You’re 21 years old. Your mom makes your dentist appointment. You also insist she accompanies you. She sighs, agrees anyway. Let’s get this over with.
For years you’ve put this away, hoping your 30-seconds brushing routine in the morning will take care of everything. Your toothpaste gets stronger, your toothbrush, softer and your teeth, weaker. Now that you have nothing better to do, you might as well get it checked out. You could go to a general hospital and head towards the dental section, or head to any one of the many dental clinics around your area but you choose to go to the two-storeyed ‘dental speciality care centre’ because you’re a spoiled lil’ brat. The entire building is in a deep shade of purple. I’ve walked into Thanos’ colon. There is only one other patient in the waiting area with what seems to be a rather uncomfortably large ball of cotton in his mouth. Yum. The perky receptionist in a uniform the exact shade of purple as the walls hands out a form for you to fill. Name, Age, Allergies, Whatsapp number… Wait, ‘WhatsApp number’? Not ‘Contact info’ or ‘Mobile’ or even ‘Cell’ but ‘Whatsapp number’. Losing faith in you purple girls by the second. “The Doctor will see you in a minute.”, creepy smile included. Phoebe’s big massage chain receptionist pops into mind.
You head in, followed by your mom of course. The doctor’s assistant has you sit in the chair. Mental note – got to buy one of these for the future condo. Awfully comfy. The doctor walks in and you very meticulously explain the history of how your teeth came to be as messed up as they are. She nods along but it does not feel sincere at all. She touches your jaw, Hey take me on a nice date first, maybe? and asks you to open up. Well, I guess it all began when the third girl broke up after only five months…
After a rather short exam and with an expression so filled with concern that it would put your grandmother to shame, she declares you have very weak gums and would like an X-Ray to see just how much the damage is before she can suggest a treatment. You smile uncomfortably and shrug while walking towards the X-Ray lab questioning all the times you ate sweets since you were a kid. The oral X-Ray gizmo looks fab, sort of like that little spinning thing that Loki uses in The Avengers to project the curator’s eyeball for the retina scan but large enough to fit your head in. You’re given a complicated set of instructions about exactly how hard to bite down on the jaw holder by the assistant and you, being you almost know for a certainty that you’re going to mess this up. “Radioactive, beware…” warns a yellow sticker and you get excited for a moment as you check around for nearby cobwebs. Damn, this place is immaculate. No runaway spider to strategically fall into the radioactive zone and subsequently bite you to give you overnight abs and lifelong uncle issues. “You will not be given a hard copy of the X-ray but we can Whatsapp you an image.” You smile, very conscious of your teeth showing and nod. Sure, Whatsapp me. Maybe I’ll send you some memes later. Are these guys sponsored by Whatsapp maybe? The doctor gets back, glances at the X-Ray and proceeds to talk. That was a pretty quick glance. Was it that obvious or was the X-ray completely unnecessary? Are you being scammed? With the look of concern back on her face, the dentist begins to introduce herself and proceeds to explain your ‘condition’ to you. “There is no internal damage or fracture to your teeth and all the issues seem to be with the gums. Your gums seem way too weak for your age, this is something I would expect to see in someone fifty, sixty years old. Don’t worry, I am a gum specialist myself.” That’s convenient and so so scary. She proceeds to explain that you have to do something called a gum curettage, really enunciating each word, after which you should be just fine if you followed up with good oral hygiene practices. So this procedure could be done the normal way, for ₹10,000 or with a laser, for ₹15,000. While the thought of laser shooting into your mouth, and something going wrong and giving you cool laser-based powers does seem exciting, the prices seem a bit too steep and you awkwardly turn towards your mom for any clue about what to do next. She begins to leave suggesting that we discuss this with your father and get back to her regarding the next appointment. The doctor immediately interjects to add that she won’t be available for a couple weeks and we could either have it done in the next three days or wait until she gets back. Or that she could arrange a different on-call doctor to do it. Is this pressure? It feels like pressure. Are you being pressured into paying a large sum of money for a procedure that is maybe a bit of an overcompensation by a dentist who implied your gums belong to a Vietnam veteran with words which seem to be filled with so much care and concern that you no longer know whom to trust or what is real?! You stand up to leave and the receptionist is already waiting at the door to explain EMI options in case you’re worried about the expenses. “You can fix your next appointment with us just through Whatsapp. No need to call.” Yeah, this is not real. I’m out.
As you leave your mom reassures you that all this won’t probably be necessary and its just a business trying to make a buck. “I know a guy”, she says and you cower a little because that was enough social interaction for one day. Luckily the ‘guy’ is available only after a few days, so that worked out well.
The guy turns out to be the son of your longtime family doctor who has his own part-time clinic on the other side of town. The place is in stark contrast to the previous experience, not a shade of purple anywhere, no receptionist, heck no reception in the first place, clinic seems to be a repurposed one bedroom apartment with “Before / After” pictures of previous patients posted all over the wall in every direction except on the medicine cabinet. How do you know they are authentic? Because they were clearly taken with a 6 MP point and shoot sony cam from a century ago with someone who’s nowhere related to a professional photographer or heard of photoshop. Cool. The doctor walks in, a tall man probably in his late twenties or early thirties. You notice he is extremely chatty and a new sense of dread creeps in. He motions for you to sit in the dentist’s chair, not so comfortable as the last one, but he goes on to inquire about your college and friends and family. You struggle to find a comfortable posture in the chair, sitting up is awfully awkward, leaning back causes you to look at the ceiling or turn your neck in weird angles to face him. You end up clumsily sitting up with your hands supporting you on one side and one of the legs dangling off the side of the chair. Draw me like one of your french girls, doc.
He examines you and comes up with the same diagnosis, very weak gums. You sink in your seat waiting to see if maybe he’ll curettage you for a slightly cheaper price but he calmly goes on and says you need to have a dental cleaning, follow up with brushing twice a day, using mouthwash and a gum massage with special ‘paint’ every day. Won’t cost me more than ₹600. You start to get confused. Were you cheated before by the big fancy ‘care centre’ or are you being misled now by an amateur who hasn’t looked deep enough? Your mind goes back to all the times you’ve laughed out loud or worse, kissed someone as you wonder if they ever noticed something was off. You realise you have been quiet for such a long time and the doctor is waiting for a response from you. You do what you do best in times of panic, you turn and face your mom. Picking right on cue, she proceeds to ask if its possible to have the cleaning done right away. He looks at his watch and says its time for him to leave, but there’s a second doctor who can do it just fine as its a very routine procedure. Don’t school me on a dental cleaning. I’ve had one back in seventh grade! In hindsight, should’ve had it way more. Huh. The second doctor turns out to be rather young, possibly in the final year of college, also its a girl. Also, a very cute girl.
You realise this is the first time this rather attractive girl is going to look at you and she’s going to be scraping plaque out of your teeth. And the best first date award goes to… She is extremely polite and asks you to lean back as she gets her equipment ready and calls in another nurse. Where were all these people hiding? Am I in a dungeon?! You lean back, instinctively sucking in your stomach and look at her face right in front of yours. She taps on the overhead lamp and asks you to face that and keep your mouth open. A second voice notifies you that there is a tray to your left with a sink and a plastic cup of blue mouthwash to pause and rinse should it get uncomfortable. See? There’s a cup involved so my title isn’t completely forced just for the sake of being clickbait innuendo. I’m a writer with honour! The drill starts to whir and she proceeds to chip away or scrape away or whatever it is that dentists do while cleaning teeth. The nurse holds a suction tube in your mouth that somehow manages to taste like burnt rubber and cold metal at the same time. You lie down quietly, not like you have a choice. Your inner monologue piles up rapidly. Shit, is my tongue in her way? Do I move it? Wait, where is my tongue? What if I move it and the drill touches my tongue and cuts it? Will blood spray everywhere? If I just roll my eyes up a bit, I could see her face. But no. I’ll look like the girl from exorcist to her. This is humiliating enough. I wonder what she’s thinking. Completely oblivious to any of this, she starts chatting up the nurse. You feel something solid chip off and the drill stop for a minute. Oh my God, did a piece of my teeth chip off? Who let this intern in charge?! This is a lawsuit! You move your head quite a bit trying to gauge her reaction and maybe make sense of whats going on but she promptly nudges you back down. False alarm, the drill stopped just ’cause she was adjusting her mask. Nice eyes. Sigh. She gets back to work and the nurse’s phone rings. She leaves the suction tube just hanging off the edge of your open mouth and leaves to pick up/ cut the phone call. Should I leave it hanging? Should I hold up the tube now? Why do I exist? The drill stops again and she grabs your hand and pulls it to the tube and asks you to hold it in place. You want to say yes, but you can’t talk with her hands in your mouth, and you can’t nod and she just touched your hand and you’re an awkward pathetic hormone of a human being, so your body in all its genius proceeds to blink twice to say ‘Yes’. Yes, please drill off my whole head so I can die before the shame kills me. It’s hard to tell with her mask on but you notice her eyes crinkle just a little bit. Did she just smile? I made her smile. No amount of hospital equipment or dental plaque can steal my swag. Still got it. Your mind wavers onto imaginary conversations you could be having with her if this was a different setting and you completely forget to move the tube in your mouth with her drill.
Your mouth fills with water and it trickles down to your throat causing your gag reflex to act up and she pulls out of the way. You lean straight to the sink and spit it all out, rinsing with the mouthwash afterwards. Wow, there’s blood. Is there supposed to be blood? You lean back and settle into position careful not to make eye contact. She just saw you gag. It’s all going the opposite way. There’s no coming back from this.
“Just some more time. Almost done.”, she says presumably to calm you as you are visibly red now. The nurse returns and goes back to doing her job. Gee, Thanks. Your jaw begins to ache and soon the rest of your scrunched up cheek muscles follow suit. Mental note to check if my jaw seems a bit more chiselled after this. You do not remember the 7th-grade cleaning session to have been this painful. If a day should arrive when a girl consents to help me lose my virginity, I shall not prolong the blowjob to more than 3 minutes. Who knew keeping your mouth open could hurt so bad? You lie there accepting your fate. At least your hair looked good today. “It’s all done. Rinse your mouth one more time and you’re good to go.” You get up and do as you’re told. You realise you can feel each distinct tooth with your tongue now, the ridges between them included and they look whiter than they’ve ever been. Is this how it is for normal people all the time? Being healthy feels weird. I can probably count my teeth with my tongue now. Huh. If I could only go back and kiss everyone I’ve ever kissed again for the first time. You want to leave this place and rush to the comfort of your bed as soon as possible. “Do you drink tea or coffee?”, she asks. Wait, what’s happening? I can’t go on a coffee date now. My mom’s in the waiting room, what do I tell her? You shrug and say that you’re fine with anything. “Well, your teeth are very susceptible to stains now that they’re freshly cleaned. Don’t have anything for the next two days.”