I have never been in a dentist’s office with colored walls. Until today, I had not been in a dentist’s office since 1998. It was just like I remembered except that this time they made me wear sunglasses.
As I fell asleep last night, I struggled to keep my motivation; if I allowed it to wane I’d sleep in and intentionally miss the appointment. I tried to get excited about my big visit: the prodigal son returns after 10 years! There’s a colorful “Welcome Back!” banner, hooked together with round brads, and all the hygienists wave streamers. They give me a free toothbrush, shiny smiles, and a brief nap during the polishing routine. Maybe I should bring one of my CDs, in case the staff is tired of XM radio. Maybe I’ll meet someone interesting in the waiting room. Maybe we’ll date for a couple months and she’ll convince me to get my teeth whitened and I’ll always remember her as “the dental affair.” Maybe I’ll end up hitting it off with the doctor. Successful owner of private dental practice shares Pearl-district apartment with local musician.
I’ve heard of doctor’s office porn fantasies: the busty, tight, white jackets, red crosses, and skirts. It’s hard for me to envision. I go to Kaiser Permanente, a place created to scare the carnal elements right out of a human. Posters of jogging interracial newlyweds, 6-piece helmeted families on bikes, and old widows in goggles and swimwear absorb all sexual fantasies and turn them into hours of Cooking Light articles. You reach for the crinkly Newsweek cover, but you miss and end up reading a pink pamphlet on HIV awareness or stroke-prevention.
The sexiest location in my multiplex care provider is the optometrist’s department, only because the sample spectacles are named “Black Horn-Rimmed” or “Flexy Bi-focal.”
The sexiest part of my dentist’s office is the sign that says “Private Practice.” It is either an empowering testament to the virtue of scholastic dedication and personal industry, or it is a loosely suggestive movie title that may have been filmed in the 80s. The white ceilings and dangling mobiles, the adjustable All-Seeing-Eye of Sauron that hovers above me, beaming light down into my throat, the trays and trays of plastic-wrapped utensils, like an airport cafeteria… I imagined the sterilized tooth-scraper’s cellophane wrapper, flapping around in a landfill. Who washes and shrinkwraps the tools at a dentist’s office? I wondered. Is it done throughout the day, like a restaurant, or are all the tools dumped into a boiling cauldron at 5pm, the hygienist soaping up all those sharp points, snapping on her 100th pair of latex gloves and dropping the older pair into one of those silver foot-pedal trash cans, filled with plastic packaging and floss?
I have a cavity: a hole or a cave where tiny communities of life live and eat and chat about the upcoming week’s agenda. “What’s on the docket?” asks bacteria culture A. “Spread from 38 interior wall decay to 37 root? Loosen the amalgam on the molar? Mutate to effectively negate mint odors?” I feel bad that my return to the dentist, next month, will destroy the habitat of a species trying to survive, struggling to exploit their niche. But I guess we’re in competition and that’s natural. There are no moral quandaries here, no right or wrong. It’s my tooth or the bacteria: my genocidal directive for the sake of long-term oral harmony among the remaining life-forms there.
My new dentist, she understands. It’s a hard decision, but it’s a no-brainer. Go in with guns blazing and eradicate the threat. There’s a time for reflection and there’s a time for action. Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury to remain indifferent. She knows all sides of the issue—the cost, the tender risk, the fall-out—but, ultimately, it’s my decision. My trusted advisor and cabinet member, I’ll probably acquiesce to her judgment. This is why I hired her, after all.
She’s pretty confident we’ll win. Which is hot.