ISSUE 23

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  Anyone who can stare inside someone’s mouth fifty weeks out of the year has to have something wrong with them. As children, dentists must have quickly abandoned their Transformers and Cabbage Patch Kids and gender-neutral toys (blocks) for a toothbrush and a hundred yards of the finest waxed floss this side of the Pacific. And when Grandpa put his teeth in solution, they stared glassy-eyed at the floating gums and bright enamel, and begged, just begged, to perform a root canal on their golden retriever.   
  It’s not that we’re not thankful for what they do, it’s just they chose a profession that specializes in causing pain. No one springs out of bed and thinks, Thank god some borderline psychotic is going to strap me down in a chair, shove his hand down my throat, and take exorbitant amounts of money from me.     
  The first bad sign is they always mention your gums are bleeding, not because they’ve been flailing around with a sharp object for the past forty-five minutes, oh no. No, it’s because someone hasn’t been flossing. This way they claim innocence when you’re bleeding out like a WWII private on Omaha beach, as if the medic comes along and says, Well, you could’ve done a LOT better work at dodging that machine gun fire.    
  See, if anyone were to be a successful murderer, it wouldn’t be the barber of Fleet Street, it would be the people who shine a bright light in your eyes while you’re lying prone, the people who devoted vast quantities of money to learning about teeth.
  It hasn’t been scientifically proven how many teeth cleanings it takes to make someone snap, but if you have an older dentist, you can bet that moment is close. The tongue is the main target, always lolling around like a seal with a gastric ulcer and getting in the way of sharp objects like a squirrel wandering into an intersection. It’s only a matter of time before your dentist yells, Down yonder beast!, whips out the sharpest knife on the side board, and spears your tongue like Moby Dick.  
  See dentists are a delicate mix of the Stasi and Mr. Rogers, weaving into that place called pleasant, efficient interrogation. They are experts at turning a story about a vacation to a tortured confession about how much candy you’ve been eating. It’s all about the tone, vaguely personal, vaguely business, a detached friendliness with a family—but always, always ten seconds away from charging you twenty thousand dollars to saw off a part of your body.
   
  And you can never tell what they’re saying to the assistant when they examine your teeth. It all sounds familiar, like someone having a stroke, only they use words that sound medical and vaguely military.   
Doctor: There’s a lot of bleeding here and some partially inflamed gingiva. This decomposed flakmonkey looks bad. Number thirteen bicuspid has a partially exposed meteor crater. Looks like a twelve-twenty mortar shell hit these cuspids. [Addresses patient]
It looks like we have a small cavity. Nothing too serious, if you’re… cooperative. [Rubs hands together] It’s not a big chance, but someone could just forget to give you pain medication and remove your lower jaw… Doesn’t usually happen...
[Leans back in chair]
Now I believe you were telling us where you have hidden the Jews.
  And don’t ever accept x-rays, which are scary enough. Really they’re scanning your brain for plots against the government and more importantly, if you have dental insurance. They find some poor schluck who can’t afford treatment and that nice receptionist gently turns the knob from x-ray to death ray.  
  They aren’t below dumping your uninsured corpse in a swamp, but usually they’re more sophisticated. When the police come to investigate, they bring the officer to the corpse in the backroom, calmly lay a hand on the policeman’s shoulder, and remark, Well, officer, it looks like our patient just didn’t floss enough. Happens every once in a while. Nothing to worry about here… Say, if you don’t mind me saying, it looks like you have some decomposed flakmonkey on your bottom incisor. Let’s sit you down and take a look...     

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