Sunday Telegraph, October 2013

I met a kindly dental hygienist the other day, and I can’t tell you how much I always assumed that “kindly dental hygienist” was an oxymoron. This lovely woman did not scold; she seemed to take no judgmental position of any kind; astonishingly, she didn’t even exclaim, “This is the  worst set of gums I’ve ever seen!” before storming out and emigrating to Venezuela. I liked her so much that I even came away determined to impress her next time with my improved dental hygiene. And good heavens, is it true that I even made her laugh? Swilling and spitting an alarming quantity of blood into the little bowl, I said, “Carnage!” (in genuine horror) and she laughed appreciatively at the witticism. Gosh, it was the best experience of a dental hygienist I had ever had.

Especially compared with last time. Last time, I had a woman who clearly hated me, and in particular despised me for one particular failing on my part: I couldn’t make my tongue small.

“Make you tongue small,” she said.

“How thoo you mean?” I answered (having lots of dental paraphernalia in my mouth at the time).

“It’s too big. It’s getting in the way.”

“Nlike thith?” I asked, arching my tongue.

“That makes it bigger!” she said.

“I thon’t know wha you wan me to thoo,” I said.

“Make it smaller,” she repeated, and gave me a hand-mirror so that I could see how unreasonably large my tongue was.

“Look at it,” she commanded.

“Aw rye,” I said.

But having never looked at my tongue in a mirror before, I found that it was not only disgusting, but also made things worse as far as conscious contraction was concerned, so I’m afraid I shut my eyes.

“Open your eyes!” she snapped.

“I can’t thoo it,” I pleaded. “It’th like beeng asthed thoo make your hair curly, or your kneeth bend the wong way.”

Of course, I hold this Tongue Nazi woman directly responsible for the current terrible state of my teeth. After an experience as traumatic as that, you don’t dare return to the dentist for at least two years. In fact, when I phoned to make an appointment, I made it clear that I would not like to be seen by the woman who tells people to make their tongues small – and I was a) pleased that they knew precisely who I meant, but b) appalled that she still worked there. Are there perhaps clients who enjoy being snapped at and given impossible instructions by this woman? Imagine what it’s like living with her. “Oh for heaven’s sake, Donald, how many more times? Make your nose more retrousse!”

This new dental hygienist was remarkable in one other way. She didn’t tell me to change to a different type of toothbrush. All other hygienists have asked me what I’m using, and have told me to do the opposite.


HYGIENIST ONE: Do you use an electric toothbrush?

ME: No. Should I?

HYGIENIST ONE: Oh you must, yes.


HYGIENIST TWO: You don’t use an electric toothbrush?

ME: Yes, I do.

HYGIENIST TWO: Well, I despair.

ME: But the last hygienist said –

HYGIENIST TWO: No she didn’t. That’s absurd. Stop using an electric toothbrush!


HYGIENIST THREE: May I recommend an electric toothbrush?

ME: Oh come on. A joke’s a joke.

HYGIENIST THREE: There’s nothing better, I promise you.

ME (on verge of tears): Really?


HYGIENIST FOUR: I hope you’re not using an electric toothbrush?

ME: I’m going mad here.

HYGIENIST FOUR: What are you talking about? Are you using an electric toothbrush or not?

ME: Yes! No! I don’t know! She’s my sister and my daughter!


So I never thought this could happen, but I’m quite looking forward to the next visit. “By the way,” I’ll say, next time. “Is my tongue the right size?” And I’m quite sure that this nice woman will admit that it would help if I made it a little bit smaller, actually. Oh well.

Share on