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2. A Theatre of Dentists
Shapeshifting, fairy's careers and hypnotic dentists
Dentist or DENTIST - Evil Dentist
dentist - Normal Dentist
ASSITANT - dentist’s assistant
EVIL DENTIST FROM Little Shop of Horrors (1986) - Steve Martin
FAIRY - Tooth Fairy
TEACHER - teacher
Determined soles click across the stage’s wooden floor until it reaches its centre. In complete darkness, the stage is lit by this silhouette before turning on the spotlight that reveals the dentist in their office. The stage sits with a small set within it; tiled and white, it is reminiscent of clinical bathrooms, showers, laundrettes, the epitome of cleanliness. A black leather seat stretches across most of the room with the NARRATOR lying across it. The seat follows the style of the rest of the room, following a similar attraction to a chaise longue without its usual plush comfortability and luxury. The dentist’s assistant stands near a computer, with an x-ray of the NARRATOR’s mouth. A screen hangs just below the spotlight of the office, revealing an anonymous tropical landscape. The dentist puts on disposable gloves, pulling down the spotlight closer to the NARRATOR’s head.
dentist: Any problems today?
NARRATOR: I hate the Dentist. Capital D. I don’t hate my dentist, you’re beyond nice, especially to someone who seemingly hates the idea of you and your job. This idea after some strange visits, now inhabits the shadow of Steve Martin in the Little Shop of Horrors. Bound in leather, shiny latex and clinical in his surroundings, Martin’s character inhabits all the fear I have had of the Dentist for years. Machinery bows to him whether it be his drills, his gas or his motorbike, he is the ultimate authority. It also explains the theatrical nature of the Dentist, the strangeness of it all that we have come to accept, myself included.
Cue Steve Martin appearing on stage in his signature leather jacket, latex apron, white shirt and trousers. He tries to enter the scene but instead haunts the surrounding stage, dancing in the darkness as though the stage were his evil dominion of an office.
NARRATOR: I don’t believe all dentists are as evil as Steve Martin is but I do believe whilst they are all united in their dentist qualifications, they also share an equal love for theatre. With the small cues back stage to their assistant, the Director prods at it’s actors, deciding whether they are rotten, clean or in need of a costume change. Even though they are your teeth, you are the audience watching on, giving up all control.
This unfortunately is also a complicated relationship, because I simultaneously love the D/dentist. Any uncomfortable sensation near my teeth is met with an instant thought of ‘it’s a cavity’ which eventually leads to ‘it’s a cavity which will spread, infect all of your jaw bone, collapsing your cheek bone and people will see you and-’. The Dentist then transforms into the dentist, sedated in the relief of going and hearing:
dentist: No problems here.
NARRATOR: The immediate dip from the peaks of anxiety I once felt! Nothing quite beats it, as though all the worries were scraped away in a scale and polish, an X-ray with your wisdom teeth turned sideways accompanied by the words:
dentist: They’ll be alright.
NARRATOR: makes this strange sight suddenly safe. Buffing my teeth as though they were mini bony cars pressed into my gums, I love the dentist!
Unfortunately Steve Martin becomes impatient and slinking off stage, begins attacking the backstage staff, checking their teeth high on laughing gas. Their scattered screams create a swirling ambience to the still calm scene on stage.
NARRATOR: Before this particular appointment I had braces. Before I had braces I had baby teeth which I was extremely reluctant of letting go of. By nature I have been a hoarder of many things; books I have and never will read, receipts, cinema tickets, small trinkets that have no emotional value to me other than the worry that they will be ‘lonely’ if I get rid of them. It seems as though this hoarding extended into my mouth, leading to my adult teeth impatiently growing behind my baby teeth, telling them to grow up, pack up their things and leave. Unfortunately my teeth were like me: large headed (literally), stubborn and indecisive. They had hoarded so many meals in my mouth, bitten down on so many things, most of which were my first, that they probably didn’t know what to take with them.
Overtime, my mouth became jagged and disorganised like a fence sinking into the soil, the panels crossing over one another. With most evicted from their fleshy homes, I would, like any other child, have a routine for those evicted which given its magical qualities could also be considered a ritual.
Washing the tooth, I would pull away any gummy tendrils or remaining guts so that it was squeaky clean for the fairy. And then, gifted at my christening long ago, I would place it within a silver bell that had another metallic fairy sitting on top. Placing it under the pillow, I would fall asleep and waking up the following morning, the bell would be empty, a coin lying alongside it and the fairy atop the bell defaced. It seems as though fairies like anyone else have their own lives, their own tales and their own disgraced authorities. Perhaps the one on the bell was a fairy Dentist.
In the wake of all this, I cannot remember writing any letter to the fairies in reply. It wasn’t for any particular reason except that it just made sense that given the teeth were so small, a letter would have to be around the same size and although I had received my pen license around that age, I would still find it difficult to write a letter, regardless of how large English teeth are.
By thirteen, two final baby teeth remained. One molar and the other, a tooth turned sideways on the walls of my gum, pressing against my lips. They would not budge or more honestly out of fear of pain, I had decided they wouldn’t budge.
DENTIST steps over Steve Martin’s victims backstage and walks onto scene, pushing the dentist aside.
DENTIST: With the definite prospect of having braces, both would of course have to be removed.
DENTIST exits scene and is sadly met with the same fate as the surrounding backstage staff.
NARRATOR: But walking into the Dentist that day and seeing the injection, the clamp lying under the spotlight, it’s metal tray glistening, I cried and didn’t let them take them out. And so they sent me to a children’s hospital where after three weeks of talking to the dentist (lowercase d) there, I allowed him to extract it.
For anyone looking to get a tooth removed at a children’s hospital, the process went as follows:
He gave me gas and air through a mask.
He took the mask off and I felt pretty hazy.
He then began telling me I was ‘in a bubbly bath’.
I repeated back to him that I was ‘in a bubbly bath’, laughing as though these bubbles were floating out of my mouth.
He injected an anonymous blue liquid into my gums that I can only assume was anaesthetic and I lay looking at it poking into my mouth thinking ‘I should be panicking right now but I’m not’.
He then tried to pull the first one out with his hand, the one angled sideways on my lower teeth with the adult tooth having taken it’s place.
Grabbing the clamp, both his arms tensing he then tugged the tooth out with a crack.
The second one followed a similar pattern, further at the back in both my mouth and memory as it was just an ordinary molar.
Some months later I was told I was hypnotised in this ‘bubbly bath’ scene and I didn't mind it. I had tried to remove teeth in the past with my fingers, pieces of paper and at one point had got it stuck in a sausage at lunch, spat it out only to find a nearby teacher tell me:
TEACHER steps over the DENTIST.
TEACHER: Don’t spit your food out. Now, put it back in and eat it.
TEACHER exits stage and stepping over the DENTIST again, decides to become Steve Martin’s dental assistant backstage.
NARRATOR: From then on I thought about only the benefits of being hypnotised at the Dentist. It would de-capitalise the word and feeling as though I were in a bubbly bath, would schedule in something to look forward to every six months.
Alongside swallowing teeth in my sleep, I have also swallowed parts of my retainer too, specifically the back of the lower piece. Now there is not only a crack in the retainer but also in the back molar, slithering into it under the pressure of any dreams I may be having. When I was younger I would have recurring dreams about (1) a dinosaur looking into my window with one eye like in Jurassic Park (1993) (2) a bear sitting on the toilet reminiscent of the bear from Open Season (2006) that would be annoyed when I would tell it I needed the toilet too and (3) a near pitch black room, lit only by a red siren that was silently whirring round. The only other sound in the room would be the movements of something I could feel around me, gracefully and ominously as though it were not in the darkness but a part of it. And then it would breathe on my neck, then all onto my face before screaming into it. I would wake up as they do in films after a nightmare, theatrically sitting up in bed sweating. This dream in particular stopped around the same age I had all my baby teeth removed, their milky interiors swirling with nightmares it seemed.
Looking back at these times, and now thinking about my 23 year old teeth, I am aware that this creation of the fictional Dentist was both a manifestation from actual experiences at the Dentists but also from this recurring dream. Placing them in the bell at night, perhaps the teeth would shout out all they had to say, this milkiness released from its roots had curdled and gone off, now echoing in this metallic chamber. Perhaps this is why I would find the fairy atop the bell constantly defaced; the tooth fairy wouldn’t want to hear all these nightmares but out of nature of their job would have no choice but to take the tooth anyway, quarantining it with the rest of the screaming teeth.
FAIRY: These clean rotten teeth.
NARRATOR: Being a fairy, it would suck to have a job. Imagine being a magical creature, given wings, idolised in children’s stories and having to work. It’s like police dogs; imagine being a dog and having to work. And if they work, how do they make any money? Maybe in the underbelly of the world, they trade children’s teeth for other things and money means nothing to them so they just try to give it away. Maybe they just pickpocket people of odd change and pass it onto children who would remember to use it. And then with the currency of teeth they use it to get their teeth checked. What do tooth fairies get in exchange for their own tiny baby teeth? What visits them to take them away?
I’m not sure if the being in the darkness of that dream was a fairy, if it were a demon, if it were the Dentist as theatrical as Steve Martin or Gary Oldman in Dracula (1992) or if it was the approaching signs of OCD that manifest the dentist into this shapeshifter Dentist. It didn’t matter what dentist I had, it would always be reminiscent of the same screeching of the shadow, cast out of the spotlight of the dentist’s office to reveal a hidden cavity I wasn’t aware of, a broken tooth I should have seen earlier. And it would smile it’s toothy grin at me and say:
UNKNOWN: I told you so.
Whilst it has grown from some things more capitalised D-entists have said to me, OCD shapeshifts itself into anyone it chooses it to with the sole need for certainty and the feeling that you are never doing enough. You could brush your teeth twice a day, carry round mouthwash that leaks in your blazer pocket, floss twice maybe three times a day, wear your holed retainer, rip out your old teeth and replace them everyday with a new set, but it would never be enough. Regardless of your polished performance, OCD is the lowly critic in the front row of the audience sneering with it’s perfect teeth saying:
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