“You have a lot of saliva,” she says. I look into the small, intense headlight the hygienist is wearing on her forehead. She’s a dental spelunker exploring a new cave. I’m surprised she’s not wearing a helmet. “What happens is this,” she continues, her unseen lips moving from behind a thin paper surgical mask, “the plaque builds up on your teeth and then the saliva hardens it into tarter.” As she speaks, she probes and scrapes my teeth with a pencil-thin metal instrument. Its sharp hook at the end dances just above my gum line. ” Since you have a lot of saliva, you’re more at risk.” She has my full attention. My jaw muscles strain to keep my mouth open as wide as possible.
She finishes up and puts the hook down on a little stainless steel table. She pulls out a long measure of dental floss, and then doubles up the already thick, white cord. I fear she’s about to get “Medieval on my ass.” I open quickly, and she deftly lassos my right lower canine.
Industrial-strength flossing begins, and soon my flabby, weak gums have given way. I taste my own blood, tinny and salty, as it flows in thin vertical rivulets. Remembering an article about how iron originally came from a far-off galaxy, I wonder if I’m tasting a distant star. I look up at the light and squint. She tells me she’s almost done as the string bites into my flesh again. It sends my brain a flash bang of pain. As a defense mechanism, my consciousness recalls that scientists are attempting to turn chickens back into dinosaurs through gene therapy. I wonder who funds these things. “Mr. Davis,” the hygienist’s voice shocks me back into the dentist’s chair. “Why don’t you go ahead and rinse now?.” It’s not really a question. I lean over a porcelain spittoon and, like a trained circus animal, catch some of the water that streams from the faucet. I swirl and spit, sending a bloody discharge spiraling down the drain. With a strange sense of accomplishment, I readjust myself in the chair and resign myself to more bloodletting.
She continues the flossing. With time, her movements fall into an easy, natural rhythm. Together, we enter dental-floss nirvana. A few more teeth and she’s done. She steps back and throws the string away. “Floss regularly and come back in three weeks. If there’s no improvement, we’ll need to do a deep cleaning.” She doesn’t comment on our moment of galactic synchronization. Our perfect lock step with the universe.
I pay my bill, walk out of the building and get into my car. Like a dog let out into a new yard, my tongue explores its new surroundings in a frenzy. My post-tarter teeth feel smooth and healthy. I am happy.