I’ve never met a nice dental hygienist. By definition, anybody who chooses a career in scraping chalkily with a sharpened stick has a mean streak. It’s the manic determination to ignore universally-understood pain noises that separates dental hygienists from every other health professional in the field. Even doctors pause when you say ‘ow’. Not dental hygienists; they go right on jabbing at the softest, shyest parts of you – parts that were living quietly, out of harm’s way. Mouths aren’t like ears or noses – they’re not wind-blasted and sun-burned and used to rough living. Every time that needle-shaped probe is rammed into my quivering-pink soft tissue with a relish that is, frankly, worrying, I’m told my gums are receding. Well, they weren’t until I sat down. All of me would recede if I weren’t pinned in this chair by your vice-like elbows. During my latest visit, I think it would have hurt less if the woman had pulled my teeth out with pliers, as if each molar were a plastic chunk of a Rubix cube tugged out in frustration because the puzzle wasn’t working. She could have scrubbed each tooth on her tray with a wire brush, then jammed the shiny nubs back into my bleeding sockets. For 48 hours after the appointment, it felt like she’d done that anyway, so what’s the difference? At least that way, I wouldn’t have to watch her mad, gleaming eyes as she worked weirdly close to my face.
It’s not just physical pain you have to endure on a much-loved trip to the dental hygienist. There will also be a patronising demonstration on how to hold a small piece of waxy string, delivered with intermittent and loud sighing because that’s pathetic, you’re doing it wrong. Hygienists are obsessed with flossing: they talk of nothing else. During the lecture on lax self-discipline, I wondered how the hygienist thought she knew me so well, and whether there was a class they all take in Dental College on being this arrogant about their impossible standards. These are your obsessions, not mine, I would have said, had my teeth still been attached to anything. Enough about you. Let’s talk about what I know for a minute.
Let’s talk about apostrophes: a much better obsession. I’m constantly walking down the street itching to correct people’s signs in shop windows. But I don’t do it, because I know it’s rude and also, crazy. Next time I visit the hygienist, though, I’m taking an apostrophes test with me. 10 questions, let’s go. If she gets less than 60%, I’m going to tut in her face from a distance of four inches and then broadcast to the entire dental surgery her poor attention to detail. What disappointing negligence.
One day I will meet a dental hygienist who considers a gum to be connected to a nerve, who won’t spend an hour talking to me like I’m 12, and who might allow the possibility that people’s priorities differ. One day. This last one finished her tutorial on pain and her own superiority by saying, “I hope you’ve found me inspiring today.” Clearly she needs to spend less time flossing and more time working on her intuition levels.