Virtually Painless Dentistry
by Timothy Kay
“Anton? There you are.” Basma poked her head of long dark hair out from behind the door that separated the waiting area from the dental clinic proper.
Anton followed her down the hallway, trying not to check out her ass in the blue scrubs. That wasn’t what he was supposed to be there for.
He heard the slight whirr of mechanical equipment from behind the doors lining the hall and pictured victims behind each one squirming in pain.
She said, “I know you’re nervous about coming to the dentist, but you really don’t have anything to worry about with all the new technology here.” She’d seen his post online about tooth pain and insisted he come in.
Basma told him again about the eight-week course she’d taken to get this job in some new kind of dentistry, but he mostly still thought of his experiences going to the dentist as a kid, being scared of that huge figure prying and drilling with hands too big to fit in his mouth. And he remembered it hurt.
Smaller hands like Basma’s would have less trouble working in his mouth, and insurance would pay for it all; but he also had a rather unique reason to be nervous at the dentist’s office: she was his ex-girlfriend.
“Does it still hurt pretty bad?” she asked.
He shrugged. “I’m dealing with it.”
“We could have broken up a lot sooner if you weren’t so focused on pretending nothing’s wrong.”
“I don’t have that problem anymore.” He wished they hadn’t broken up at all.
She opened the door to one of the small rooms for him, and the reversal of chivalry was disorienting.
Taking up half the room was a large faux leather chair with a swing arm coming over it. At the end of the arm was mounted a wide, white plastic case narrowing into a wedge-shaped device with a curved divot along the top.
Anton saw it and wanted to run, but Basma closed the door behind them. “Please sit down,” she said, motioning to the chair with professional detachment. “Let’s get started.”
He took a deep breath and sat, calmed by the formal tone of her voice. Maybe he could get through this without embarrassing himself.
She stepped closer to him, the dark brown eyes he knew so well distracting him for a moment from the fear of any pain.
Then she moved the swing arm closer to his face, and he tensed again. “Don’t worry,” she said. “It won’t bite. That’s your job.”
He smiled at her joke, probably one she made with every new patient, while her eyes focused on his lips.
“Let me put this in your mouth,” she said.
The white plastic wedge now facing him had arcing grooves on the top and bottom as wide as his mouth, cartoon-style bite marks filled with a kind of blue gel. He looked back into her eyes, and their kind expression kept him from tensing up again as she gently slipped the wedge into him, filling his mouth.
“Okay, now bite down.”
Sinking his teeth in, the cold blue gel covered his teeth and gums, but his bite rested on the wedge itself, holding his jaw slightly open.
“All right,” she said. “You’re doing great. That gel should be setting about now, to keep you still.” Her face was inches from his. Her hand cupped his chin to check the position of his mouth around the equipment, and Anton sighed at the perceived intimacy.
She noticed that and gave him a sly glance. “Yeah, keep breathing through your nose, just like you’re giving a blow job.”
He almost choked. His pulse raced at the conversation’s sudden non-clinical turn. He tried to open his mouth and respond, but the gel around his teeth had solidified, holding his jaw in place.
She stepped away and straddled the bench of the other main piece of equipment in the room, a full telepresence rig, with virtual reality goggles mounted above a series of controls and pedals.
Anton couldn’t help picturing her straddling him instead. She pressed a button and watched him until there was a ping from the case on the swing arm. “Good. Lie back and think of England. I’m going in.” She leaned forward, her hands and feet on the controls and her eyes in the VR goggles.
Anton took deep breaths through his nose and tried to get his composure back. His chair didn’t recline like the dental chairs he remembered. There was a screen on the wall in front of him showing a silent loop of some oral hygiene propaganda, but he could also turn his eyes far enough to watch her work.
Her body was hinted at subtly by the draping of the sanitary uniform. As she turned the handlebars of the controls, rotating the goggles, she shifted and turned with them, and the fabric of her scrubs pulled taut in different places. She oohed and ahed, and he wondered what was so interesting in there. She leaned away from him, and he focused on the sliver of exposed skin between the hems of her blouse and pants.
“Yeah, the computer says you need a root canal.”
The panic was back. A root canal? He couldn’t breathe. Then something inside the wedge between his teeth started moving.
He tried to open his mouth, but the gel still held his jaw in place. He tried to pull his head back, but he was already as far back as the chair would let him go. He shouted, and the muffled noise caught Basma’s attention.
“Relax,” she said, her face still in the goggles. “This is just the cleaning.” That explained it, at least. Mechanical components from inside the case in front of him were scraping the years of plaque buildup from his gum line.
Knowing what was going on took the edge off his panic but didn’t eliminate it. He looked around for something to distract himself. The video on flossing was no help. He strained his eyes to the side and traced the curve of her neck with his vision.
With that to focus on, he realized the cleaning was more uncomfortable than painful, like eating pop rocks, and it was over quickly.
Basma sat up from the rig and looked him in the eyes. “I have to anesthetize you. It’s time for penetration.” She laughed, but having her equipment in his mouth kept him from answering. She kept joking, “You’ll feel a little prick, but I’ll be gentle.”
He could only stare at her in dumb, horny confusion. Growing up, he never really understood what the dentists were doing to him, which made the treatment that much more terrifying. This was all something new and different.
He felt the tiny needles find nerves in his gums. There was a tingling, and then he felt nothing. The lack of feeling spread across his left cheek, but he touched his face with his hand. He was still there.
She asked, “You ready for the root canal?” He raised his eyebrows and gave a thumbs up in mock enthusiasm. She laughed, and he laughed at himself around the plastic. He saw the compassion in those big dark eyes again. Then she slouched back into the goggles, and they were hidden.
“I’m having trouble isolating the tooth,” she said a minute later. “You have a really tight contact here.”
He wished there was a pen and paper nearby so he could ask if that was some kind of innuendo he didn’t get.
“I’m sorry,” she said, pulling her face out of the goggles with a sigh. “I shouldn’t be trying to talk to you.”
“Aaa’s ohay,” he hummed in vowels, and she laughed. He felt good.
She leaned back into her work but kept the conversation going. “While the anesthetic kicks in, I like to wander around in here. Old-school dentists never saw people’s teeth up close like I do. I see your fillings mixed in with the shining porcelain. I can turn on the x-ray layer and look all the way up into your gums. Look, there’s the spot where you grind your teeth when you get nervous.”
His lips tried to smile as he remembered times she’d pointed out that habit before.
She said, “In this world I have the elements at my fingertips, the spray of water and the swirl of air at my command. Add the drills and fillings, and I have the tools to make a real difference here. I feel more alive here than I do anywhere else in my life.”
He watched her move, saw her smile, remembered how that always made him feel. He wanted to ask if she was dating anyone, if all her innuendo might lead to something. Could a root canal get them back together? He’d been trying to get over their relationship, avoiding her for months, but she’d reached out to him. Now he couldn’t say anything.
Basma continued, “But sometimes the work feels like paint by numbers. The computer shows me where to go and what to do, and it’s not very imaginative. I guess when all you have is a drill, every problem looks like a cavity. Hm. All right, time for the drilling.”
He heard motion inside the box in front of his face, but if the drill was penetrating his tooth, there was no pain, and the feelings around the numbed area as she drilled into his tooth were nothing but random vibrations in the rest of his head.
She said, “You good?”
“It’s hard to believe, but this isn’t our most one-sided conversation.”
She kept talking, telling him about recent events in her life, but she trailed off and worked in silence again. Her petite figure shifted side to side as she instinctively followed the perspective of the drill, making little grunts of effort, frustration and satisfaction he associated with their love-making, but she never came out of the goggles to look at him in person. He wondered again what she saw in there, if she was even aware he was in the room anymore.
At least he had something to do this time. The screen on the wall in front of him displayed options for the final crown, materials like sliver, porcelain or a steel-polymer microlattice. He used gestures in the air to pick through the materials and shades as the screen showed a rendering of his smile spreading and retracting with each one.
After an hour of silence, Basma leaned back out of the VR rig, blinking away the strain. “Okay, that was the root canal. You pick a crown already?”
He nodded the best he could with the wedge in his mouth.
She took a deep breath. “All right, let’s finish you off.” With a giggle, she put her face into the VR goggles, and Anton went back to watching her. Every move she made in the chair brought back a memory of her naked body doing the same thing, and the noises she made drove Anton crazy wondering what she was experiencing in there.
He imagined the inside of his mouth. It had to be pretty gross in there, but she didn’t seem to mind.
He listened hard to the motors of the tiny components she controlled with her rig, but he didn’t know what any of the sounds meant.
When Basma was done, she pulled back from the VR goggles and looked at him again, a blissful smile on her face. “That was good. I think the chewing surface should be just right, once the feeling comes back.”
He forced a smile with his eyes and the corners of his mouth. Jets of liquid dissolved the blue gel and washed it away down a tube inside the armature. Basma came over, and her hand cupped his jaw again. “Open up,” she said.
When she pulled the wedge away, the cool air felt strange on his gums, but his teeth were slick and clean, with a tiny aftertaste of blue raspberry.
He stretched his mouth muscles to work out the tension of being stuck in one position and announced his idea through numb lips. “Let me do you.”
“Right here?” She blushed, her hand still holding the plastic wedge slick with his saliva. “There is a line of professionalism I won’t risk crossing, even with you.”
He shook his head. “No, let me put this in your mouth. I’ll get in the VR rig, and I can see what you do.”
Her coy enthusiasm melted. “You want to... No, that’s clinic equipment.”
“Well, that would be fair. You’ve been in my mouth, but I’ve never been in yours.”
“Um, I have had parts of you in my mouth. Other places, too, but that’s not how this works.” She shook her head. “I’m the one drilling you now.”
The implications of that made him feel violated, so he doubled down, his voice raising. “This is confusing for me, okay? You did stuff to me, and I just want to even things out.”
“It’s never been even.” She glanced at the VR rig. “And those are the rules here. I went through a whole certification process just to be allowed to use this thing.”
He waved his hand. “You took a course. You’re not even a real dentist.”
In the silence after his words, he saw she was upset, but he couldn’t back down. He stood up. “I won’t tell anyone. I wouldn’t do any actual dental work. Come on, please.”
She gave that familiar compassionate look. “If it’s that important, fine. Let’s do it.” She sat down in the patient chair, moved the swing arm to the level of her face and bit down on the ridges.
He sat down at the rig, in her spot. He leaned forward into the goggles, and he was inside her mouth.
His surroundings weren’t disgusting. His view down her throat was blocked by the immense plastic wedge, leaving him alone with her teeth.
Those teeth. In that world, each one of them dwarfed him, like epic monuments of some long forgotten civilization.
The computer identified Basma by her teeth alone, and her name displayed as both patient and operator. Overlays appeared, and the area of any previous dental work was covered by distracting bright shades of green, orange and red. That was the record of the whole history of her mouth.
He moved the handles and flew up through her open bite to the outside of her jaw, heard the tiny motors move in her mouth and understood at last what each sound meant. He had to be careful without knowing what the extra dental controls did, but he tested a couple of them anyway. Soon, he had the wind and water whipping at his command around the ancient monuments of molars, incisors and canines, and it was great.
He understood why Basma didn’t want him to do this, why she wanted to keep that feeling of power private for herself and those of her profession. Having felt it himself, he was satisfied that it was harmless.
He retracted all the devices and pulled his face from the goggles. He smiled at her.
She was still in the chair next to him, watching him with sad eyes, and she took the wedge out of her mouth. “It’s a strange experience, sitting here with nothing to do but watch you and hear the noises you make.”
He didn’t know what sounds might have come from him, but her tone made him nervous. “Yes,” he said, “that’s what I did before.”
She took a deep breath. “You made me happy for a long time, and I was happy to be with you again, inside you for a change, but I realized, that feeling wasn’t from you anymore. I just really like my job.”
“But,” he reached out for her. “We’ve shared something here.”
Her eyes were kind, but her jaw tensed. Her voice became calm and professional again. “Thank you for coming in today, Anton.” She stood up, opened the door of their tiny room and held it open for him, another reversal of chivalry. “You may have some soreness in that area for a day or two, and make sure not to eat any nuts for the next few hours.”
He smiled with the unparalyzed side of his mouth and tried to bring back their earlier banter. “Hey, you either.”
She didn’t smile back.
He left the dental offices in a daze, feeling like he’d lost her all over again, wishing the anesthetic left in his jaw would spread down to his heart.
Copyright © 2014 by Timothy Kay