Sunday, March 13, 2005

A letter to my dentist

Dear Doctor,

Do you remember what happened the last time we met? I do. I remember it because you really hurt me, in physical and psychological ways. That is why this last appointment was so sweet. My successful teeth-cleaning session was not just a victory over plaque and gingivitis – dear Doctor, it was a victory over you.

I don’t think you appreciate the breadth and depth of my neuroses surrounding oral hygiene. I didn’t tell you about the hundreds – nay, thousands – of dental dreams I have endured over the years. Teeth falling out of my mouth like snowflakes, little shards of porcelain enamel collecting in my hand. In high school I wore braces for six months my junior year, and I wore a retainer religiously after that. I have been grinding my teeth since time immemorial, and since I turned 22, I have voluntarily hampered my romantic life by wearing a NightGuard™ mouthpiece every night to prevent the further erosion of my canines.

At our last appointment, it seemed as though you cleaned my teeth with a rusty chisel. Afterwards my mouth was a horrific stew of stale fillings and shredded gum tissue. After that appointment, in which you somehow uncovered two new cavities(!), my mouth bled every time I brushed my teeth for two entire months. I asked all of my friends how they brushed their teeth. How long? Do you floss before or after brushing? What about mouthwash? Am I a bad person? I would stare at myself in the mirror, the chirpy light blue toothpaste swirling with the blood from my gums, trying to convince myself that if I just brushed a little harder, my gums would develop the strength to not bleed.

This turned out to be wrong. But after that visit, Doctor, I adopted a strict, nearly Germanic regimen of oral hygiene. Two minutes of brushing, flossing (being careful to move along the sides of both teeth), and thirty seconds of Listerine (both in the morning and at night).

So when I arrived at the appointment to see you this week, I was already nervous. Then as you did your job, you said, “You grind your teeth,” as if you forgot that I had told you that at our first appointment. Maybe you should be more careful with what you write in your little folder! But I was wondering if you could feel the sharp rise in my blood pressure when you added, “Doing a good job of it.” “Of grinding my teeth?” I asked. “Oh yes,” you said. You said, “oh, yes.”

Then you finished up the exam, and I asked you how I was. I explained about my improved techniques, and you were completely unimpressed. You didn’t congratulate me, or ask me my secret, or even slip me an extra tube of Crest Rejuvenation Effects toothpaste. So I think I can say with confidence that I’ll be ending this professional relationship. I’m moving on to another dentist, and you can’t stop me.

And remember how I never let you take x-rays of my mouth? I’m putting out for the new dentist. He gets ’em. First time.



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