Humiliated by a Dentist
A tale of getting negged by the people who clean our teeth. Plus recs for Chris Colin's 24-hour diner, Sarah Garfinkel's aging helpline, and the Chumash marine sanctuary.
As a person who loves to make people happy and lives for positive praise, visiting the dentist is a fraught experience.
Because dentists judge.
They might say they don’t judge, but anyone who has endured a teeth cleaning knows that the dentist and the dental hygienist are, FOR SURE, taking notes and making comments about what you have done to your teeth.
When I visit a doctor, it feels less like I’m being evaluated and more like we’re both trying to keep me alive. When I go to a dentist, I feel like I’m having a conversation with the most popular girl from my high school and she’s being fake nice just so she can turn around and eviscerate me. “And do you floss every night, Christopher, or only sometimes?”
Longtime readers already know that I’ve got a long history of strange dentists, from the jazz dentist to a video game hero. But some people have it even worse than me. My friend Dan consistently has incredible stories from all of his medical providers. He told me, “I can’t remember the last time I went to the doctors and didn’t suffer some sort of indignity.” Even for Dan, the dentists tend to take the cake.
Here’s one classic anecdote that makes me laugh out loud every time I think about it: Dan was getting his teeth cleaned and they had him gargle with mouthwash. Then they handed him a plastic funnel to spit the mouthwash out into. Unfortunately, the dental hygienist had forgotten to connect the funnel to anything, so Dan just spat an entire mouthful of minty freshness through a funnel directly onto his crotch.
Incredible, iconic behavior. That’s the kind of thing I’ll never forget as long as I live. And I’m sure Dan will remember that well into his next life.
I’ve never experienced a dental hazing quite as dramatic, but I’ve still ended some psychosocial torment of my own. The last time I visited the dentist, I was told that they had found stains on my teeth. “We were able to get them off during the cleaning, but we just want to know what they were…”
I immediately felt my cheeks flush in shame. I knew that I was about to get grounded by my dentist. She was giving off strong “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed” energy.
After a round of questioning where I denied drinking coffee, wine, beer, or alcohol of any kind, I saw the dentist and hygienist exchange a glance. Did they think I was lying?
“Well, whatever you’re drinking or not drinking, try to either brush or at least swish some water around afterwards.”
Trust me when I tell you: I have spent the last 365 days swishing water like I am a goddamn dolphin. Every time I drink a juice or tea or eat anything, I am chasing it with pure H2O. And you know what? When they finished my exam yesterday they told me that my teeth looked much better, with “only minimal staining.”
Then I spit a mouthful of Listerine straight onto my lap and walked out with pride.1
My projects and upcoming events:
PODCAST: How to Be a Better Human (TED/PRX)- This week on the podcast, it’s a compilation episode featuring the best recommendations and practices used by our guests this season. Listen here
LIVE IN NYC: WRONG ANSWERS ONLY (LabX)- Thursday, November 9th at 7:30 p.m. at Caveat. In this NYC show, we’re going to learn all about the science of swarms with comedians Maeve Higgins, CJ Hunt, and NJIT’s Dr. Simon Garnier. Tickets and details here
This week’s list
Chris Colin is a journalist who always finds a unique angle. Over the years, he’s written about problematic billionaires, Japan's rent-a-friend industry, endangered noodles, a gay chorus’s tour of the Deep South, and so much more. We crossed paths at one of Pop-Up Magazine’s shows (RIP), and I’ve been a fan ever since. His latest piece is about a 24-hour diner in San Francisco, but really it’s about so much more than that. Nostalgia, progress, what it means to find meaning and connection, and why gathering places matter more and more in a world full of chain stores and app-based delivery. The writing is incredible. “The owners of San Francisco’s 24-hour Silver Crest Donut Shop got the keys to the place more than 50 years ago. They still haven’t used them.” San Francisco’s 24-Hour Diner Stops the Cosmic Clock (h/t The Ann Friedman Weekly)
Overall, I’m a fan of aging. It beats the alternative! But that’s not to say that there aren’t all kinds of strange and unsettling changes that happen to my body and mind with each passing year. I’m aware of bones in my back that I never knew existed before. I consider it "a good conversation” when someone explains a new way to cook cabbage. Twenty-year-old me would be horrified. Sixty-year-old me will, most likely, be laughing his head off. Sarah Garfinkel has a very funny piece in McSweeney’s this week on the topic. You Have Reached the Turning-Thirty Helpline
“The proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary could create a new model for Native collaborative management of public lands. But the sanctuary faces headwinds with a last-minute boundary change to accommodate a wind farm.” Lauren Sloss reports on the situation and what it means for the future California (and the country). Clean Energy, Cherished Waters and a Sacred California Rock Caught in the Middle
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This has been Bright Spots, a newsletter.
…wait, who are you?
I'm Chris Duffy, a comedian, TV writer, podcast host, and both a former fifth grade teacher and a former fifth grade student. I’m currently writing a nonfiction book about humor for Doubleday.
For the record and in case any investigative journalists decide to write about me and my comedy: I did not in fact spit Listerine onto my crotch, that was just a joke. But now I do kind of regret not doing it for the narrative value alone.