Monday, December 23, 2013


A week ago Monday I went for my semi-annual teeth cleaning. My dentist, whom I love, has bought her own practice and will be moving there in January, so I brought along a goodbye card for my favorite front-desk agent, Jeannine. As I was leaving, she said mournfully, “I’m never going to see you again.” We parted with a big hug. She is a darling young lady.

As for my teeth, there is a situation of receding gums, though mostly in an area unseen by the casual observer. Unfortunately, I did this to myself using a Sonicare plus whitening toothpaste, all the time thinking I was practicing excellent dental hygiene. Daily habits are powerful, for good or ill. Now I’m worried some of those teeth will eventually fall out. My dentist said that if I don’t have bone loss, they won’t, but decided maybe I
d better see a gum doctor (periodontist), meaning I now have as many doctors for my teeth as for the whole rest of my body.

My whole body has a primary care provider, an ob/gyn, and a cancer surgeon. My teeth have a dentist, an endodontist (root canal guy), and a periodontist. I wonder why it’s “–dontist” and not “–dentist.” It would be easier to remember if you had your dentist, endodentist, and periodentist. Or, conversely, why is it “dentist” and not “dontist”?

On my walk one afternoon last week, I saw a boy of 11 or so wearing what at first looked like an AC*DC t-shirt, for the band, but it proved actually to say AD*HD.

When I got to Randall and San Jose that day, a tall, skinny crossing guard (African American, baggy tracksuit, 28ish, relaxed manner) was cheering on a woman who’d nearly reached my side of the street: “You’re almost there!” When the light turned green for me, I wasn’t sure what he’d do, because I’m 51 and was the only person in sight. Probably he wouldn’t assist me to cross the street (unless I look older than I think), but he asked encouragingly, “Ready?”


“Let’s do this,” he said with an air of meaning to get the job done if it killed him.

As we set off, I said, “It’s nice to have a safety guard and coach all in one.”

“I’m with you. I got you.”

On Thursday I went to see the periodontist. I liked him very much and we had an absolutely riveting discussion about dental hygiene. He did an exam, after which he said he doesn’t see any need for gum surgery (to try to build up the gums) now. He gave me a new set of dental hygiene practices. I asked if it would be fine never to use a Sonicare again and he said by all means—once everyone starting using a Sonicare or similar product, the amount of gum surgery he had to do increased substantially. In my hands, particular with whitening toothpaste, that thing was a lethal weapon. I don’t care about whitening, by the way, but liked how clean my teeth felt after I used it. But Dr. M. said that if you run your tongue over your teeth and say, “Mmm, how smooth and clean my teeth feel!”, you’ve probably done a little bit of damage to your enamel and/or gums.

He said to use a regular toothbrush, not with whitening toothpaste; to hold it with three fingers and the thumb, with the fingers gently curved as if holding a violin bow and the pinky not touching the brush; to gently move the brush in a pea-sized circle over each tooth where it meets the gum and to think of massaging the tooth rather than brushing it. He said it should take no longer than one minute to do all the teeth! This is about one second per tooth: 28 – 32 teeth, front and back. 

He gave me a toothbrush a colleague of his developed. He said there’s nothing hugely special about it (though his own ideas also went into it), but since he knows it so intimately, when I bring it back in 2.5 months, he’ll be able to tell if I did what he said or not. He said it should look exactly as it did when he gave it to me. Last but not least, when I asked for a second toothbrush for work, he declined to provide one, because I’m to do this only twice a day, morning and night. I’m positive my teeth are going to be uniformly brown by the time I see him again.

I tried the timed brushing that evening but it really, truly wasn’t long enough, and it was also stressful, which could probably lead to undue pressure. The next morning, I put one of my 11 timers—you just cannot have too many timers
on count-up mode and found I could brush my teeth in about 90 seconds, which is probably good enough. Maybe he tells people to brush for one minute total knowing they’ll cheat but that it will still be a lot better than what they were doing before.

Longtime readers of Bugwalk may recall that the manager of my apartment building and I used to get into many a quarrel over this, that and the other (actually, mainly over fumes, from either cigarette smoking or grilling), but we now get along so well that I was invited to her holiday party this year, along with everyone else in the building. I admit that part of my motive in going was to get a peek at her place, which is much larger than any other unit in the building, and which I hadn’t seen since the prior occupants lived there. That turned out to be a very good reason for attending, because her place is absolutely, completely beautiful—gorgeously painted and with carefully chosen furniture and art. For about 12 hours afterward, I felt I should undertake to do something similar in my place, but, fortunately, that ambition passed.

The other guests were an interesting and varied crowd. I easily found people to chat with, including a writer who lives in the building next door, and the building manager and I parted with a little hug.
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