I’ve made a list of a lot of great topics I want to address in an article: war in the Middle East, the shoddy state of our government, the shoddy state of my own love life, the legitimacy of Vitamin Water’s claims, the awkwardness behind my dad’s e-mails to my sister about her choice of clothing, the total inaccuracy of her reply that my clothing is more heinous than hers and — most of all — the weirdness of my grandfather chiming in that my haircut sucks.
These would all make great articles. But, unfortunately, I am unable to write them for you this week because I cannot stop thinking about one thing: tomorrow morning at 11am, I am going to the dentist.
No one can make me feel like the dentist can. Like a small, stunted, stupid waste of cultural and hygienic evolution. Just thinking of going to his office gives me anxiety the likes of which was only rivaled by the time I tasted fermented duck fetus in front of hundreds of eagerly watching villagers in the rural Philippines.
Let me just clarify: There is nothing wrong with my teeth. Like most of Yale, I had braces for four socially-disastrous years from sixth to ninth grade. I had my wisdom teeth removed two summers ago and spent a week high as a kite watching re-runs of “Gilligan’s Island” (Why did Ginger bring multiple sequined dresses on the three-hour tour?). And I have had several cavities in my life whose only serious consequence was that my Polaroid didn’t make it to the “Wall of Smiles” for those months.
Here’s a play-by-play of my average appointment:
I go in for my semi-annual cleaning, and the “dental hygienist” in her matching seasonal cartoon shirt and terrifying permanent grin, tells me to have a seat and asks, “Which channel do you want the TV on?”
I freeze. It’s currently on a shitty early-afternoon soap opera. Did she choose that, or did the last patient? If I ask to change it, am I depriving her of the knowledge of whose baby Victoria is carrying? If I don’t ask to change it, will she think that I actually care whose baby Victoria is carrying? And then — what would I change it to? Is PBS too pretentious? Is Disney Channel pedophilic? Does TLC mean I want to be married with kids and a dog and a kitchen to remodel? I make a stifled noise of distress which she interprets as Animal Planet, and we both move on.
After an interlude with the scraper and attempts at small talk, she asks me to brush my own teeth with the special fluoride paste. She is watching me closely to see if I make the proper strokes and take the recommended two minutes. Suddenly, I have no hand coordination or concept of time. I decide I must have chronic performance anxiety and develop the seeds for later nightmares about brushing my teeth for my acting class exam. I also decide not to stop brushing until she gives me weird looks. It becomes a war of attrition.
Finally, the dentist comes in. He and his smiley minion discuss my teeth as though I weren’t sitting right there. I try to focus on “The Cat Whisperer,” but a commercial comes on, and my eyes drift to the two leering figures pronouncing my sentence in the corner. The moment of truth: a mild cavity. I assumed as much. My family has really unfortunate tooth genes that landed my grandmother a full set of dentures at age 19. I tell the dentist this entirely true story every time I come. He is not impressed.
Instead, he turns to me and says, “So, have you been brushing and flossing twice a day?” I don’t know how to answer the question. If I say “yes,” he assumes I’m lying. If I say “no,” he assumes I’m a disgusting human being. It’s Catch-22 and Yossarian isn’t here to help. So I use the literature seminar tactic to divert attention and begin telling him all about this new really great toothpaste I am using. But this dentist is a wily one and will not be distracted. He gives me a thorough lecture involving this flow chart: eating -> plaque -> gingivitis and cavities -> gum implantations and root canals -> cancer and death and SHAME. I wonder if anyone has ever developed an eating disorder to maintain dental hygiene. I make a note on my arm to call Yale Mental Health Services.
The dentist is satisfied that he has reduced me to a hollow shell of my second-grade self and allows me to limp back to the lobby where I manage to whimper to the secretary to send the bill to my dad and schedule my cavity filling for next week. I do not stop moving until I reach the safety of my bedroom, where I curl into the fetal position and sleep off my trauma.
I can stand condescending professors and section assholes; I hold my own against judgmental peers and misguided administrators; I don’t even think I would flinch if victim of a vicious onslaught of insults. I am famously difficult to embarrass. So call me ugly, bitchy, stupid, messy. Just don’t mention my teeth. Thanks.