May 24, 2022

go health

Going to the dentist

I hadn’t planned on going to the dentist. I don’t mean to say that in any sort of ominous, thriller-ending way. Just a few weeks into break and more than a couple of years overdue, I unexpectedly found myself headed for the bright operating lights and metal scrape. 

They had squeezed me in that morning after someone else canceled, and I’d fortunately appeared — my hair unwashed, stuffed into a hat and my teeth unbrushed — to fill their vacancy. In the blessed spare hour between my booking and the actual appointment, I bumbled down to my mom’s work to fix the latter issue of my unkemptness. 

I aggressively gargled some mouthwash and brushed my teeth twice with the travel-size toothbrush offered up by my mom’s boss, who most definitely did not miss his chance to insert some jovial heckling. 

As I slipped out the door to the dentist, my mom told me to ask for a numbing agent if it hurt too much. Later I’d wonder if this was my mom’s way of telling me to stand up for myself. I hadn’t remembered that much pain, but of all people (especially of late with my being home), she was particularly attuned to my tendencies.

Things had changed since I’d last been to the dentist. This trip they presented me with some “radiator” sunglasses — black cycling shades with thick rims and fat eye protectors. For a kid who had spent an expander, braces and rubber band orthodontist tenure avoiding the gaze of whoever was asking me to open up, this innovation was long-awaited. 

Protected by the dark tint, I took the chance to fully inspect the sharp pick stinging my gums. I only investigated near the cleaning’s end, realizing I had had my eyes locked on the ceiling panels farthest away, just like before. 

And so at the very same time, things seemed to be the way they’d always been. Returning only reacquainted me with the rules and rituals. 

I forgot how the act of holding my mouth open, as the hygenist mined for plaque and vacuumed my suffusing saliva, meant my forgetting to breathe. I had also forgotten how the oxygen pents up in my chest and explodes in a shoulder-lowering sigh when the hygienist turns away. Or less fortunately, when she’s mid-dig, in a helpless, massive gulp and alien throat squawk. It’s how I am with sit-ups, the physical exertion and quasi social performance arresting my attention as well as my inhales and exhales.

While she worked, I thought about Jude — the main character of the book I’d been reading. The night before, I’d willingly obliged to my mom’s request for a plot synopsis. One mangled delivery later, I mentally sighed, wishing I had remembered more. 

I thought about the book and Jude, quizzing myself for details and how I would explain it if anyone inquired again. I thought about the dentist, sifting through every ounce of the experience in hopes I could remember at least that better. I thought about what the hygienist thought about — the state of my teeth, the tens of other sets she’d clean that day, what it must be like to clean teeth for a living. I suppose at some rate, just like anything else? 

Oprah believes there are no ordinary moments. I don’t think Oprah means all moments are de facto extraordinary — only that no moment holds like the rest. It’s a simple thing, and something I viscerally recall feeling enlightened by in high school: There are no identicals. Even if everything were the same, it would still be different. 

I’m not writing to say I left the dentist with grand epiphanies. I left wanting simply to write, to process and (a bit unforgivingly) to more distinctly remember. And I leave you now, grateful to have been able to fold open and indulge myself in this “unordinariness.” 

The intake form asked me how long it’s been since my last visit to the dentist. I responded, “Too long.” 

I (as well as my teeth I’m sure) agree, it had been too long. But, c’est la teeth (forgive me), I hope I’m back again soon. 

P.S.: I’m most relieved to report no cavities, a pair of unproblematic tonsils, one hibernating wisdom tooth and the affirmation of my very small, tied tongue.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members separate from the semester’s regular opinion columnists. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.

Going to the dentist