Only two things make dentist office visits tolerable, and neither one of them is an enduring love for teeth scraping or X-rays.

Every appointment, I arrive thirty minutes early to visit with the robust community of Oscars that live in Dr. Mihlavich’s mammoth aquarium. One day I will convince Tennisfiend that Oscars are not slimy evil devil-spawn, he will realize that they are the most adorable, lovable fish on the planet. Eh, I digress. The second thing that makes office visits endurable is spending an hour with Tammy, my dental hygienist. Imagine a fusion of Bill Cosby and Kathy Bates with a talent for relating captivating tales of her family life, cats and many boyfriends.

When I sit in her chair I forget I’m at the dentist’s. Every appointment seems like a beauty treatment at a well loved salon. She makes me feel special and pampered. So, imagine my distress when a bony, humorless girl marched me to Tammy’s station, murmuring that Tammy was ill and that she was my replacement hygienist.

Despite my disappointment, I tried to engage the girl in small talk, but it was fruitless. During the entire procedure she was mute, not even uttering a “spit” or “open wider.” The silence made me especially vigilant to the monotonous scrape, scrape, scrape of the dental scaler. As her passive face loomed indifferently over mine, I had the feeling that I was a cadaver being attended to by a mortician’s competent, but thoroughly bored daughter.

I felt depersonalized and alienated. When the ordeal was over, Dr. Mihlavich slunk into the room. He, too, was unnaturally quiet and looked twenty pounds underweight. His hands briefly flashed in and about my face and he pronounced me “just fine.” The mortician’s daughter then stuffed a plastic baggie with floss, toothpaste and a toothbrush I’ll use for cleaning the bathtub fixtures in my hand and told me to “Have a nice day.” As I exited the office, the rest of the staff was enjoying a moment of levity by reception, disproving my theory that a tragedy had struck the office. I handed in my paperwork and crept into the lobby to spend a few comforting moments with the fish. Whew.

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