Bleeding Gums School: Part dentist, part dominator, the dental hygienist tends to your teeth. The profession behind the pain.
“You’re going to need to improve your home care,” she said through a blue paper mask. “There’s lots of bleeding.”
Of course there’s bleeding, I think. You’re scraping my gums away with a metal pick.
I cringe and grip the chair’s handles as she continues to scrape, probably encouraged by my feebly muttered, although nearly incompressible, “mmm-hmm.” I feel sharp pain as the tool gouges my gum. Instantly, my eyes well up with tears, and I can feel the warm, salty blood in my mouth. But not for long: she sucks it away. I watch as the straw-shaped vacuum turns crimson with my blood-tainted saliva.
I’m at the dentist’s office. Twice yearly, many of us trudge reluctantly to sterile offices, where we wait for minutes to half-hours after our scheduled appointment times, minding the wait but never saying anything. Then we lie there and pretend to make conversation even though our mouths are wide open and full of sucking, scraping tools that are causing us indescribable pain.
After the hygienist is done pulling at the hardened bits of whatever on my teeth, I’m instructed to rinse. I do, and spit pieces of my shredded gums into the porcelain bowl’s swirling water. Then there’s the polishing of my tender teeth, which is definitely better than the scraping but still uncomfortable. After I leave, new toothbrush and floss in hand, my mouth hurts, but gradually, it feels better. And then good, clean and healthy. How bizarre.
Not as bizarre, however, as our collective willingness to pay people to make us wait, tear our mouth apart and then berate us. In the name of oral health, we turn masochistic. And, maybe unbelievably, we go back, year after year, for more pain and discomfort.
Maybe the healing saltwater rinses have just made me slightly bitter. Maybe I could have avoided all that with an extra minute scrubbing of my teeth, or a little more effort pulling floss between my teeth. It can’t be fun staring into neglected, bleeding mouths all day, so the lecturing is understandable, if sometimes obnoxious and condescending. I know I floss daily — if maybe inadequately — so telling me I don’t isn’t going to do much except make me defensive and bitter.
Dentists use these professionals — hygienists — to clean our mouths before they look at them. Hygienists ostensibly get paid to compensate for our slacking oral care. They get to poke and scrape and polish, converse with people who have their mouths wide open and full of equipment, and then instruct patients about something they should have learned years ago. What a great job, huh? That’s not exactly on my list of things I want to do post-graduation.