Dentists are terrifying. They’re up there with clowns, spiders and scorned women in my book. Anyone who makes a living mining mouths, picking and prodding the face’s exposed bits of bones, is some type of sociopath. Willy Wonka’s dentist dad screwed him up for life by strapping unnecessary headgear on him at an early age and burning all of his Halloween candy so he wouldn’t get cavities. But instead of locking ’em up and reforming them, we actually pay to see a dentist. Growing up, I looked forward to visiting the dentist. My teeth were always clean, if not falling out, and there was a treasure chest of toys to pick from after a successful check up. I even had an extra baby tooth surgically removed, which resulted in stitches and braces for several weeks until the gap in my smile closed. It’s disgusting now to think that my 8-year-old gums needed to be cut open so a tooth that shouldn’t have been there could be yanked out. Retained deciduous teeth are a common occurrence in cats and dogs. Too bad I’m not a polyphyodont, like a shark or crocodile.
These thoughts came to me before a recent visit to the local dentist. It’s not the dentists themselves that irk me — my dentist is a sweetheart, actually — but the practice of dentistry. Scheduled for a routine six-month cleaning, the nerves started a couple days beforehand. I stood in front of the mirror with my lips stretched wide, looking for problem spots. My gums are receding and I’m not even 30. This can’t be good. Wiggling one tooth at a time, I thought about pulling them out like I do in my dreams and getting dentures. Solid foods are overrated anyway. Freud thought dreams about tooth extraction equaled sexual repression. Other mystics believe it has something to do with fear of aging, acceptance or lack of assertiveness. Or maybe it’s just good old fashioned self mutilation. Not all of us are turning into humanoid flies that don’t need teeth anymore, like Jeff Goldblum in David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of “The Fly.” I bought a new toothbrush in anticipation of my visit, one that supposedly cleans gums and tongues better, and scrubbed my mouth raw for a week. Then it was time. The day of reckoning.
I exchanged pleasantries with the lady at the front desk, waited for about five minutes and then was called into the back. I made more small talk and leaned back in the chair. The cleaning began after I was horizontal.
The sound of the apparatus scraping against my teeth made a high-pitched squeal that gave me goosebumps. When it hit sensitive spots, I gripped the leather armrests and focused on the flat screen TV bolted to the ceiling above me.
Images of a colorful peacock in full bloom and a cheetah resting on a rock flashed across the screen. They’re beautiful creatures, I thought, but when you associate them with dental duress, they become mocking monsters. Peacocks don’t have to worry about bad teeth and rotting gums as they flaunt about with their skinny necks and butts full of feathers.
Then there were the dental fun facts about tooth plaque and periodontal disease. Lying on your back as a stranger operates a power tool in your mouth while before and after pictures of crooked smiles and stained teeth are displayed on the screen is some type of torture. It’s like a scene out of “Hostile.” The only thing worse would be a livefeed of the cleaning to accompany the taste of blood.
Photos of staff would come up every now and then, and I couldn’t help but look at their perfect teeth. The smiles reminded me of the saying that beauty is pain, then a shiver ran through my whole body as the apparatus found a nerve ending near my gum line, and I realized you don’t have to be beautiful to experience pain, at least not in the dentist’s chair. At a certain point, you give in and embrace it, almost enjoy it. The pain is temporary, but a pretty smile lasts a little longer.
After almost an hour of this, the peacock popped up on the TV again with its colored feathers and healthy looking coat. Damn, rainbow goose. Then the pain stopped. Feeling relieved and violated, I agreed to return in six months.