Like most sane people, I'm terrified of the dentist. It's a reasonable fear. After all, dentists reach into your open mouth with pointed metal objects and jab around until you spit blood.
I've been afraid of the dentist since before I had teeth. My first dentist wrote the word COWARD in red magic marker on the face of my medical chart. He showed it to me just before I threw up on him.
In order to spend as little time in the dentist's chair as possible, I adopted a fervent policy of preventative dentistry. I bought an electronic toothbrush with a head that spins, a standard toothbrush that vibrates for some reason, and one whose bristles change color when they get tired. I have an interdental cleaning device that I have yet to figure out how to assemble, and an oral irrigator that spews water to thirty feet. I use a Waterpik, a Sonic cleaning system, interproximal brushes and a gum massager that looks like a sex toy.
I floss to excess. I have dental floss in my car, in my purse, in every carry-on bag stored in the basement. Floss is a great product. I've used it to reattach a windshield wiper, to repair a swimsuit strap and to tie a wrapping paper bow. Recently I used a strand of mint-flavored floss to reaffix a bracket on the engine mount on a boat saving not just money but also, as Inigo Montoya so aptly declared, the "humiliations galore" of being towed back to dock.
So you can imagine my horror when, at a recent regular dental cleaning, the hygienist noticed that I had a crack in one of my fillings. She put away her gear and set out to find the dentist. "How could this happen?" I wailed when the dentist arrived. The little miner's light gleamed on her forehead like a molten eye. She nodded with minimal sympathy and began an audible review of my cusps.
She tapped on the porcelain crown covering a molar. "Oh yes," she said quietly. "I remember that." I would have cringed if I'd been able to unclench my shoulders. Instead, I held my body rigid, in the corpse position, as if prepared to be launched from a cannon. Two years previously, I'd tossed a handful of chocolate-covered raisins into my mouth and discovered a seed. A quick glance into the mirror confirmed the damage: half of a tooth was missing. What remained looked like a stalactite. I'd raced to the dental office like a woman deranged. And, again, I'd wailed, "How could this happen?"
I like my dentist. She has small fingers. But I did not appreciate her answer, then or now. "Age." She explained simply. "Over time, things wear out." She prepared the torture devices out of my sight line as tears built up around my lashes. Heat began to emanate from my skin, like a human electric blanket. I'd leave an imprint of my body marked in sweat on the paper.
It was over quickly and I felt no pain beyond the self-induced agony of my own imaginings. I rinsed through numb lips and stumbled out of the office with my six-month appointment reminder card twisting in my still-sweaty fingers. In the car, I smiled like a stroke victim into the mirror and tried to fluff my hair over the bald spot formed from grinding my skull against the headrest. My eyes were red, my lips were grey; I looked like I'd been to battle. I gave myself a nod, a salute to bravery and survival, and headed home.