The Green Door #18
October 1999

New Tortures at the Dentist Office

Sitting in the dentistís waiting room I notice a before and after picture of the exterior. Before features a boarded up old mini-grocery store. After features stucco, no windows and a fake mansard overhang, pretty much an inventory of misguided 1970s design. An improvement I guess. If they want to take pride in making their building generically ugly, I can forgive them. Still it is sometimes strange what people take pride in.

An annoying thing about living in the USA at the end of the 20th Century (besides fake mansard roofs) is that semi-public places feel the need to have TVs in their waiting areas radiating relentless, escapeless idiocy. While from a civilization viewpoint, this is a marked improvement from watching lions eat Christians (or Christians eating lions), one would hope after 2000 years, humanity could raise the bar a little higher than forced viewing of Jenny Jones and Jerry Springer. This one in the waiting room was playing The Loin King, as if people didnít have enough reasons to dread going to the dentist. At least it wasnít Ricki Lake or Jerry Springer; I guess it keeps the kids, if there were any here, quiet. As the tape goes into a song; Disney product synergy fills my ears preventing much reading comprehension.

A tough thing about living at the end of the 20th Century is the relentless selling one has to endure on any given day. Some of it is stupidly insidious (Meg Ryan's character singing a commercial jingle as she is operating on a patient in City of Angels -"We pause from this operation (and this movie) for a word from our non-sponsor..."). Some of it is a little more sinister.

As the dental hygienist was doing whatever she does to the insides of my mouth, she made a big deal about the amount of plaque on my teeth. It had only been 6 months since my last visit, so I was surprised that she was making such a big deal about it. The first time, I came to that office, exactly a year ago, it had been 6 years since my last visit to a dentist, and no one made a big deal about my plaque then.

It seemed odd that 6 months of plaque would produce so much comment when 6 years of plaque received none, so I listened attentively as she poked around my mouth with sharp instruments. She asked me if I had an electric toothbrush. I didn't mention that I considered it a material piece of junk of dubious value that I didn't need cluttering up my bathroom or my life. To deal with the newly discovered plaque problem, she mentioned that they recommended a certain brand of electric toothbrush and that they had them for sale for $75. I politely listened to the spiel and gave a non-committal response as she continued to poke around my mouth with sharp instruments. She said she would note it on my chart.

In the genetic lottery of life, I have lucked out with good teeth. I have only had one cavity in 34 years. This gene seems to have eluded most of the rest of my family. My father has had to use an electric toothbrush for a few years now, so genetically it seemed logical that I might need one too. Seeing as this advice came from a medical professional, I accepted that I would have to add this device to my collection of material stuff. Above the dental chair was a white VCR/TV combo hanging from the ceiling. Next to it was a Lion King box. Mercifully the thing was off. The hygienist mentioned that they had a video for the electric toothbrush and she would play it as I waited for the dentist to come and examine my mouth. This was about when I started to become suspicious. Not only was I getting the hard sell, I also was now going to be the captive viewer of an infomercial, as if people didnít have enough reasons to dread going to the dentist.

The dentist came, looked at my teeth, glanced at the ledger, I mean my dental chart, and vanished wordlessly. The hygienist then sent me up to the receptionist. Up front, they tell me $10 for the co-pay and $75 for the electric toothbrush. She didn't have any sharp instruments in my mouth so I pass on the toothbrush, pay $10 and go, reasoning that if I really need one, I could get it from a real store. The price for a different brand of electric toothbrush at National Wholesale Liquidators (a weird , mostly non-sucky sort of K-mart) was $35.

The questions are plenty. Is the dental office pimping electric toothbrushes, or do I really need one? Am I harming my teeth or have I recognized a scam when I spot one? Does the hygienist get a commission? Has this manufacturer of electric toothbrushes found a secret, new distribution channel, a distribution channel that comes with built in doctor recommendation? Is the dentist recommended brand $40 better than the one at National Wholesale? What if Disney buys a consumer products company and boldly explores synergy between childrenís movies, CDs, dental offices and electric toothbrushes?

The Green Door is a mostly monthly zine published by Scoats. E-mail: scoats at greylodge dot com. (c) Scoats 1999. All rights reserved. Most wrongs unintentional. Reproduction permitted as long as it accompanied by this entire paragraph.

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