I am in the waiting room at the dentist. Six months went fast. Last time I had a scarf wrapped around my face and now it is 90 degrees in the shade. My appointments always fall in July and then December, so any polite conversations with the staff revolve around either the heat and vacations or the cold and holiday shopping. Flipping through a year old architecture magazine, I suddenly wonder how many dentist appointments I have left?
There is something eerie about booking these types of appointments in advance; Like your life is being measured out not in Prufrock’s coffee spoons, but in fancy dental scheduling software. There will be that moment when you won’t make one of the appointments. The staff will briefly be annoyed and then feel horribly guilty when they find out you missed it because you died. You won’t be needing the new toothbrush and tiny sample size floss in the silver plastic bag.
My mind is spiraling down a dark path so I try to re-focus on the article. The photos of perfect studies, tastefully peaceful bedrooms and spacious and art infused living rooms makes me feel a little ashamed that I still have gold and brown 70’s frog and mushroom wallpaper in my bathroom despite having lived in the house for five years.
I can feel my self-esteem plummet, and so I decide to try a more science focused journal. The article I open to is all about how there is some evidence that cats can carry parasites that get into people’s brains and change personalities, especially women. I picture my cats Danny and Jarvis cuddling with me in the morning. Could they really be harbingers of madness? They say it’s only feral cats. But what if my cat wanders in the wrong field and meets a gang of feral cats? I quickly drop the publication and reach for a health magazine. But just as I am about to immerse myself in the wonders of chia seeds, they call me in.
I like the dental technician here. She is practical, nice and thorough. She eases me into the chair and asks me if I have any problems as she slips on her latex gloves. I imagine she never has leftover food stuck on forks after doing the dishes.
She asks what kind of flavored toothpaste I want. I choose Strawberry of course over the mundane cinnamon or mint and soon I am leaned back in the chair with eyes closed and mouth agape. She is not afraid though. The hygienist is comfortable in this world of dentine, soft tissue and potential weird smells.
I could not do this. I am not good with anything that involves steady focus, fine motor skills or any kind of encounter with the raw elements of the body. Imagine only thin latex gloves protecting me from inside the mouth of a complex carnivore.
And the issues I might find; cavities or an abscess. A sometimes sad portrait of a person’s life. Maybe their parents couldn’t afford braces when they were young. Or maybe they gorged on too much chocolate bars from the office vending machine because they were anxious. Maybe they broke their two front teeth because they hit a deer while driving to Pennsylvania to start a new life, but had to work several weeks at a Fast Food restaurant to pay for it because they didn’t have insurance and had to work around with a broken tooth and everyone stared at them and they couldn’t make any friends. I feel some tears rise to the edge of my eyes reflecting on what can go wrong in a human life.
To prevent weeping I concentrate on how beautiful it really is that someone will clean your mouth. Maybe not quite Jesus washing the apostle’s feet beautiful. I have health care to pay for it and the technician is earning a salary and not doing it for the sole purpose to soothe and heal me. Still it takes a sort of bravery and kindness to scrape and clean a stranger’s teeth. I know there is probably flecks of popcorn from last night’s Law and Order rerun binge I missed stuck in my gums. She starts to floss and I soon feel what is probably some blood. I haven’t flossed in awhile and my gums are now bleeding.
“Are you flossing?” she asks concerned.
“Uh-Not as much as I should.”
“Flossing is important. Not just for your teeth. They are finding out now that if you don’t floss bacteria can get trapped in your gum and then travel to your heart. You can get plaque build-up in your heart and have a heart attack. The bacteria are anaerobic so when you floss it destroys them. He will be right over to check everything do you want to set up your six month appointment?”
“Morning or afternoon.”
“Doesn’t matter if it’s this far in advance.” If I don’t floss enough I may not even make it.
“How about Dec. 6 at 10:00 a.m.?”
I’m wearing a sleeveless shirt, and my is hair slightly damp, because I rode my bike here. December is an abstract notion. I think about all of the things I will have eaten in that time period. How many tubes of toothpaste I would have gone through. The myriad of life changes that could happen.
I get a clean bill from the dentist despite the nights I feel asleep not brushing my teeth. But he also in a kind, but stern way, reminds me to floss. They give me my silver plastic bag. I run my tongue over my clean teeth and am grateful. I may die. I don’t have a house in the desert. My cats may be making me crazy. But for this moment for my teeth and I are alive and anything is possible.