In a scrape over dental hygiene

November 18, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

When I'm in the dentist's chair, I always keep one foot on the floor. That way they know that one false move and I will engage my gazelle-like speed to sprint out of the office so fast that the only thing left beneath the dental pick will be a cloud of dust a la the old Road Runner cartoons.

It is a dangerous game.

Heather, my hygienist, knows my skittishness and stands ready with a pick the size of the Space Needle which she is fully prepared to ram into my central nervous system, leaving me temporarily immobilized should I show any signs of making a break.

We eye each other levelly as I slip into the chair, both our instincts sharp as a wildebeest in a lion-infested mountain pass.

None of this is really our fault. We blame the Pearl Drops in High Heels, who would no more miss a six-month checkup than an Appalachian fundamentalist would miss a snake handling. I couldn't believe it when she first laid out my tooth regimen. "What? You mean I have to go every six months?


So it all started a couple of years ago, when, strung tighter than Joan Rivers' cheekbones, I walked (prodded with a pitchfork) into the office of Dr. Paul McAllister.

Immediately I learned that Dr. McAllister uses - "technology."

Where medicine is concerned, I'm really more of a leech and hot mercury kind of guy. I am not encouraged by those "modern medicines" I see advertised on TV: "Snotrex, the once-a-day pill for temporary relief of runny nose due to hay fever. Side effects may include diarrhea, insomnia, diminished sex drive, brain cancer, blindness and one leg getting shorter than the other."

You have to take a second drug to counteract the effects of the first drug. No kidding, I once saw an ad on TV for Viagra, and the very next ad was for a herpes treatment.

So I was not prepared for this camera that showed my chewing apparatus on a computer screen, sort of like an IMax for your mouth, which makes each incisor look much the size of the Chrysler Building.

But I didn't say anything.

And I kept my peace through the lectures on chewing tobacco and floss and proper gum care. In fact, it has almost reached the point of light-heartedness. Heather will ask, "Now you are remembering to floss, aren't you?" Then we look at each other for a few minutes before we both burst out laughing.

I feel as if they are always trying out these new experiments on me to see how they will go. My protest has been minimal, aside from an occasional biting, kind of on the order of Mike Tyson. Because of this, Heather may be the only hygienist who has to wear protective gloves on her ears. In fact, they are so good I had even begun to relax a little, my paranoia over scraping and whirring noises fading with each visit.

But I will not sit by and quietly accept the latest dental abomination, which I am sure you will all eventually be subjected to if you haven't already.

It's called, I am not kidding, a "tongue scraping."

At first I misheard. I thought she said a tongue pruning, like Granny was always threatening Jethro with on "The Beverly Hillbillies."

But it is a tongue scraping, and it is the latest thing. The literature says it gets rid of "debris and bacteria" that accumulate on your tongue.

Debris? What, did Hurricane Andrew pass through my maw and somehow I missed it?

The scraper is plastic and looks much like a small, serrated car bumper. They use it to rake the bacteria off your tongue which is bad enough, but worse they - with obvious pride for the process - pull a mirror down close to your mouth so you can watch.

When did medical procedures turn into must-see TV? I do not want to see a live birth and I do not want to see my own tongue scraped. And I said so. "Heather," I said, "I demand you put an end to this atrocity at once!"

Of course, my mouth was wide open and my tongue stretched half way to Nebraska, so it came out "Ehrer, ah eann ewe uhk a eahh a-a-o-ee a oook."

Not that it mattered. The next time a woman listens to me it will be the first time.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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