Rinse and Spit

I got back from the dentist about two and a half hours ago. It was a successful trip; in fact, it was the shortest visit that I have ever experienced. It seems as if every time I visit the dentist—despite my vigorous, twice-a-day brushing; religious flossing; and routine rinsing—there is a cavity to fill.

Plaque, I curse you. It is because of you that each of my molars hosts a mass of silvery amalgam.

Well, that isn’t entirely true. That sticky white film that accumulates on my teeth isn’t, in itself, bacteria. My dental caries are most likely caused by the streptococcus mutans I ingest.

Therefore, as I waited for the dentist to come back and discuss my X-rays with me, I braced myself for the number of cavities I had. Warned myself of impending root canals. I, however, was pleasantly surprised.

“Your gums look just fine,” he said, “And it looks as if you have enough room for your wisdom teeth. Are they giving you any pain?”

“Um, some, I guess. They just ache sometimes, but there is no constant throb.”

“Good.” He proceeded to warn me about bacteria that may get around my tooth as it breaks the surface of my gums. “It’s just something to be aware of,” he said.

I was still stunned. I had no cavities? Enough room? Healthy gums? What happened to the mouth where cavities built colonies over non-existent enamel?

Laying back in the chair, I thanked God for my surprisingly healthy teeth and stared awkwardly at the crack where the ceiling tiles met the pinstripe wallpaper, a labyrinth of lines. The tartar scraper picked at the back of my teeth, pushed between the borders of my pearly off-whites. I thought about the boyfriend, and how he had never taken the time to shove cold metal tools into my gums for exploration. The thought nearly made me laugh, and I blinked stupidly and erratically to avoid the dentist loosing a stainless steel pick down my pharynx.

My dentist continued to hum, oblivious to my thoughts. He pushed the scraper firmly against the back of my tooth, sliding it all the way down my baby-sized teeth. I nearly flinched as he reached my gums, contemplating the consequences if he actually did split my incisor from my gum.

“Ow!” I would yell, flinching.

He would be surprised by my outburst, consequently jamming the scraper underneath my tongue and/or down my throat. I would choke on the tool, my mouth filling with blood.

“Stay still!” he would yell, reaching for my gasping oral cavity.

Floundering for air, my hands would clutch my throat. I would exude glottal hiccups, and rapidly sit up in the dentist’s chair (as if the vertical position would automatically discontinue my predicament). Blood from my split gum, scraped mouth, and sliced pharynx would pool at the corners of my mouth.

The dentist would wrestle me back down, his assistant holding my head in place. He would slacken my bottom jaw, dancing his fingers into my throat to retrieve his stainless steel tool.

Gasping, exhausted, my mouth of blood...I glare as he tells me to rinse and spit.

I inhaled deeply, rolling my eyes at my own scenario. He’s trained, Dawn. He’s not going to brutally annihilate your gums. Instead, I thought of other things.

Like a passage in a book I first read when I was twelve. It was the fourth book in a series called The California Diaries. In it, the main character, Amalia, kisses her boyfriend “deeply” (for the first time). While sharing the tender moment beneath the stars, she thinks of a comment from her dentist: “The jaw muscles are the strongest in the body.”

Apparently thoughts about dentists and kissing are strongly linked. For instance, rather than focus on the vibrating pressure my brain must suffer while my teeth are polished, I consider the satisfaction of a mouth-to-mouth connection with the boyfriend. However, when A. kisses me, my thoughts (unlike the ones of fictional Amalia) do not jump to my humming, sixty-year-old dentist.

In addition to Amalia, my thoughts led me to another dentist-related memory.

When I was a teenager, I frequently read teen magazines, often picking up Teen Vogue, Cosmo Girl, Seventeen, and J-14. Most of these magazines publish embarrassing stories that readers submit. In one such issue, a girl wrote that her dentist wore flavored gloves in an effort to make a visit to the dentist more pleasurable. She mentioned that she particularly enjoyed the grape flavor, but had been personally asked by her dentist to, “Stop licking [his] fingers”.

Last but not least, I remembered the scene in Finding Nemo, where Darla is presented with her uncle’s gift. Screaming ensues as Gill flops about Darla’s head, the stain eraser whirring as it spits about the room.

Yuck, I thought, my tongue gracing the blue gel that the polisher rubbed across my teeth. Gritty. Worse than plaque. At least I can rinse it out. Rinse and spit.


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