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.
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.”
“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.