February 5, 2010
So I had to get my teeth cleaned the other day, and it occurred to me that no matter how long it takes I pay the same amount. It doesn’t matter if I’ve done a good job of brushing and flossing over the past six months and the gouging and scraping only takes three and a half hours, or if I’ve been eating a lot of hard candy and drinking a glass of maple syrup every day. And maybe that’s just as well. If I were paying the dental hygienist by the hour I’d be tempted to cut corners. They’d offer me novocaine and I’d say, "No, that takes too long. Just punch me in the face a couple of times." The last thing I need is a dental hygienist who starts by saying, "The first rule of tooth cleaning is you do not talk about tooth cleaning." I do wonder, though, if I should do something to make it a little more interesting for them, like maybe eating some caramel-covered onion rings before I go in for a cleaning. I don’t really want to do that, though. Yes, it’s true that dental hygienists are unspeakably cruel individuals who will strap you to a chair and gouge your gums with a sharp metal poker while forcing you to watch afternoon talk shows, but there’s no need to return cruelty with cruelty. The last thing I really want to do is subject anyone to bad breath. I don’t brush my teeth and drink a liter of mouthwash right before I walk into the dentist’s office just because I want to shorten the duration of my visit as much as possible. It’s also just a matter of courtesy, and I want to be nice even to dental hygienists, especially since the woman who cleans my teeth really is nice. I’m pretty sure she’s not really a sadist, but that she went into dentistry for the same reason doctors study medicine, that is, to help people and make the world a better place, and not because they enjoy cutting into human flesh with a scalpel. And if they do, well, hey, at least they’ve found a healthy outlet.
I’m also paranoid about having bad breath. I remember seeing a mouthwash commercial where a guy would open his mouth to say something and this huge, thick, green cloud would come out. Amazingly he was oblivious. You’d think a person would notice he’d become a walking biohazard, especially since anyone who’s generating that kind of gas shouldn’t be able to walk around at all. They should be in a hospital with a Listerine IV in their arm, but that’s another story. And I’ve been the victim of bad breath. I had a friend in high school whose halitosis could wilt plants from twenty feet away. Once he yawned and set off a smoke alarm. The first time I noticed his breath was when he told me a joke and when he got to the punchline this horrible cloud that smelled like something had died then been dipped in curry and ammonia hit me in the face. I cringed and he thought I was cringing because the joke was so bad, so he laughed. That just made it worse. I cringed more and he laughed more and then I simply lost consciousness. Three days later I woke up in a hospital with a Listerine IV in my arm.