Saturday, June 11, 2005


I was sitting in the periodontist's chair, being interrogated by her assistant. It was part of Tooth #12's Big Adventure, the chapter entitled Exploring The Pockets Of Doom. I didn't mind it. It was just a consultation, and I am quite fond of Dr. B. who, nearly a decade ago, hacked away at a bit of gum near tooth #13, and yanked that quadrant's wisdom tooth. She's down to earth, smart and wickedly funny. If anyone is going to slash away at the contents of my aging oral cavity, it might as well be her. But let me set the record straight. I haven't agreed to anything yet.

Anyway, her cheerful assistant was running through the usual questions about heart murmurs and allergies and dental hygeine when she asked:

What kind of electric toothbrush do you use ?

I was silent. Pondering, in fact, what I felt was the question's rather astonishing assumption: that the norm was to use an electric toothbrush.

She read my silence correctly.

Oh, she said, barely able to conceal her shock and pity, trying to spare me severe dental humiliation. You use a ... manual ... toothbrush ?

The pause around "manual" made me think of someone holding their nose with one hand and, with the other, at arm's length, the decomposing carcass of a small rodent.

My husband uses an electric toothbrush. Religiously. Evangelically. He walks around as he uses it, up and down the hallway outside my study, as if to convert me by sterling example. I remain unconvinced.

I have to admit, it does sound a little like Tuvan throat singing -- a complex buzztone that changes pitch and resonance as the oral cavity changes size. That might be fun. For about a minute.

But has the world of dental hygeine technology bypassed me completely ? Does it count that my (manual) toothbrush has a strange, aerodynamic handle, like a sports car ? Does everybody but me use an electric toothbrush ? Am I that much of a dinosaur ?

Does it count that I can now answer Of course not ! to the two following luddite accusations ?

You still use a ... manual ... typewriter ?

You still use a ?

I even have a cell phone. I plan to start referring to it as a "mobile phone" so I will sound more continental. My mobile. Yes. That's got cachet. As opposed to an electric toothbrush. There's no cachet there. None at all. It's kinda oogy, in fact. On a par with electric nose hair trimmers.

Mobile toothbrush ? Wireless toothbrush ? Cellular toothbrush ? Wifi toothbrush ?

I once tried to ask my primary care dentist about electric toothbrushes. About whether they're better than ...manual...toothbrushes. She immediately tried to sell me one. A "sonic" electric toothbrush. (What, no laser brightening attachment ? No microwave plaque-busting nozzle ?) She even disparaged my husband's German brand of electric toothbrush, implying darkly that it would mangle his gums into a bloody pulp.

I changed the subject. I would brush. I would floss. I would be better about biannual cleanings.

I'll put "get and use electric toothbrush" on my techno to-do list. Way down the list, long after "replace the broken handle on the front passenger seat car window," and "install OS X on the Macintosh."

Maybe by then I can scratch it out and replace it with something easier -- "place glass of water on the nightstand where dentures can soak overnight."

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