At least according to my dental hygienist.
She didn’t say as much — at least at first — but I could tell. Even under the face guard and surgical mask, her narrowed eyes belied her disdain.
I found myself withering under the piercing gaze of her intense disapproval. It was as uncomfortable and searing as the hot lightbulb shining above me.
“Are you flossing?” she asked finally, breaking the sterile silence. She withdrew the hooked scraper from my mouth and held it above my eyes, as if wielding a weapon. The bright light reflected off the cold metal.
I tensed, clenching the chair’s armrests.
“Are you?” she asked again, holding the scraper closer to my eyes.
I nodded, my mouth open. “Uh-huh.”
“Well.” I shrugged. “Maybe not every day.”
“Because your gums are gushing blood, which indicates you’re not flossing regularly.” The hygienist held up the cloth bib that was fastened around my neck. “See this?”
The cloth was saturated with blood, as if the hygienist had been performing triage. The fingers of her latex gloves were also dripping.
In fact, her entire tray of equipment looked like it belonged to the Joker’s plastic surgeon.
“Oh,” I said.
“Tell the truth, now. You haven’t flossed once since your last visit, have you?”
“I haven’t, no.”
“And I told you then to start flossing, didn’t I?”
Snippets from Marathon Man played in my mind. “I … um. I don’t recall.”
“You’re lying. I have your file right here, and it clearly states that you were instructed to start flossing.” The hygienist leaned closer, so that her face guard was touching my cheek. “What’s the matter with you? Don’t you care about your gum health?”
I swallowed, the taste of blood hot in my throat. Clearly, my gums were still bleeding from where the hygienist had been probing me. I could feel the gritty stickiness on my teeth.
She grabbed me around the collar. “Answer me!”
“I do care, ma’am!” I said, choking. “I do!”
“Yeah?” She released her grip. “We’ll see about that.”
She stood up and crossed the room. I lay trembling, tears pooling in my eyes.
The hygienist returned with string tied around both of her index fingers. She held it above me.
“What’s that?” I croaked, as beads of perspiration trickled down my forehead. She was going to strangle me — I knew it. This was to be my inevitable punishment for neglecting my dental health.
The hygienist frowned. “It’s floss. Haven’t you seen it before?”
“Oh,” I said. “No — I haven’t, actually.”
She took a seat. “I want you to brace yourself. Your gums are tender, so this is going to be painful.”
She jammed the floss between two of my bottom teeth. I screamed, my legs reflexively kicking.
“Hold still!” The hygienist yanked out the floss. A stream of blood and flecks of lettuce stuck to her mask.
“Please,” I said, moaning. “Please stop.”
The hygienist cinched the floss tighter around her finger.
“Tell me,” she said, leaning close. “Is it safe?”
“Stop,” I said, my voice a whisper. “Please.”
“Is it safe?”
I closed my eyes, shuddering. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The hygienist crammed the floss between the next pair of teeth and wrenched it back and forth, sawing down to the gumline. A wad of putrid foulness flicked out.
My cries echoed off the walls, filtering into the hall and tapering to the Reader’s Digest-filled waiting room, whose snug couches and sunny interior belied the chamber of horrors within.
However, I am flossing more now, so there’s that.