Like most Americans, I have always been afraid of the dentist. It is not a vague fear of the entire “experience” of the dentist. I take great care of my teeth, and have never had a cavity. I have had baby teeth pulled. I have had my wisdom teeth taken out (by Dr. Wank, who gave me a shirt that says, “I Got Yanked by Wank.”) I went through all of the orthodontics and have had braces, spacers, retainers, and even that ridiculous night brace. While these experiences were not necessarily pleasant, I still went through them relatively unfazed. My dentist, orthodontist and even Dr. Wank were extremely friendly fellows.
You might be confused as to why I have a fear, or even if it is real. I assure you, it is very real. And it has a name.
Hilga was a bitch of a hygienist that I had the unfortunate luck of meeting as a young boy. Since the first time I sat in her reclining torture chair, I have had nightmares. Nightmares of her coming into my room late at night, wearing black latex and ripping my teeth out.
I’m not sure what her real name was, but Hilga seemed like an appropriate name to coin for her. More specifically, Hilga the Horrible. The Goddess of Pain.
Hilga was one of those perfectionists who cleaned her victim’s teeth out a little too well. Whether she did it for her own fulfillment or because she was trying to impress the dentist, I am uncertain. What I do know is that when she was done, my entire body would be sore and sweaty from clenching during the entire cleaning.
As I previously stated, I have never had a cavity, so clearly I had done something correct in terms of dental care up until that point. Yet, Hilga was able to find even the minutest traces of plague, extracting it with that pointy scraper thing. She would even scrape my gums with that sharp torture device, producing a large amount of blood. Often times, in her fervor, she would miss and literally stab me. Tears welled up in my eyes, but I couldn’t wipe them away with my bib, as it was already soaked with blood.
The worst part of a session with Hilga was the brushing. In my previous experiences at the dentist, the bad tasting paste was generally laced with some kind of flavoring such as mint, bubble gum, or cherry. Hilga never offered such flavorings. Shit-vomit was her only flavor.
Another aberration from the good ol’ days of dentistry was the fact that Hilga didn’t let me rinse. Previously, I had been permitted to rinse the bubble gum tasting paste out of my mouth four times during the cleaning, once for each quadrant. Hilga finished my top left and moved right on to the top right, and then went directly to the bottom. All the while, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to puke, choke, or faint.
I lost a piece of my innocence that first day that I met Hilga. And I haven’t trusted hygienists since.
Perhaps that is the reason that I waited over a year to visit the dentist, once being knocked off of my parents’ dental insurance.
Sitting in the waiting room of Dr. Saul's office, I nervously awaited Hilga’s familiar voice to call my name. I pretended to read ESPN Magazine, but stopped when I saw a picture of a toothless hockey player. Would my mouth look like that after today? I mean, how much scraping can a tooth withstand before being chiseled to nothing?
“Youngman Brown?” It was a man’s voice. A very large man. “This way, please.”
At first, I felt relief. Relief that I wouldn’t have to endure the pain that only Hilga could provide. While this man was built like a linebacker, he had a friendly voice, and I could tell that he would be kind to my pearly whites.
I had no idea that I would be experiencing a completely different kind of torture.
“Not working today?” he asked. I already didn’t like him. I am still bitter and embarrassed about not being able to find a job.
“Nah,” I said, hopping into the chair.
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“I just graduated,” I semi-bluffed. “Still looking for work.”
“You and the rest of the world. What are you looking for?”
“I got a degree in Digital Media. So anything with graphic arts.”
“You know what you should do? You should become a heli-logger.”
“Oh my God, man. I just saw it on the Discovery channel.” He shoved a plastic piece into my mouth for x-rays. “These loggers cut down trees and then they lift ’em out with a helicopter.”
I raised my eyebrows in feigned interest, but wondered what that had to do with graphic arts.
“It’s like the number-one most dangerous job,” he explained. “More fatalities than in Deadliest Catch.”
He was not selling this job very well. “Thatch crachzy,” I spit.
“Seriously, man. Google that shit. H-E-L-I-hyphen-L-O-G-G-E-R.”
“Did you catch The Unit last night?” he asked, as if this is a standard question to ask strangers.
I shook my head. “Uh uh.”
“Oh man, really good ep. Hulu that shit. Do you watch House?”
I shook my head again.
“Oh man, that’s a great show. You’d eat it up, man. It’s not like any of those other doctor shows because he is just such an ass. Like, he doesn’t give a shit. Real smart, too.”
This hygienist is just standing there, leaned against the wall, talking to me. Ignoring the fact that I have had a plastic piece clenched between my teeth for a few minutes.
“You look like more of a family guy.”
I assumed he meant “Family Guy guy,” and I shrugged, then tried, “I don’t watcsh Foxch schows exschept Twenty-Four.”
“Eh, I don’t watch that shit.” He put the lead jacket on my chest and started the x-rays. Apparently, I had hit a nerve with the mentioning of 24, as if he just had a messy break-up with Jack Bauer. From that point on, he literally did not say a word except for “open” and “bite.”
As he began violently cleaning my teeth, I had unsettling flashbacks to Hilga the Goddess of Pain. He poked and prodded, scraped and scratched. It hurt. And I swear to God, his eyes were glaring, not at my open mouth, but right back into my eyes. I feared that one of his metallic torture devices might find its way to the back of my throat, rendering me incapable of screaming for help when he inevitably decided to kill me.
And then there was clapping. Clapping and singing coming from the hallway. It was one of the receptionist’s birthdays.
My bulky hygienist stopped cleaning my teeth to yell, “No cake for me!” and then, turning to me: “Oh man, bro, I just had the biggest lunch. Like if you weren’t in that chair, I’d be napping right now, no lie.”
He was back.
“Seriously, I went to that Thai place down the street. I got chicken noodle soup. Man, but the bowl was huge. This big.” He held an invisible bowl in his hands for me to see, approximately a foot and a half in diameter. “It had huge pieces of chicken. So I ate that up, and that wasn’t enough for me, so I got a cup of rice. Bro, they brought me a family size and I ate it all. And now all I wanna do is sleep.”
I offered an impressed nod. “Like aftuh Thankshgiving dinnuh.” There was one of those Sucker tubes in my mouth, making it quite dry.
“The other night I was at the bar, telling this nutritionist that I wanted to drop down to two-sixty. I was actually trying to score, but whatever. She’s like, ‘How much do you weigh now,’ and I told her three-forty and she goes ‘Oh my God, you must have a really high calorie intake,’ and I go, ‘Yea I do.’”
I began discovering all the different noises that I could make with the Sucker, simply by moving my tongue to different parts of my mouth.
“Man she was hot. But I’ll tell you something man. Before my lunch break, there was some girl sitting where you are sitting. You wouldn’t believe it. Blonde. Twenty two. I swear to God, bro, if she were fourteen days older."
I had no idea what that last part meant, but I nodded, knowingly. “Schweet.” Finally, he resumed his job and continued cleaning, giving me the silent treatment once again.
“We’re done,” he said, taking my bib off and exiting the room. I coyly got out of the chair and made my way to the front desk, where the mass of a man stood, eating a piece of birthday cake. “You should come every six months,” he said, more of a statement than a suggestion. Then he walked away.
“That’ll be seventy-five dollars,” the receptionist informed me. “Would you like to schedule your next appointment?”
“I’ll have to call to schedule, once I take a look at my calendar.”
I don’t have a calendar, and if I did, it would be completely blank for November. I knew that the next time I would go to the dentist wouldn’t be until the next time I had some kind of unbearable pain in my mouth. These checkup visits to the dentist always left a bad taste in my mouth.