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–161– Other Incidents in the Precinct -­ That spring, I went to my fourth dentist in three years. Why did I change dentists so frequently and so frivolously? My formative years gave no indication that I would engage in such behavior. I was a model of stomatological stability in my youth, sticking with the same dentist from the time I cut my teeth until my midtwenties, remaining faithful even after I went away to college and then off to seek my fortune and back, and then off again. It has certainly occurred to me, given my more recent inability to stick with one person, that I should give up on dentistry altogether . But I hold to the belief that regular cleanings and filled cavities are preferable to the alternative. To answer the question, though: the first of the four dentists did his job too quickly, finishing in ten minutes and raising concerns about shoddy work. The second seemed competent enough —charming, even, until during visit number three he uttered anti-­ Semitic smears (too convoluted to reproduce), withdrawing his arms from my mouth and setting down his pointy tool quite deliberately, challenging me to respond. About dentist number three I had no complaints, and her office was located conveniently across the street from mine, where my workdays are spent making sense of notes verbales with the help of electronic glossaries. –162– But the next time dentist number three was away, so her partner saw me instead. The partner was a small, cheerful, motherly woman from the Asian subcontinent. She looked in my mouth and said, “You clench your jaw at night. Do you wake up with a headache?” In fact I did, and I had wondered about possible causes: Dehydration? That second glass of red wine I indulged in a few nights a week? Or maybe the first? I knew at once that she was right about the teeth-­ clenching, for the pain was a band that encircled my head from one corner of my mouth to the other. “Stress,” she said reproachfully. “Is your job stressful?” “No,” I said, with a sigh. I wished my job would provide the occasional jolt of adrenaline. “Do you have a difficult marriage?” Her tone was brisk now. “I am here to have my teeth cleaned,” I explained. Impressed with her diagnostic skills and eager to change the subject, I added, “You’re the fourth dentist I’ve been to recently, and the only one to figure out that I clench my jaw. How did you know?” She smiled as if she’d been waiting a very long time for someone to ask precisely this. “I’ve been working in this office for over twenty years,” she said, glancing out at the green glass high-­ rise across the street. “Since the early nineties. Peacekeepers were coming through when I started here, returning from Bosnia, then Rwanda. They presented with conditions we hadn’t learned about in dental school. Not decay. Not cavities. I had to study up on stress-­ related dental conditions. You have a horizontal line inside your cheek; that’s how I know.” As I spat into the sink for the last time, she said, “Oh, there is a way to relieve the stress, you know. I call it ‘doing your homework.’” –163– I unclipped the quilted paper bib and wiped my mouth with it. “You need to write things down,” she said. “Everybody needs to. Nobody listens any more. No one has the time. In the evening before bed, sit down and write about what happened to you during the day, whatever struck you, whatever’s bothering you. Get it out. I do it; my husband doesn’t listen. Writing it all down will help you stop clenching.” “When you’re finished, you can hit ‘delete,’” she added, after a moment. I nodded. She ruffled my hair. “Come back next week and I’ll fit you for a night guard,” she said kindly. ————— I’d been having acupuncture for back and neck pain for a few years, on and off. The condition was simply a part of life, background noise. The place was a well-­ oiled machine for processing insurance claims. The staff urged me to come more and more, to get all the treatment that was coming to me. They referred me for MRIs, gave me polysyllabic diagnoses, rebuked me gently because I showed up just once a week when, they assured me, insurance would cover three times that. The sessions...


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MARC Record
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