When Teeth Are Like Garage Floors

Yesterday I had one of my periodic tooth cleaning appointments.  This time, after already using the pointy-ended scrapers and the flat scrapers, the ultrasonic scaler, the water spray, the buffer, and the dental floss, the hygienist frowned thoughtfully.

“The tongue side of your teeth still has some staining,” she said with some impatience, as her rubber-gloved hands probed my incisors.  “I’m going to try a new procedure.”

Whhgl?” I responded.

The procedure first involved draping me with towels that covered all parts of my upper body except my mouth and left me unable to see — which was itself a weird sensation when you know the person hovering over you is wielding sharp implements.  “There’s a bit of a spray,” she explained.  She then proceeded to blow puffs of particulate matter against my teeth — which was an even weirder sensation, because humans normally seek to avoid getting clouds of dust in their mouths.  But after numerous puffings and rinsings and suctionings, she removed the towels and expressed evident satisfaction at the result.

All this, to address the apparent dinginess on the back side of my teeth that no one sees.

If you go regularly to a dental hygienist — as 9 out of 10 dentists say you should — you eventually realize that the hygienist community is simply borrowing cleaning techniques initially used in American garages.  First, it was simple scraping and scaling, like a homeowner using a hoe to try to remove flattened globs of gum or tar from a cement floor.  Then it was powerwashing, with those pulsating jets of water that leave your face coated with a fine, wet mist.  And now, with this dust-puffing device, hygienists have adopted sandblasting.

What’s next?  Using powerful chemical solvents?  If you want to see what’s coming down the pike in periodontal technology advances, I suggest you just check here.

The Submissive Indignity Of The Tooth Cleaning Appointment

In modern America, we take for granted a lot of things that are really weird, if you stop to think about them.

I was reflecting on this the other day when I was lying flat on my back and some perfect stranger wearing a white suit, rubber gloves, and a surgical mask had her hands in my mouth.  She was scraping away at my teeth with a collection of sharp implements that could have come from the torture museum we saw at San Gimighiano, and she alternately hectored me about my flossing, gabbed about her family and vacation plans, and curtly instructed to move my head up and down and open my mouth still wider.  At one point, as I sat with the flexible clear plastic suck tube perched on my lower teeth while the hygienist peered inside my mouth with mirror and drill, I realized I must have looked like a car whose engine is being worked on by a mechanic, with one of those hang lights dangling from the underside of the open hood and various tools perched near the carburetor.

Going to the dentist is pretty embarrassing and risky too, when you think about it.  We lean back, defenseless and blinded by the glare of the fluorescent light inches away from our eyeballs, and put ourselves at the mercy of the woman with the dental hygienist certificate.  Does any other aspect of modern society require us to routinely assume such a submissive and undignified posture and meekly accept the constant lectures, pokes, and proddings?  What do we really know about these chatty and judgmental ladies, and why do we think they won’t snap after putting their hands into the tenth slimy and smelly mouth of the day and plung one of the sharp scrapers into our exposed jugular vein as we lie helpless and exposed?