We're From the Planet Dento, Let Us See Your Teeth

I’m told to sit outside in the courtyard on hastily assembled faux rattan patio furniture. The new pandemic rules prohibit lingering in the tiny waiting room of my dentist’s office. It’s just as well. Reading Harper’s Bazaar while listening to high-speed drills grind against enamel is mildly disconcerting.

The only decorative item to be found in the rattan lounge is a super-sized bottle of Purell. It sits, lonely, on a table across from me. Four months ago, when we were all getting our heads around the new reality of the pandemic, a bottle that size would have gone for fifty grand on E-bay. Thankfully supply has caught up with demand. These days it's the style sense of your hand sanitizer that counts. Personally I prefer the stuff from Hanson Distillery. It smells of a vodka cocktail and comes in a Lake Tahoe blue bottle. It looks fabulous bouncing around the back seat of my car or sitting on the kitchen counter next to my fruit bowl.

Upon entry to the dentist’s office I’m greeted by a new hygienist who goes to great lengths to introduce herself with the type of small talk usually reserved for the examination room. Then it becomes clear as she dons magnifying eyeglasses fitted with a bright LED light pointing down from the nose bridge, a surgical mask, a face shield, and gloves; I’m never to see her human form again.

Behind the hygienist there’s a new contraption. A box on wheels painted hospital white no taller than a four year old child. Jutting out from the top center of the box, also painted hospital white, an articulated metal tube about the circumference of something you’d find on a tug-and-drag vacuum cleaner. The three articulated sections give the tube enough reach for the flared end to hover over my mouth during teeth cleaning. The jet engine sounding hyper suction device is designed to capture atomized particles before they spin off like microscopic comets.

As I lie on my back staring at my reflection in the hygienist’s glowing face shield, listening to the roaring super sucker obliterate unseen droplets, it strikes me: my current situation is uncannily similar to alien abduction stories. You may not have noticed, but, every person claiming to be an abductee has fabulous teeth.

Dentistry, calm, collected, the preferred profession to marry into from the perspective of any parent, may in fact be a secret cabal of wild, nitrous oxide fuelled philanthropists. They travel to far flung hinterlands of America, where proper dental care is difficult to find, and perform secret acts of oral hygienic charity. The head gear, the lights, the super suckers, all an elaborate disguise meant to play off a ubiquitous extraterrestrial narrative that protects the identities of the super heroes of mouth porcelain.

The scraping of my teeth echoes in my head. It sounds like someone swirling a bunch of pebbles in an empty gallon milk container, I squint my eyes at my hygienist. Just barely visible, through the reflections on the plastic and the haze of the LED light I see a gleeful smile on her face. She mentions something about still getting used to the super sucker and all the protective apparatus. “Uh huh,” I say with a knowing wink. Then I settle in content to have solved one of America’s great mysteries. Don’t worry dental super heroes, your secret is safe with me.