It’s a Tuesday, I sit in the dentist office waiting room, Hotel California by The Eagles playing ominously in the background. “You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave!”; the song declares as I anticipate the biannual assault on my gums. Long have I loathed this experience, the agreed-upon low-key torture that is routine dental cleaning. The hygienist arrives in the doorway smiling, we exchange pleasantries but both of us know I would rather be somewhere else, anywhere else. Going to the dentist epitomizes the concept of having to do things in life that we do not want to do.
I maneuver my wheelchair in to place, no hideous tan vinyl recliners for me. The small-talk continues as I look around the exam suite; part starship Enterprise, part interrogation room and all business in muted white and gray colors. An enormous photo of a woman’s teeth hangs from the wall, a menacing disembodied grin presiding over the room like the bespectacled eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg in The Great Gatsby. What is it about going to the dentist that is so unpleasant? Is it the sights, the sounds, the smells or just the invasiveness of it all? There is something so strange about having someone you barely know put their hands and various tools into your open mouth.
The adjustable dental light shines blindingly in my face as if I am about to be questioned about nuclear launch codes. The cleaning begins, it is not particularly painful, more of a persistent annoyance. “Are you ok?” asks the hygienist, sensing my slight discomfort. “Mhmm.” I mumble over the sound of the suction. I wince again as the dental pick pokes my lower gum, my dentist office uses water-pick technology but it is still a medievalIy sharp object. My mind wanders as this irksome process proceeds, time seems to slow.
Logically, I understand the need for going and go with little protest (for the most part), however, it is one of those things I will never get used to doing. Some people actually like going to the dentist. Is it sadism? A compulsion? Clean, all must be clean. Or are those who enjoy this experience simply braver people than the rest of us, souls of stronger fortitude? I like having clean teeth as much as the next person, Americans are notoriously overzealous when it comes to our teeth, but these encounters have always felt a bit traumatic to me.
After the poking, the scraping and high-pressure jets of water, the rest of the appointment flows by like a blur. The hygienist carefully polishing each tooth and the dentist examining those said teeth, all to the soundtrack of somber elevator music. Before I know it, it’s over; everything checks out, the next appointment is made and I find myself back in the waiting-room. As I wait for my mom to return, I cannot help but feel utterly relived. That wasn’t so bad. I think to myself, what I always think to myself. I have survived, triumphed, I have gone casually to the dentist once again.