I made a joke about having to go to see the dentist right after work, like which was a worse fate, but I wasn’t really dreading it. I’ve never had a root canal, crown or even a cavity. Every morning at breakfast, my brother and I dutifully chewed a tiny pastel pill that tasted like cherry or orange or lime. Our teeth later appeared mottled, tiny striations of white so bright they made the rest of our teeth look dingy, but the fluoride had done its job.
I used to see a different hygienist for years and we formed an easy rapport. We talked about our kids and their school, sports and summer camps, though I could tell she was on a different, more vigilant plain of motherhood. I nodded a lot, and not just because her fingers were in my mouth. She had mastered the art of asking questions and making interesting statements when I could respond.
This new hygienist is not like her, though she is also not really new. I saw her once years ago when my regular hygienist was on vacation and she complimented me on my teeth and said some people just have better spit. I had never considered superior spit or that I had it. I secretly wished she could be my regular hygienist and, years later, the heavens conspired to change work schedules and I got my wish.
My second visit to the complimentary hygienist was something of a let down. She did not compliment my spit and asked me at the end if I floss, which is the same as saying please start. The only other thing I remember is she told me her and her college-aged daughter do this record club where they listen to albums during the week and then discuss over coffee. I thought that was really neat. Also, she correctly identified The Eye in the Sky over the office intercom, though I wanted to call it The Eye of the Storm, and the only other time it sounded so sharp and clear was from the velour backseat of the family Datsun in 1982.
I have some secrets to share now regarding teeth. You might not have to floss if you use a sonic toothbrush, though you still probably should, but only once a week or month, maybe less, but you didn’t hear it from me. The dentist will still come in and comment how pink and healthy your gums are and he won’t say keep up the great work with flossing because he probably owns a sonic toothbrush too. You can get a decent rechargeable one on the internet for like $40.
Another thing I learned about teeth is they shift when we get older, but it’s not always permanent. I had finally accepted that I can no longer chew meat on the right side of my jaw because tiny pieces get painfully lodged in the gum, and the second hygienist told me this mysterious condition may reverse itself. She said sometimes our teeth shift because of trauma, and not from brushing too hard, like we used to think. I imagine her pouring over dental journals at night in front of a fire.
Although I can’t ask what she means because tools and fingers cram my mouth, she tells me teeth grinding is one kind of trauma. We talk about how our natural state in waking is often a clenched jaw, her moving her lips to tell me while I nod from the chair. I remember a period some years back where I routinely clenched so hard I actually took notice. My shoulders and jaw muscles were so tightly coiled, I walked around with a vague but nonetheless real sense of foreboding that I could not place. I used to force myself to periodically relax the muscles in my face and then savored the flood of relief as my jaws floated back to their natural place. I hadn’t thought about that in ages and how I unconsciously wear myself down. Sometimes I need reminding.