An Ode To My Dentist

by Matthew Koehler

Photo by Miguel Arcanjo Saddi on

Like many, I come late,

assured in my selfish assumption that

not being a real doctor

your office won’t be busy, and I

the only one with a schedule to keep.

Yet upon arrival, my assumptions are


I am the only one.

And leaving, I am still

the only one here.

I love that our small talk is small

and the same.

How old is your daughter now? Mine 4.

And your daughter, dentist friend?

Oh, you have a son.

Mask donned,

you pick up and put down

your clinking tools. I guess

our idle chit chat is done.

“Whence thou last visited dear patient, didst thou haveth thy x-rays done?”

A spring visit, dear doctor, and one in autumn,

every year. Six long months

between. A pattern for six years straight.

X-rays in the spring…

It’s spring now, Doctor.

Time for a dose of radiation.

Oh! How I yearn for x-ray time!

Another short lull before the real pain begins.

A lull in which to discuss topics of import.

Dissected, chewed, ingested, and,

excusing the metaphor, so apropos,

brushed quickly with ADA approved abrasives.

Two minutes, no more

no less.

Often, your queries come with the positioning system

separating my upper and lower jaw.

Are they asked in jest?

Last time you pondered the long-term viability of the markets,

then cut me off

to slip between my teeth,

the RAPiD posterior bite block #2.

Pulling it out



before sticking the bite block

back in.

“Hold it just so,” you say.

“Don’t move,” you remind me.

“Perfect!” You praise me.

“Whoops! Don’t forget the lead apron!”

I’m a little kid again!  

Gently floating backwards back

in your robo chair, I gaze up

to contemplate the plastic clouds above.

Their nature, so static

not HD, not alive, not a streaming collage,

or at least a screen saver! Just a simple

but utilitarian light diffuser.

Their effervescent puffy tranquility parts the veil of time

to my first time sitting here. I had

seven teeth holes to fill. A long morning of trials

for us both. I panicked. Trapped

in this chair, beneath

an unchanging dental office sky ceiling,

Phantom whines from a hot electric dental drill

fills my ear

and injects my amygdala with blind fear!

Seven damn holes under these fake plastic clouds!

The horror…

Until your lilting voice stirs me:

“Ah, your teeth look great this time.”

Do I get a toy from the treasure chest?

A lollipop for exquisite oral hygiene?

Can I? Can I?

Lemon-lime please!

How envious eyes satiate themselves

upon your arrayed silvered tools:

a sickle probe. A scaler…

The mirror!

Even the saliva ejector,

not silvered,

relieving me of spit!

Tell me the intensity of your satisfaction

in possessing such instruments!

Does the same pleasure course through

your practiced fingers scratching,

yanking plaque and tartar from my off-white teeth,

that courses through mine?

Do chair-bound patient grimaces and grunts bring joy

as jaws and heads follow your emphatic tug?

Pushing one way,

then like a passive aggressive lover,

you slide the mirror in,

to pull cheeks back the other way.

Such a tease behind your protective face shield!

I wish I had one of those

to stop the drops of saliva

and tartar

flying from my mouth

to land in my eyes. Look there!

Some of me has landed upon your shield.

A piece of me, for you. A gift!

Does my breath smell as pungent to you as yours to me?

I brushed my teeth for you.

It’s true. To clean the coffee and cigarette stains

that one thorough brushing could never scour away.

I do it anyway.

I lied, it was a joint.

Fare thee well, O doctor of the pearly whites!

Fare thee well! When six months hence

we shall again discuss the ages of our daughters!

Or sons.

And ask again whether or not

school suits them just fine.

Fare thee well, my dentist!

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