The Fifth Dentist
Sliding into the reclining chair, I notice
Animal Planet on the ceiling-mounted television.
Some man wielding a tranquilizer gun
has taken down an Alaskan bull moose.
I’m almost drawn in, but the hygienist,
garbed in germless gloves and goggles
politely requests I open wide
so she can descend down
my masticating mineshaft
to scrape, sandblast, scour,
excavate, and eradicate.
“How often do you floss?” she asks.
“Ahri hay,” I mutter incoherently.
“I’m seeing some staining. . . . You must drink coffee and tea.”
“And wine,” I self-confess.
Across the office I hear
the faint but distinctive voice of
my dentist as he gently reassures
a child receiving a filling.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. Do you think you can hold open another minute, hon? ”
Meanwhile, the moose, still unconscious,
is tagged and fitted with a device
to track him in the wild.
“Yay! All done! You’re a good girl!” exclaims Dr. Hal,
drowning out the television.
His words parachute me down into the war zone
of a far less pleasant periodontal past
and an office with yellow, tartar-colored vinyl furniture.
There I recognize a different little girl
fang to fang with a snarling man,
his hands nearly elbow deep in her mouth,
the smell of fear and antiseptic still palpable.
“Stop flinching. You don’t want me to hit your tongue with this drill. . . . Do you?”
Wanting to cry, but refusing him the satisfaction, white-knuckled, heart-scalded
but resigned to dying a brave and noble death.
Feeling a child’s hatred for a gruff, grumpy gnome,
undoubtedly the fifth dentist too cranky even to recommend Trident
to his patients who chew gum.
“Everything ok?” my hygienist wonders,
not realizing my sudden tension has deep, abscessed roots
in the past, not the present.
“Yes,” I say weakly, surprised my adult voice answers.
The moose, groggy but awake, lifts his head
just as Dr. Hal walks over, puts his hand on my shoulder,
and asks if I went anywhere fun for vacation.
“No,” but I’ve been thinking very recently about Alaska,” I respond.
“I’ve looked at your X-Ray, and that back wisdom is a little troubling. You better let me fill it.”
“You always find something so you can torture me,” I joke.
“Gotta make a living,” he smiles and says, “You know how sadistic we dentists are.”
“Are they?” I feign disbelief,
knowing Dr. Hal could set off dynamite in my mouth
but I wouldn’t wince,
having cut my teeth on far harsher proving ground.
The Seal Team 6 of dental patients.