I had my regular dental hygiene appointment today so my teeth feel squeaky clean and shiny after all that poking and polishing. The hygienist said, somewhat regretfully I thought, that I was doing a reasonable job on my dental hygiene. Have you noticed that dentists almost never praise your efforts in the tooth cleaning area? They give you all sorts of advice on flossing and using cute little brushes to get between the gaps but they never - in the "never" of conversation, i.e. not very often - say you are doing a great job in tooth maintenance. I once shared an apartment in London with a dental hygienist. She gave us a lot of tips on keeping our teeth clean and at the same time entertained us with hilarious stories of quirky patients. I never forgot her advice on how to combat those little hobgoblins which attack your teeth as soon as your back is turned or to be more precise when you've finished enjoying your favourite sugary snack.
Which all reminded me today of a dentist in London who did a great job on repairing all the damage I did by neglecting my teeth (until that flat mate hygienist arrived, you understand). He had a habit of talking to you while working even though the answers he got - from me at any rate - were mostly in the nature of the gurgles of a drowning fish or "ummmhhhsss". He was Australian and told me about how polluted the fish were because of nuclear waste being dumped in the sea and how CFC sprays were destroying the ozone layer (this was in the early 1970's when we - or I - were just becoming aware of environmental issues). I literally listened with my mouth open (yeah, I know, but go on, smile anyway). The most fascinating thing about him was that despite being such a skilled dentist, he was scared of his assistant. I discovered this on one particular visit where in rinsing out my mouth and returning the beaker, it fell out of my hand, leaving a splash on the floor. "Don't worry," he said then added in a half whisper "but don't tell her because she'll be very cross with you." ("her" obviously being his assistant who was briefly out of the room at the time). I thought he was joking until as I was slipping into my coat I heard the following conversation:
Her: "What happened here? What's the water doing on the floor?"
Dentist: "Oh, that was me, I slopped it. I'll just clean it up."
No man is a hero to his dental assistant as some philosopher must once have said.