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The dentist beckoned me through the doorway into the sterilized white room. Sitting in the middle of the room was a relined chair, bleached out like the rest of the room. Sharp tools lay gleaming on a tray. I eyed them suspiciously. They were all covered in clear plastic, to keep them clean, I suppose, but it made me feel tainted, an intruder. The dentist smiled crookedly at me, and motioned for me to sit down.
“How long will this take Doc?”
“Depends. How well do you clean your teeth?”
“Very funny Doc. I got to be places. How much time will I be in for?”
“Don’t worry, this should only take a couple of minutes.”
He sat down next to my chair, his white lab coat ruffling a bit. He pulled a lamp from above and shined it down on my face.
“Open your mouth”
So I did. Opened wide to reveal my teeth. He put his latex gloved fingers into my mouth and poked around.
“Looks like you brush well!”
I could barely see his smile, my eyes squinting in the harsh light of the lamp. His fingers left my mouth, and I gratefully closed it, tired from stretching.
But soon he was back. He ripped plastic and removed a shiny tool from its casing. The tool looked like a tube, but what had me worried was the top. It was thin, like a needle, and looked sharp, and painful.
“Are you going to put that in me?”
“Just your mouth. Relax, it won’t hurt a bit”
“Sure, that’s what they all say…”
“Well, either open up, or we can’t continue.”
The tool descended into my mouth…
My heart beat faster.
My eyes narrowed.
My breathing quickened.
The sharp object stopped. The dentist looked down at me in concern. I breathed out slowly.
“You okay buddy? You look a little pale.”
“I-I’m fine Doc. Just a chill is all. You can continue”
“Just relax. It’ll be over in five minutes.”
The gleaming cylinder slowly descended into my mouth again. I could make out the dentist’s gloved hand, probing my teeth, but the light from the lamp shining into my eyes prevented me from observing anything else. As he picked at my gums with his forceps, he brought another tool out of its casing, a mirror to see the back of my teeth. Having one hand in my mouth gave me mild discomfort, but two was slightly painful. I felt even more uncomfortable when he twisted the mirror this way and that inside my mouth. Then the questions started.
“So, how are you?”
As if he expected a response when his hands filled up my mouth, but I tried to respond anyway.
He nodded, as if he understood this alien-speak. Maybe he actually did, but I think it was just him acknowledging the usual answer. He started asking questions again.
“How is life? Everything okay? I believe last time you were here you were looking for a job. How did that work out?”
While I was looking into the light, I wondered how he could remember those things I told him at my last check up. How he could even understand me through the muffle of his hands. Regardless, I replied.
He took his hands out of my mouth at that point. Probably so he could hear the next part better.
“Everything is fine, I guess. And yeah, I found a job.”
“Really? What did you find if you don’t mind me asking?”
“It’s a good job. I only have to work two days a week.”
“That’s good. Does it pay well?”
“I don’t think I would be here Doc if it didn’t.”
“Quite right. Since it is your first time here in a while, you’re going to need some x-rays of your teeth.”
“Okay Doc. That’s fine with me.”
He got up from his stool and went to the wall opposite the chair. I didn’t notice it before, but he opened a closet that blended into the white walls and recovered an apron. As he walked back towards me he pulled over a metal arm that was hanging from the ceiling. It had this weird cylindrical tube at its end.
“This apron right here is lead line to protect you from excess radiation.”
“Radiation from what Doc?”
“Radiation from the x-ray machine. Can’t have you getting cancer now can we?”
“Yeah, sounds like a good idea to me.”
He put the apron on me. It was surprisingly heavy, but I suppose that was because of the lead lining. He took the strings attached and pulled them around to the back of my head. I quickly realized that he wasn’t moving, just standing behind me with the strings in his hands.
“You okay Doc?”
He seemed far away, and didn’t respond to my question. I tried to get his attention.
“Hey Doc! You okay?”
It looked like he shook himself out of whatever funk he was in, because he just continued tying the strings behind my back.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just surprised is all. I didn’t know you had a tattoo.”
“Oh that, yeah, not one of my brightest moments.”
“It’s quite distinctive. I think I’ve only seen a tattoo like that once before.”
“Thanks, I guess. Where did you see it if you don’t mind me asking?
“It’s no problem. I can’t really remember though, sorry.”
"That's interesting. I was under the impression that my tattoo was unique. Oh well."
He got up and pulled the metal arm. He put the tube to my face.
“I’m going to leave now, and the machine is going to take the x-ray. Don’t move and clamp down on these.”
So saying, he put a couple of white strips in my mouth.
And he left the room.
I felt uncomfortable sitting in that chair with a metal tube pushing against my cheek.
I heard a beep from the instrument, and the dentist came back into the room.
“Well, that’s one done, now two more to go.”
He pulled the now grayish strips from my mouth and put it on a tray. He set up the metal arm again, and he put the tube against my other cheek, and made me clench down on two more pristine white strips that would be transformed by my saliva and the machine.
The dentist exited the room again.
I heard the beep of the machine; however, the dentist didn't come back. What could take him so long? Should I shout?
"Sorry! You're going to have to wait a little bit. I got a call."
So that's what's holding him up. A call. Why didn't he say he was busy? I am his patient, right?
“It will just be a few more minutes until I finish up this call. Don’t worry.”
Awkward. That would best describe my situation at that moment. I’m sitting in the plastic covered chair wearing a bleached white apron while a metal arm from the ceiling pressed against my cheek as the minutes ticked by. I hear clicking on the ceramic floor and the dentist appears in the doorway again.
“Sorry about that. Family matter, couldn’t just not take the call.”
The white strips in my mouth did nothing for my phonics.
The dentist quickly pulled out the white strips and took them to the counter. He then proceeded to pull off the apron and move the metal arm.
“Now comes the last part. This used to be the part when I put your regular old paste into a tray and stuck it into your mouth for ten minutes, but we’ve just upgraded to fluoride paint. Once I get my brush and your favorite flavor, I’ll be ready to paint it on. What would you like? We have grape, orange, and mint.”
“Umm, grape I guess.”
He nodded and pulled a bottle out of the closet hidden in the wall.
“Alright. I’m going to need you to smile big. Once I paint this fluoride on, we’ll be done. Unlike the paste and tray, you can eat anything you want right after, as long as it won’t stick to the fluoride.”
I opened my mouth as he leaned over me and brushed each tooth with fluoride. How would I even taste the grape flavor? It was stuck to my teeth, not traveling down my throat. Who would drink fluoride anyway?
The dentist made even brushstrokes, coating every millimeter of tooth real estate. He seemed to be doing a thorough job even if it took longer, which was fine by me.
We sat in companionable silence. I could feel the thin brush when it slid over my gums. I closed my eyes while the dentist peered down at me; the glare from the lamp was starting to hurt.
Five minutes later, and the dentist sat up. He tossed the brush and extra remaining fluoride into the trash.
“Can’t reuse germified paste can I? The Department of Health would be on me so fast I wouldn’t even be able to open another patient’s mouth.”
“I understand Doc. I don’t want to get anybody sick or anything.”
“Well, we’re all done. You can eat right away if you wish too, but don’t eat anything that could be considered potentially sticky. The fluoride would become glue, and I’m pretty sure you don’t want others to know what your last meal was.”
“Okay Doc. Will do.”
“Good. Now we just have to settle the bill in our little venture here. You have insurance with your new job or are you paying up front with cash?”
“I wish my job would give me insurance, but sadly no. I’ll be paying with cash.”
“All right. Just follow me up to the register and we’ll get this squared away. Then you’re free to go.”
I followed him back out to the reception area. He got behind a mahogany desk and sat down in the leather chair. He looked over at me while he typed something into the computer in front of him.
“Okay. With the X-rays added on your total comes up to $430.”
“$430 dollars? That’s quite a bit isn’t Doc? What got my total so high?”
“Well, you did have X-rays, and the radiation costs quite a pretty penny. That, and the new fluoride treatment. That fluoride has to decompose on your teeth without poisoning you. Quite the feat, hence the expense. Nothing to it really.”
“Well all right.”
I pull out my wallet and shuffle through the bills there. I pulled out four Benjamins and a fifty.
“I hope I can get a twenty back?”
“Of course. I just have to check these bills. You know how counterfeiting and hundreds are these days.”
He pulled out a familiar yellow pen and swiped it across each of my bills.
“Yeah, just the other day I was almost gypped. If I hadn’t had a buddy who checked the cash for me, I would have lost a lot of money.
“Yeah, this pen here is a nice tool to have.”
He finished swiping the bills, which all proved to be real.
“It seems like we’re all finished. Here’s your change.”
He handed me a twenty, and I put it in my wallet. I turned to exit, but then the dentist called out to me.
“Wait! I almost forgot. I have to tell you the results of your X-rays.”
I walked back to his desk from the door to his clinic. He stood up and led me back into the clinic. He took me to what looked like a whiteboard, but it was lit up from behind allowing us to see what my bone and enamel looked like. The dentist pointed at my teeth.
“I just wanted to let you know that your teeth are in good shape and that we didn’t find a cavity. You brush in the morning and evening, right?”
I shuffled my feet a little. Did Listerine count for the evening brush up? I suppose not.
“Just the morning really.”
I could ask him about the Listerine though.
“Listerine for the evening though. Does that count?”
The dentist chuckled.
“Not really, no. But it is an excellent practice. It’s not as good as the real thing. You really should brush twice a day.”
“Yeah, I know Doc, but I always feel like I just don’t want to spend two minutes staring at myself in the mirror while I move a piece of plastic in my mouth. I just want to go to bed at that point.”
“I know how you feel, but it’s necessary. Chicks dig white teeth.”
We head back out to the reception area, but what awaits there surprises me. I see two cops, their blue uniforms standing out against the white sterilized atmosphere.
They were your stereotypical cops. They were slightly chubby, but big guys that had their guns holstered on their hips.
“Hey there officers. How are you guys?”
The two officers turned like they just noticed me. They both frowned in my direction. Why did they do that? I hope I didn’t take their parking space or something.
That would be awkward.
“Sir you’re under arrest.”
“W-w-what are you saying?” What was going on? What happened? What was I being charged with?
“Sir, you’re under arrest for breaking and entering, and theft. Both of those are Class C Felonies. Here is the warrant for your arrest.”
The other officer jumped in at that point.
“Turn around and face the wall. Put your hands behind your back.” He proceeded to put cuffs on me. I could have struggled, but I felt that it would be futile. And it would probably get me in more trouble.
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say…”
The recitation of my Miranda rights had me on edge. I looked to the dentist who glared at me.
“Think you could get away, did you Thief.”
“How did you know Doc?”
The police officers were holding both of my arms while I faced the dentist.
“I have cameras in my house. And even though I wasn’t able to see your face through them, I saw the back of your neck. You couldn’t have chosen a more distinguished tattoo (she is Mexican). And who works for only TWO days a week? With a good enough salary to pay for a dentist visit out of your pocket?”
“That’s it? I was issued an arrest warrant based of that circumstantial information?”
The officer to my left and right looked interested in the answer as well. Looks like they were only grunts sent to pick me up.
“I purposely aimed the X-ray cannon at an angle to catch the back of your neck. Most tattoos have chemicals that cause them to show up on images like bone. That was what the first X-ray was for. As soon as I got it I faxed it too the police department.”
“So one X-ray from a dentist gets me arrested? How does that work? I thought one would have to have more evidence to incarcerate someone, but turns out I’m wrong.”
“Should teach you not to take what is not yours. Officers, take him to prison. I don’t want to see the thief who stole and sold my stuff.”
The officers pushed me forward out the door, a bit ruff in my opinion.
“Watch your head.” Those were the only words spoken by the officer as he pushed my head into the squad car.
We drove in silence. The squad car pulled up to a stop next to a house. I got out of the squad car and squinted in the light of the sun. My cuffs released their tight hold on my wrists.
The officer stared at me.
“We’re going to be working today. I’ll get the address to you later.” He turned to get in his car, but then turned towards me. “And make sure you wear a turtleneck this time,” he barked out at me. “Getting caught is not appealing, so screw your head on straight.”