This morning started with a thunderstorm at 5:15 a.m., the kind that sits on top of the house for a while, lighting up the whole place and then crashing against the windows and scaring the dog right out of his wits. There was no further thought of sleep.

And then at 9:30 I had a dentist appointment.

You can hardly think of a worse start to a day. What’s next? A yard full of boa constrictors? Exploding cars? Flying monkeys? 

I made my way to the dentist office with trepidation. This was more out of habit than anything else. Last summer, you see, I had to get a crown put on a molar, and even now my tooth screams with displeasure when I eat anything, say, with more substance to it than a random clump of oats in oatmeal…and my brain cells still remember that going into that dental office caused that pain, and they do not want me to go back there again.


But today was just for a cleaning, and I reminded myself that I would see my favorite dental hygienist, who cleans teeth the way angels clean their harps in heaven: lovingly and kindly, as though she is on holy assignment and respects every molecule of teethhood.

Imagine my surprise when she was not there, when I had to be told that  LAST WEEK they let her resign, all because she is expecting a baby and needed a part-time job that had benefits. They let this woman LEAVE the practice rather than give her health insurance and vacation time. Can you imagine? I was ready to go back home right then and there…but no, they said they had another woman to clean my teeth, just as wonderful.

Immediately it became clear, though, that things were going very, very wrong. This new woman had never been around teeth that were actually in a human mouth and not on some kind of dental hygienist dummy before. I could tell this because she would pick up each sharp, pointy instrument and then frown at it and turn it over in her hand a few times, as though she was trying to remember what they had told her about this in the correspondence course she took. Once she got up and walked over to the window, so she could more easily read the fine print on the dental scraper. What, I want to know, can it possibly say on a dental scraper, which is about the width of a toothpick?

I wanted to get up and bolt out of the room, but I was scared to even move. I became Very, Very Nice. I asked about her children and her husband and how she’d known she wanted to be a dental hygienist. I complimented her hair.

Then she aimed the water sprayer directly into my right eyeball.

I laughed reassuringly–hahahaha–and said this was okay, fine really, I’d just use my dental bib to mop myself up. I could use the hand dryer in the bathroom later to finish drying my hair, I was sure. But I was becoming quite alarmed. You don’t want to piss off a person who is holding sharp, pointy things that she’s forgotten the use of.

I asked her if she had any fun vacation trips coming up this summer, and mentioned how great it was that spring was going to come. 

A few minutes later, the dentist came in and asked her to show him last year’s x-rays of my teeth, and she told him my chart was right there on the counter.

“OH MY GOD! This can’t be!” he said. “I can’t believe what I’m seeing!”

I don’t like to hear that kind of talk at the dentist office, so I glanced over to see what was so strange. 

“Um,” I said. “I think that’s my daughter’s chart, not mine.”

There was a long silence. Then he sighed and left the room, presumably to find my real chart.

I was relieved when the Gouging Portion of the Appointment was over, and we progresssed to the tooth polisher. I love the tooth polisher, because it tastes good, and also it means you’ve survived the worst and you’re going home soon. But suddenly, to both our surprises, the tooth polisher came flying out of her hands and landed with a clunk on the side of my cheek.

“Oh, NO!” she said. “Do you want some ice for that?”

“Oh, it’s fine!” I said, a little hysterically. “Fine! Just fine!”

She asked me if I’d like her to floss my teeth before I left, but it was clear by then that any further contact between the two of us without a third party present would be unwise.

“Oh, I’d love that,” I said. “Flossing! Wow! Thank you, really, but I should go.” I could picture my teeth being plunked out of my head one by one, and I got up out of the chair and took off the soaking wet paper bib.

“I don’t know why I’ve been so clumsy today!” she called after me. 

“Don’t worry,” I said, running down the hall. “You were great. Let’s look on the bright side: at least if you were going to throw something in my eye, it was the water hose instead of that pointy scraper thing.”

“I’ll see you in six months,” she said.

“Fat chance,” I said under my breath. But I was already at the car by then.