Tuesday, December 21, 2010

This Story is Dedicated to my Dentist

I recently switched toothpaste brands, and it’s got me all in a twist.

Before I came back to China this August, I went to see the dentist. Now, when Gristle went to get his teeth cleaned for the first time last year, I asked him what he thought of the experience and he replied, “Wow! So cool!” As much as I like a good polish of the old chompers, I confess that I do not generally share this opinion of trips to the dentist, even though I have an excellent dentist, a kind man who is one of the few people whose fingers I regularly have in my mouth.

“You have some staining behind your front teeth!” Dr. Hill said, framed by the bright halo of the dental lamp as he leaned over me in the chair. “How’s your brushing?”

“I’m a great brusher,” I said. “You know that.”

“Don’t play cute with me, boy,” Dr. Hill said. He removed his fingers from my mouth. “What’s next? ‘I floss daily’?”

“I do floss daily!”

“Yeah, and I’m Norman W. Kingsley. Get real.”

“I have no idea who that is.”

“Author of Treatise on Oral Deformities. Father of orthodontia.”

(I guess this is as good a time as any to say that this conversation didn’t actually happen. My dentist doesn’t talk like this at all. Sometimes he does make fun of me to my face, but he’s led me to believe that that’s a standard part of a dentist’s bedside manner.)

I shifted in my seat.

“You must be drinking a lot of tea.” He put his fingers back in my mouth. “Are you drinking a lot of tea?”

“I live in China.”

“Save it for the blog, Mr. Self-Promoter.”

He sighed, removed his fingers, and stripped off his latex gloves as he turned to make notes on my chart. When I tried to peek at what he was writing, he turned his back and boxed me out.

“How hard are your bristles?”

“My bristles are so hard right now.”

“Hey!” He spun around in his chair. “This is no time for jokes. This is dentistry. How hard are your bristles?”

“I think I’ve been using a stiff-bristled toothbrush.”

(Now here comes the part of the conversation that actually happened.)

“You should use a soft-bristled toothbrush for optimal tooth and gum health. I’ll give you a box to take back to China.”

“Oh, Dr. Hill, you don’t have to—”

“No, no, don’t mention it. Some toothpaste, too.”

So when I left for China in August, I brought with me a whole box of sample toothbrushes and toothpaste (seriously!), ready to combat the creeping threat of tea stains that Asian cultures pose towards our fresh, bright American tooth enamel.

The toothpaste tubes that Dr. Hill gave me, though, are absurdly small. Which is not surprising. He’s a dentist. He probably uses no more than a pea-sized amount of toothpaste at each of his four daily brushings. But for me, a red blooded American male with my fresh, bright American tooth enamel, a 0.85-ounce tube of toothpaste goes quick. I’ve got a wide mouth. There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be cleaned in there. I don’t need to apologize for being a vigorous brusher.

So anyway, a while ago, I was away on vacation and my 0.85-oz tube of toothpaste ran out (after, like, two days of use). Lucky for me and these outrageous pearl beauts in my mouth, I found another, older tube in my dopp kit. (Cannot believe I just used the phrase dopp kit. I’m fifty. I’m officially fifty.) This was no 0.85 ouncer. This was a generous, manly tube. My favorite kind.

This toothpaste lasted a long time. It saw me through thick and thin. I liked it — it was fresh and new. I squeezed from the bottom to make it last longer. I cleaned excess toothpaste off the cap. I tried to use it sparingly, but sometimes I couldn’t help myself, and I used several peas’ worth of toothpaste in one gloriously profligate bout of brushing.

Last week, though, that tube ran out. And so, conscious that I was marking the ending of something great, I grabbed another tube of Dr. Hill’s Tiny Ass Toothpaste and went to town.

And you know what?

No, I don’t really know either. It just feels weird every morning, you know? I’m not really used to it. A different flavor I guess.

That was all I was going to say. Not a huge deal.