental hygienist has ever hurt me with the tiny mirror thingy. I have to admit, that was a little unexpected.
The end of the story is that the X-rays showed no unseen problems and so were in fact unnecessary, a painful waste of 80 bucks.
Overall, my tartar parter treated me like I was dentally ill. I admit I may have some dental health issues, that some days I may even be a bit bi-molar, but I plan on fixing that myself by practicing transcend-dental meditation—a treatment, I’d like to point out, that is both payment- and (I can’t emphasize this enough) pain-free.
Bill Spencer is author of Uranus Is Always Funny: Short Essays to Make You Laugh.