Until the other day, I hadn’t been to the dentist in a long time. Like a long long time. Like such a long time I have trouble translating the true length of my dental hiatus into language. When I finally did go the other day, my new dental hygienist asked me how long it had been:
“A long time,” I said.
“How long?” she asked.
“How many years?”
“Oh I don’t remember,” I lied.
“Like five years? Or ten years?”
“Probably between five and ten years,” I lied again.
Like I said, these aren’t words that come easily. Let me put it this way: “between five and ten years” isn’t a lie because it’s been less than five years.
It’s not my fault that I let the moss gather on my teeth. My Dad never goes to the dentist, so I learned from him (I learned it from watching you, Dad!). Of course, he augments his tooth brushing with tooth picking, the real kind, with a snazzy dental-grade steel tooth picker/scraper, which I once, famously in my family, used to clean out my toenails, assuming that’s what it was for (like I said, I don’t go to the dentist much).
Whenever I told people I was considering getting back in the chair, people thought that was a good time to tell the orthodontic horror story they’d been saving up (“Once I didn’t go for three years . . . then they had to sew my gums back on with a railroad spike.”)
When I finally got there, the hygienist poked around in my mouth, scraping here, probing there, frowning all the while.
“Hmm,” she said, frowning.
“Wrghu?” I asked.
“That’s . . . just . . . not . . . coming off . . .”
(This reminded me of a very similar experience I just had with the electrician and the 25-year old wiring in the basement where I live, which included [I swear to God] a fuse box mounted at a 38-degree angle that had been cut in half with a chain saw, and a bare metal fuse that someone had been nice enough to write next to, in pencil, “danger — do not touch!!!!!” The electrician: “This is just . . . I mean . . . I’ve seen a lot of . . . that’s not even grounded, is it?” And maniacal laughter.)
Back at the dentist, turns out they couldn’t clean my teeth. Well, I’ll just go home then, I thought. No harm no foul. What they actually asked me do was come back for two 90-minute special cleaning sessions that would involve something called “root scaling.”
The first of these sessions also involved, at my request, copious amounts of Novocaine, so it felt like my roots were being scaled somewhere far, far away from my mouth. But they cleaned only the right half of my teeth, which is something my tongue cannot wrap its little tongue brain around. I’ll be sitting there, listening to someone talk, and my tongue will wander freely around the back of my teeth. “Hey,” it thinks, sliding along the backside of my teeth, “this feels different. And this doesn’t.” Then it checks again.
Let this serve as a warning to you: not going to the dentist for an unspecified-ly long time is like living in a house with an ungrounded bare metal fuse box with chainsaw scars. Try not to do both at once.