Thursday, July 08, 2004

I have good teeth!

I went to the dentist today after about two years. I am a lucky one: I don't develop a lot of plaque, don't get many cavities. Going to the dentist is different than when I was a kid. (I still hear my mom moaning to the drill's whine in the next room....she always had bad teeth.) The dentist did everything, and he drilled without laughing gas. I hear other dentists used it, but not him. His assistant would hand him the things he needed, like a nurse with doctor.

Now, in a different state and a new kind of health care system, the dentist pokes his head in the room for a few moments as the expert consultant. The x-rays, the scraping and rinsing, even the preliminary diagnosis, are done by the assistant, I guess the term is dental hygienist. Actually when I was really little, the dentist didn't use x-rays, just found the cavities by inspection. I remember my brothers inspecting their teeth before going, and showing me how to look for cavities. We all went at the same time, a family appointment you could say. It was a dark place, with dreary wood paneling. It was the seventies. For a reward we would get these little plastic pop-up toys.

Today the hygienist gasped when she looked in my mouth. Scared me, but then she said, "You hardly have any cavities!" (filled ones) Maybe she was camping it up. I chuckled and replied, "and I don't do anything special." She tutted at that. Clearly I don't floss, and it's been two years since my last cleaning. She also remarked that my teeth were so straight with just the right space between. I've never had braces.

It's so odd holding a conversation with someone between rinse and vacuum, looking up at her upside down face. Even more surreal, she was chit-chatting with me, especially after she went to fetch the dentist and I commented that I liked the fish mobiles she had hanging from the ceiling. She'd found them in Newport, Oregon. She asked if I'd been to the aquarium. She'd taken her daughter to see Keiko. I want to visit, but I've only been to the Seaside Aquarium.

Then the dentist came in, and he started the chit-chat. Asked me where I was from. Started naming towns in Wisconsin. Oostburg. He knew Oostburg was north of Milwaukee about 50 miles, same as I had described my hometown of Waldo. Oconomowoc. One of his patients was from Oconomowoc. Maybe he collects patients' place names. I grew up 10 or 15 miles from Oostburg, but can't say I've been there. When I said I'd moved to New Mexico for school, he asked if I'd gone to St. John's. "Are you a johnny?" Now that was shocking, who expects her dentist to know her college jargon? His best friend's son had just graduated last year.

That was his cue to ask me if I was well-read, and for a confused moment, I pondered, how did he know I worked for the library? So the chit-chat segued into books, and the hygienist carried on with a book review of A Short History of Nearly Everything, on CD. 15 CDs! She told me something about a man dissecting a huge animal (was it a rhino?) in the kitchen, and a man who acquired a head (was it the same one, or different?) and how the head fell and rolled down the street.

I left in befuddlement, my bag heavier with a flouride rinse purchase. The hygienist was concerned I might have the beginning of decay between some teeth, but she also muttered something about minerals coming back. So did she mean teeth repair themselves? I wasn't used to this friendly chit-chat from Kaiser staff. At the doctor, everyone's always in a rush. I often have to say "Wait, what about..." as the doctor is almost out the door. I guess dentists are just less likely to be overbooked.

The dentist also told me I have good teeth. That reminds me of an encounter I had a few years back. Some bbw-lovin' swingers found me online, and one of his questions for me was "Do you have good teeth?" He and his adventurous wife had met some people at a party that were pretty fine-lookin', but they had really bad teeth, and that just grossed him out. In his mind there was no reason for bad teeth, they could get them fixed. I joined him and his bevy of friends for a trip to Sauvie Island. Normally I wouldn't just go somewhere with strangers like that, but it turned out Steve had gone to school with him, and I'd always wanted to experience the nude beach there.

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