We moved the summer before my senior year of high school and so, at the age of 18, I got a new dentist.  His office was small, brick, old.  He was small, leathery, old.  He straddled my knee and held up a dental mirror.  “This is a mirr-or,” he said slowly, looking at me intently.  “I’m going to put this into your mouth and Look Around.”  He paused to see if I was listening.  “I’m not going to hurt you.  I’m just going to Look Around.”  I nodded.  “Yeah,” I said.  “Okay.”  He leaned in.

I couldn’t see his face anymore—just his forehead or his eyes or the top of his head and the ceiling.  (I can’t even remember how much of a dentist you see when you’re under inspection, that’s how long it’s been since I’ve been to the dentist.  Which is the point of this post, when I get there.)  He leaned in and began to poke.  I felt his body stiffen.  “Ah—ah—ah—ahhh,” he said.  And from inside my mouth I could hear him say, “You’ve done this before.”

Yes, Doctor.  Turns out.

Turns out I was born with (or gave myself?) terrible teeth.  In first grade I left class once a week every week for six weeks, each time making the long and beautiful trip up the 101 from Palo Alto to Half Moon Bay, where I got six small cavities filled for free by a generous dentist from my church.  Being out of school made me feel special, but I hated the way the drill buzzed into my brain.  And I always missed library class.  Neither my mom nor my teacher seemed concerned.

Every year brought more cavities to fill, more fillings to replace, more crowns to implant, and then, when I was in high school, a root canal.  The root canal was the easiest of all.  “Your tooth is so dead,” my then-dentist announced, “that I’m not even going to numb you.  You won’t feel a thing.”  He was right.  It was such a painless procedure—and I was such a pro—that I locked my mouth open (bless my TMJ) and fell asleep.  At one point, he had to wake me up.  “You’re rolling off the chair,” he said, good-natured and unconcerned.  He was my favorite dentist.

I had an emergency root canal just before grad school—oh my goodness, it hurt like Jacob Morley—but law school hit, and dental insurance wasn’t an option (the powers that be seem not to be concerned that they’re creating a professional/academic class, with first-rate educations and neglected teeth), and it’s been four years since I’ve seen a dentist.

I do, however, floss.

I guess what I’m saying is that to me dentists and dental care are wrapped up in other, messier phases of life.  Parents take kids to get cavities filled and cracked teeth mended.  Parents go in themselves when crowns fall off and aches become distracting.  Old people are wheeled in when pasta’s a prohibitively solid food and the work of teeth is outsourced to dentures.

Regular dental care.  Just another thing I’ve been putting off until adulthood.  Turns out, I am an adult.  And no one is making dental appointments for me.