Is It Safe?

dental work, hygienistSix months already? I berate myself for being a spoiled brat.

I’m lucky I can have my teeth cleaned every six months. Many don’t have the means to take care of their teeth. And God knows, if a tooth begins to hurt, if that dull ache creeps up in the middle of a busy day, and hour by hour that ache goes deeper until it becomes a searing thunderous pain down into the root of your gum – the root of your being – then, then you’ll wish you’d had your teeth cleaned and checked every six months.

So, I brush away my grumpiness that I have to drive 20 minutes on a beautiful Friday afternoon to sit for an hour in a padded black seat – a seat that reminds me a bit about old movies with patients strapped in institutional chairs.Marathon Man, Dustin Hoffman, dental torture

As I sit in the dental chair, my mind wanders to the movie Marathon Man and Dustin Hoffman and the quote “Is it safe?” – the scariest dental movie in history.

I breathe in deeply. In. Out. Relax. This is just a dentist chair. No straps, no sedatives, no mean Dr. Szell.

Karen enters the room with a sweet smile. Karen has cleaned my teeth for the past six years, which means I’ve met her 12 times, an hour each, and in some ways, I know her better than my best friend.

I know she’s married, has one daughter, two dogs, and loves to plant coleus and tomato plants. When younger, Karen lived in California; now in New England she hates the winter and hates the humid summer even more. She has “feminine problems” every month, and her husband is nicer to his father than to his mother.

How can I possibly know so much about this stranger?

Because I’m stuck in a chair for an hour with my mouth open, unable to say a word! Well, once in a while she lets me spit out some blood and gunk and I exclaim, “Really?”

The rest of the time I can only respond with “Wh..?” “Uh huh!” or “Ahhhh.”

dentist chair, hygienistsBut in today’s appointment, Karen’s pronouncement that she’s retiring makes me bolt upright in the chair, water from the cleaning tube spitting out around the room.

“You’re what?” I sputter.

“This is my last week,” she answers with pride and relief.

“But why did you wait to tell me?” I ask plaintively.

“I didn’t know half a year ago,” she explains as if talking to a child.

I lean back and readjust the crinkly paper apron on my chest. I’m miffed because I’ve trusted Karen’s gentle touch when she picks and probes in the moist tender spots of my mouth.

I’m miffed because I grew comfortable and, dare I say, safe with her cold gloved hands every six months.

But I’m mostly miffed because we can’t be dental friends anymore. Her daughter was 12 when we first met. Over the years Karen has described the gawky adolescent, the bratty teen, and now the scared high school senior whose grades aren’t good enough for her “first choice” colleges.

Will her husband’s ulcer heal? Will Karen’s peri-menopause lessen now that she’s on the patch?

As dental toothpaste is swirled in my mouth, I swallow minty water and mindful disappointment.

I have six months to wonder…

Will I ever feel safe in the dental chair again?

Thanks to Google Images.

94 thoughts on “Is It Safe?

  1. I had my six monthly too this week…half hour hygienist…half hour dentist…both women…both tell me things…without expectation of an answer…life lesson learnt!

  2. When you get comfy with someone as important as your dental hygienist, it is a shock to have to get used to someone new. Moving to Span I had to start all over with everyone!

  3. Oh dear I do hope you find someone as good as Karen . Since I become menopausal I have been claustrophobic in a dental chair …well anywhere really …I have never looked at having my teeth sorted in the way you do . Thank you …when I have to go again I shall remember how lucky I am take a deep breath and just get on with it 😫
    First time writing to you …I enjoyed this mornings blog
    Cherryx

    • Wonderful to have you visit here! I will feel I’ve done a useful blog if you remember my words when you next visit the dentist: thankfulness, and maybe a chance to meet a new friend for many years.

  4. i have horrible dental fear and go every 6 months too. they must have fear written on my file though, because they are so kind and try to talk me through it each time )

    • My mom used to delay going to the dentist for years because of that fear. I found her a dentist whose assistant did Reiki while mom was getting her teeth checked. Totally relaxed her!

  5. I force myself to go to the dentist and have changed dentists more times than I can count because of the hygienist- you have been fortunate to have had such a nice one for so long!

  6. I have my Hannah. I see her about every three months. She’s very young so I don’t have to worry about her retiring for some time. But I do have to worry about me moving away from Minot. And then the search begins for my new BHF (best hygienist forever).

  7. This made me smile. An ex dentist of mine, over in Cheshire, once declared that ‘Marathon Man’ had done more to harm the dental-practice than any other movie. A cracking film, though and Dustin Hoffman was, as ever, superb.

  8. Good luck at your next visit. As a funny aside, my sister and I had been extras in Marathon Man. They ultimately cut our scene, but for two six year olds, it was a lot of fun getting paid to just cross the street.

    • Exactly! I think the hygienists are just trying to relax us and that’s why they talk on and on about their life stories. Either that, or they’re just relaxing themselves while they’re poking in our mouth’s…!

  9. Oh gosh, I’ve got tears in my eyes, those little pin-pricky ones. It’s so hard to say goodbye to those we love and have grown to trust. (One of these years my loving gentle dentist is going to retire…can you imagine?…it makes one ill just to ponder.) However, keep in mind the story of a certain blogger who has been known to disappear. Then she reappears. So there’s hope for your dental friend. She may just reappear…say, in a coffee shop. Or on your blog! And the next tooth-cleaner may just become your newest heroine in a book you don’t even yet know will make you a New York Times Bestseller! Just sayin’. On the other hand, pin-pricky tears of understanding…

    • You give me hope! 🤗 Actually, I like the idea of having the hygienist as a character in one of my upcoming novels. You don’t see too many novels with the hygienist as a character. Hmmmm.
      So glad you and your blog are back!!!

  10. Gosh–I don’t really know anything about the women who clean my teeth. I hope the hygienist who replaces the woman you’ve trusted so long is equally gentle. Thinking of Marathon Man while at the dentist–Yikes! There’s also the dentist in Little Shop of Horror. 🙂

    • Oh! Horrors!! Ha ha.
      Never heard of a hygienist who doesn’t talk. You may have a find there. But to be honest, I liked that my hygienist shared her life with me. I’m not sure I’ll find another like her. 😣

  11. Cute post. I don’t like it when they ask you questions and you can’t answer during a cleaning. Fortunately, my dentist is my son-in-law! I meditate when I have fillings done. Never take any pain shots.

  12. My “Crystal” cleaning I used to call it. Lost my best friend in dental hygiene a year ago. I miss her. New girl is competent and friendly, but not “Crystal”. Will this dental “weanie” every find happiness in the dental chair again? Story to be continued…

  13. I always tell my dentist she’s the nicest person I never want to see. I’m like you in the dentist’s chair–not my favorite place to be. It’s hard to lose your hygienist. He or she knows our quirks, the sensitive spots, etc. And I’m with you on the Marathon Man scene. I can barely watch it. What a form of torture that is!

  14. So funny. The universal dental experience. I don’t like going to the dentist at all, so I don’t go frequently and that makes it even worse as there is more for them to do. It’s so medieval. I must be a terrible patient. They just turn on the TV. 😀 😀

  15. Hate dentists. Broken tooth. Got more broken, HAD to have it pulled. Strange city, dentist too young to be through high school (it seemed). Thorough cleaning, mouth numbed in all four quadrants so she could pull the tooth and drill out a cavity. World went black. Didn’t pass out. Power went off. Had to come back another day.

  16. Rats. I was supposed to book in myself and the three progeny for check ups these holidays. So much easier than trying to fit four appointments in around school, work, extra-curricula activities and a commuting university student. Meh. Next holidays then…. (Is yearly enough?)

  17. The catchphrase of this story reminds me of when my friend, in a mid-slumber stupor, slammed my alarm clock to the ground, although it was the phone suddenly assaulting our ears, early and unexpectedly. We both studied the injured clock, and she asked, “Will it ever be the same?” And you know what? It wasn’t! But I did find a new clock that I did adjust to, and now enjoy 😉 There is hope yet!

    • Fun metaphor! Retiring hygienist-shattered alarm clock-favorite casserole dish (now broken)-a friend who moves far away. Will it ever be the same? Nah, never. But there is hope in the change (new hygienist who doesn’t talk as much, louder alarm, bigger dish, fun visits with faraway-friend).

  18. You remind me of a trip to the hairdresser. What will I do if mine (gulp) moves away? And you’re right about those hygienists- they can make or break a visit to the dentist. We’re very lucky to have a sweetheart of a hygienist!

  19. Wow…you went to Marathon Man while you were in the chair?…:) I’ve known my dentist for about forty years. When he retires iI’m going to have issues starting up somewhere else. I don’t want to think about that..:)

  20. You know, I NEVER sit in a dental chair that I don’t flash to “Marathon Man.” That movie must make dentists cringe for the damage it’s done in creating a bit of phobia in many of us! I really relate to your dilemma. I have frequently been frustrated with my hygienist’s conversations with me. She asks me questions and I can’t answer them because my mouth is full! But the last hygienist who retired had been my “friend” for a decade, and I felt badly that at times she’d annoyed me with her conversation. And I missed her when she was gone! 🙂

    • You describe it exactly. The frustration of wanting to make a comment, the inability to do so, the annoyance of being put in that situation, but then the mourning when said talky hygienist leaves you …. with a stranger. Horrors!

  21. My favorite fresh out of dental assistant school friend (back 8 years ago) named Jamie (I have a son named Jamie) who has a sister named Kerry (one of my daughters is named Carrie) left me last year to get married and move to Columbus. Now, my youngest daughter, Felicia, sees her as her dental asst. I am totally jealous! 😦

  22. Going to the dentist is my worst thing! It’s time again, as your post reminded me, so I am going to make my appointment for this coming week. Yikes. And the hygienist left, so I will have to have a new one. Did she ask me if she could leave? I never gave my permission. It takes so long to feel safe in the dental chair, and then she leaves? I hear you, sister.

  23. I hate dentists, something about them makes me cringe! Although grudgingly, I have to call for my latest check up. Awesome website, glad I found you through Jill! Like Arnold would say, I’ll be back!

  24. I lost my favorite hygenist when she moved to the east coast to be be with her daughter and grandchildren. I am still missing her, nobody will ever be as good as she was.

  25. Oh my that is indeed dire to lose your best dental hygienist. I do hope your dentist employs a competent replacement. It is like shopping for the perfect pair of shoes or car or whatever but maybe even more critical. I feel you pain. I would not like to be in your situation.

  26. I wonder how she feels about you Pam? Your story made me recall a couple of short stays I had in hospital. The nurses were instantly friends of mine and I felt jilted when they were suddenly not around. It was just their job with no attachment on their part.
    But six years is a bit different I guess.

    • You make a good point, Roy. How do those who take care of our teeth and hair and nails – the inside and outside of us – feel? I hope my hygienist misses me as much as I miss her – but her teeth aren’t gleaming because of me! ;-0

      I bet the nurses thought you were a really good guy, but true, they’re paid to not get too attached.

  27. Just don’t pick a Nazi dentist and you’ll be fine.

    I do get it. I feel the same way about the guy who cuts my hair. I often wonder how I will go on if something ever happened to him. I haven’t had to describe what kind of cut I want for the past 20 years; I just sit down in the chair and the style I want just happens. The very idea of having to start over with a new barber leaves me in a cold sweat.

    • That’s so great to hear that men worry about losing their hair stylist (or barber) like women do. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; it took my guy six months after we moved to the right coast before he tried someone new. In the meantime, he flew back to the left coast to go to his ‘regular’ cutter…!

  28. I just had my 6-month dental appt and I was teamed up with a new hygienist, which at first irritated me. I have trouble meeting new people, and because most hygienists love to gab, I feel mentally claustrophobic. I’m trapped! But this gal was so pleasant and super-informative about dentistry in general. You could tell she really loves her job. By the end of the appt I was laughing and gabbing with her. Some people are just born for this kind of work. Hopefully, your new hygienist will be lovely!

    • You make a great point. Some people think hygienists are not ‘people’ people – that they should just be focused on your teeth. But hygienists actually NEED to be able to relate to and focus on the client they’re working on – to relax them and help them feel comfortable in that dental chair. I’m jealous of your new hygienist; crossing fingers I have similar luck.

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