Most people hate going to the dentist. They don’t like the picking, the drilling, the probing. No one’s crazy about gloved hands in your mouth or a masked face inches from your own. All while being expected not to move. I get it. But, I’ve never had the real phobia that many people seem to have. Maybe, I have a high tolerance for pain. Maybe as a kid, I was a sucker for the giant smiling tooth filled with the sugar-free treats and glittery stickers I always got when it was over. Or maybe, I’ve never had the kind of experience I had last week.

My usual hygienist had disappeared, gone to work in some other office, presumably where the patients all owned Water Piks and had minty fresh breath. I missed her. I like it when people get to know me. The wheelchair has a tendency to throw some people off. They are clueless — either speaking to me like I’m a child or hard of hearing. Besides, I had finally figured out a way to floss despite having only one good hand. I was ready to show off my healthy gums. The woman who entered didn’t care about my gums, only in assigning them a numerical value.

“Two, three, two. One, two, four,” she called out with lightening speed to another woman with a clipboard (who obviously could never come to work with a hangover.) While I marveled at this note-taking process and imagined the chaos that would ensue if a single number was mumbled out of earshot, Dental Hygienist (or Assistant to the Dental Hygienist?) began to look like the most stressful job ever.

The new woman, the one with the hook that deftly pushed at my gums, moved quickly. She had a brusque, all-business manner and a thick European accent. French? German? I didn’t catch her name so I’ll just call her Fraulein Clean Teeth. First, Fraulein Clean Teeth picked and scraped. I knew better than to try and make small talk and fortunately she didn’t bother. She just kept instructing me, “Chin up. Chin up.” Was I being lazy about my chin? Did I keep letting it fall into a relaxed position? I tried to be as compliant as possible. She was moving along at a brisk pace (were they paid per patient?) when she hit a bit of a snag. The snag was my chin on the end of her sharp picking instrument. She dropped it and hooked me like a fish when she tried to catch it. Have you ever been gouged with one of those things? It’s almost literally like taking a needle to the face. Fraulein mumbled a quick apology.

Next there was the toothpaste, rinsed out with such haste I would feel I was crunching on sand all day. Then Fraulein spoke to the clipboard woman. “Ask Mom if we’re doing Fluoride.” Was I 12? She must have seen my face as I imagined my mother’s shrugged response because then she asked me, “Are you paying or her?”

“I’m paying.”

“Do you want Fluoride?”

“How much is it?”

“22 dollars.”

“No.”

Mom thinks this happened because I look young, but I don’t look that young. I think it’s the wheelchair.

Then I was left alone, laying straight back to stare at the florissant lights as if on an operating table, for at least 15 minutes.

Just when I began to think I couldn’t take it anymore, feeling claustrophobic under the weight of my paper bib, the doctor came in. During all of about two minutes (in which time he probably made 200 dollars) he briefly inspected my mouth and declared it healthy. Did I have any questions? I wanted to throw him a curve ball, a real stumper. Make him earn his exorbitant salary. But alas, I had nothing. I was free to go. And without a giant tooth filled with prizes to make it all better. Kids get all the fun.

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