(I was about to make an appointment to go to the dentist but then I read this and decided to put it off. This post received many "troll" comments from dentists who thanked me for the good information.)
Here’s me at the dentist. If there was a balloon over my head it would say: Dr. Dellasandro is going to be shocked when he looks in there. Maybe he will scream.
I’m a decent caregiver to my mouth but the dentist never says anything good about how I care for my teeth.
The conversation goes like this:
Total (judgmental) silence as he inspects my mouth.
How many times a day do you brush?
Morning and night. (I'm tempted to say 'only when the moon is waning').
Do you floss?
How many times a day?
Total (judgmental) silence. I’m telling the truth but it feels as if I’m lying (through my teeth). I expect him to tell me I don’t deserve to have teeth and that the starving children in Africa would be thrilled to have teeth to care for.
"Do you know how to brush properly? Show me how you brush,” he says.
Balloon: Uh Oh. I surmise that he has found a wrecked mouth and will send me home disgraced. Often when I’m brushing, I think about this dentist because I can’t quite accomplish the technique he has recommended (and also I’m sleepy) and I know what it will lead to.
I demonstrate a clumsy maneuver that was demonstrated to me on my last visit. It involves using the brush at an angle so the edge of the bristles can be wiggled where your teeth meet your gums. This is a maneuver that is only popular in the last five years. Prior it was starting at the gum line and brushing down, as if you are sweeping all the debris down your throat. With all these maneuvers it only works on certain areas because it is physically impossible to get that brush to angle on edge on the back of the lower teeth. Or the back of the upper teeth.
He doesn’t respond as to whether this is right or wrong.
“Show me how you floss.” He hands me a few inches of waxed floss that frankly I think is counterproductive. I use the unwaxed kind and in a pinch some polyester sewing thread. (I once sent this as an “aha” use to Real Simple magazine.) I floss a couple of teeth. Total (judgmental) silence.
The dentist hauls out his big demonstration teeth and his big demonstration brush and shows me an even more awkward brushing maneuver. Then he flosses the big demonstration teeth. (It reminds me of how my gynacologist would haul out his demonstration uterus and show me how it could press on my bladder and cause me to urinate every five minutes during pregnancy.)
My balloon says: Oh sure, I could do that kind of brushing on those teeth that are not inside my mouth. While Dr. Dellasandro gets his gear together, I see that all the decorative accessories in the room have a single motif. A potted plant sits in a gigantic molar, a diploma is framed by a border of incisors. There’s a framed cartoon that shows a patient saying: “Oh, it hurt, doc, but I’m not going to scream until I get your bill.” Why should I let this man cower me?
After all the talk and demonstrations, he cleans my teeth with an apparatus that must be a little like waterboarding. A sharp needle scrapes along your gum line while a torrent of water cascades down your throat and almost drowns you.
After the picking, the waterboarding, the scraping and the polishing with a ghastly sweet sandy chemical paste, he declares me done. Then he does something that erases all the bad stuff from memory. He gives me a brand new toothbrush.