“Good morning! Good morning! It’s so nice to see you. Come on in!”
You stand at my door, paralysed, considering whether to bolt back down the stairs.
I get it. I am not a conventional dentist. This is a holistic dental practice. There’s a gleaming plaque on door, promising to remove the plaque on your teeth. I apologise: bad tooth puns are a professional hazard.
People aren’t exactly thrilled to come here. Even my rare social visitors seem scared of me, as if I might suddenly strap them down for a surprise inspection.
But I digress. The entrance to my practice is not what alarms you. You have this feeling, deep down, a foreboding of sorts, and irrational as it seems, something tells not to go inside. Perhaps it’s my white gown, my facemask, the latex-gloved hands in the air like a criminal caught red-handed, which evoke memories of horror scenes from fictional stories. Spooky, maybe, but trust me, they are for your own protection.
As you have noticed, I answer my own door. I don’t have an assistant, and if you call by while I’m operating, then the white uniform is what you get. I tried it once, hiring somebody, but it didn’t work out, so I disposed of him. I’m aware this leaves me exposed – to contamination – but as you have seen, all my doors are operated by foot pedal.
So yes, you hesitate on final time, then quash your understandable worry, and then step into my waiting room. It is simple, yet elegant. Soft, grey carpeting, a sturdy leather sofa, two potted succulents. No cringey posters of labelled molars on my walls, no diagrams of the maxillofacial structure. No magazines either: I want you to feel at ease, but comfortable enough to get come early. They are of no interest to you.
I don’t like to overburden myself. I see exactly six patients per day, giving me ample time to wipe clean my equipment, update my notes and complete any administrative duties. That’s thirty patients per week, three-hundred and sixty per year. At four hundred dollars per hour, one hundred and fifty thousand dollars per year, though to play with your bones is quite enough for me.
Since this is the first time you visit my practice, I show you to my study, through the door on the left. I like to get to know my patients, and showing interest is good for referrals. The study itself is unremarkable. One medium-sized hardwood desk, one computer, three chairs, two bookshelves and a large collection of volumes on dentistry and anesthesiology. I have never officially trained in anesthesiology, but I assure you my knowledge of the field is most profound.
Perhaps you noticed there wasn’t a mote of dust on the books, or anywhere else, though many have not been consulted for decades. But this also is of no interest to you; you just want to get out of here as quickly as possible.
I keep all your details in a neat file. Visit dates, medical and dental history, addresses. There is also a larger section at the bottom for more colourful evidence, collected over time, on your spouse, your offspring, all the little life issues you like to grumble about. I like to keep records of such things, you see, because it makes for a more personalized service.
Now, where were we? Ah yes, the initial interview.
You lie about the last time you saw a dentist. Then you drone on and on, about your teeth and your schedule and the million other meaningless worries in your life, your jaw jabbering endlessly like an industrial trash compactor. I listen carefully for as long as I dare, taking notes, forcing my most sympathetic smile, calmly repeating “Don’t worry, it’ll all be over soon,” to help us both through this. The truth is, it makes no difference what you tell me, as I only know what’s what once I’ve had a good scope around your power-action pie-hole.
And finally, the boring stage of the visit is over.
You then follow me through to the surgery, a spacious room, with large bay windows overlooking the communal gardens.
Have you admired the gleaming steel and spotless white lines of my equipment? All top-of-the-range, meticulously maintained and disinfected. You won’t be referred elsewhere, no sir, not by me. You’re paying me to deal with all your problems effectively, and I never know in advance what tools I’ll feel like using on you today.
I have become desensitized, but your nose twitches at the faint tang of disinfectant, and this, in turn, irritates me. I could open the windows, but we don’t want uncontrolled stimulants to make you sneeze while I’m drilling into your face. Or do we?
I get you settled on the chair, you rinse, I smile. As per my usual routine, at this point, I make a little joke at your expense. Eyes narrowed, like Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars, I hold up a rather large buzz-saw and solemnly say: “No sudden movements”.
I watch the breath catch in your throat, your muscles tensing, your pupils dilating in the compact choreography of complete panic, and I hold it, I ho-oooold it, then I smile and you see it is a joke and the air rushes back out of your lungs. A wave of relief washes away all the tension you came in with.
The irony, of course, is that the most terrifying tools are the ones you’d never suspect.
I have a good root around your oral cavity with my mirror stick, You don’t comment on my expensively manicured hands, but hopefully, by this stage, you’ve realized how much I look after you.
Your mouth tells me a bit more about all your little transgressions: food, drink, smoke, even drugs. Ah, what have we here? A small cavity; often the sign of a deeper problem.
Have you been completely honest with me? I know it is not easy to admit the truth, but your keeping secrets really rattles my cage. I know your real problems cannot be diagnosed with a mouth mirror. The real secrets, the breaches of ethics or moral codes, hide in your head, not your mouth.
Oh, really? Get that fake shock look off your face!
Of course I know all the little things that keep you up at night. A little affaire, perhaps? The money you take from the register, maybe? Or the scam you run on your clients? I hope for you it not drinking and beating your wife. I know everything.
Some of you don’t even need much interpretation. The way you carry yourselves, tense as a spring, the guilt on your faces. You’re dying to let it all out!
Still, I can’t risk being wrong: now we know each other a little better, you know that is not my style. That’s where the anesthetic comes in.
Oh, this? Yes, it's a syringe! You've seen one before...
A little nitrous, just enough to get you to spill the beans, maybe topped up with a little ketamine or midazolam. While I wait for it take effect, I note your confession down in my little patient sheet.
Now that we have a diagnosis, and you are immobilized, we can start your treatment.
My approach depends on how serious your case is. Perhaps a simple filling, if you can be trusted to return to your good habits, but that’s rarely sufficient.
You see, tooth rot spreads just like decay in the moral fabric of society. Whether it is skipping your morning brush, or stealing from the local convenience store, it all starts when you turn a blind eye towards your misdeed.
“Oh, it’s just the one time,” you might protest.
But soon, unconsciously, standards start to slip. Untreated, over time your crime will reappear, spread, and infect everything around it.
So I like to nip the problem in the bud, give it a figurative punch in the jaw, haha, to delay the time it takes to reappear. One thing is clear: excessive politeness and litres of disinfectant won’t cut it. Long-lasting good behaviour is directly correlated to the amount of pain I inflict. It’s the only way you people learn.
So sometimes I make the procedure unnecessarily long and jam your mouth open for several hours. Or maybe I’ll arrange something over multiple sessions, prolonging the agony for several weeks. In more serious cases, I might pull out my plugging mallet, or a large-gauge syringe. Only in the very worst cases, when the rot runs so deep it’s incurable, do I need to resort to total excision, if you know what I mean…
Are you feeling sleepy yet? Yes? Good.
I know what you’re thinking. Perhaps I could find a way to tip off your victims or the authorities, but proving anything is a terrible inconvenience, and far less fun.
Also, that wouldn’t solve the root problem. I told you, this is a holistic dental practice. You come in for a polish or a tooth-ache, but you leave with so much more. I’m cleaning out your sins. I’m whitening your soul!
Don’t look so scared. I didn’t mean to alarm you! Just fly straight as an arrow and you don’t have to worry about your next trip to the dentist.
The real worries in your life are those that blind-side you on an idle Tuesday night, when I’m knocking on your door, wearing a white gown and latex gloves, only this time, they will be for my protection, not yours.
Now, please stop trying to move, it is pointless. Just close your eyes and relax. You won’t remember a thing, though you may feel some discomfort, later.
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