One-million-year-old teeth were found in Siberia. They are from a mammoth who, presumably, didn’t floss daily or visit a dentist even once in its life. To suggest that any animal from the Pleistocene epoch had any sort of dental hygiene regiment is laughable. But, still, their teeth survived.

Whenever I go to a dentist’s office, I’m reminded of one particular visit from my teenage years.

I had all sorts of gear in my mouth when I was a teenager. There were retainers, braces, and guards of various sorts aligning my teeth and jaw. My mouth was a source of great discomfort during those formative years, all in an effort to produce a wonderful smile.

At one point, my routine included a weekly visit to the dentist before school. For all of the effort that my parents, hygienists, dentists, and orthodontists put into correcting my crooked chompers, I’ve never been good about an oral hygiene routine. My teeth are important to me but I don’t care for them as I should.

There are certain patterns that appear when looking back on my life.

In any case, I went to the dentist this afternoon, after about an 18-month hiatus. There are so few places to go these days that it was almost nice to have a purpose for leaving the apartment. I got there a few minutes late and was taken in right away. After rinsing with mouthwash, I sat in the chair. The hygienist told me that she was going to lower the chair and set to work.

Dentist chairs are odd because your feet are elevated and your head is lowered. You should be sliding down but you don’t. You’re held in place by your gums with sharp, prodding implements. The hygienist was kind enough to offer me tinted glasses to wear during the procedure.

As I was being lowered down, my mind went back to those days of yore. I recalled being caught watching The Simpsons by my dad while sitting in a dentist’s chair. I remembered to breathe through my nose for fear of vomiting without warning, as I am prone to doing when objects are manipulated in my mouth. My mind’s eye could see the blood-stained gauze piling up on the tray table attached to the chair. But, there’s one memory that troubles me most whenever the overhead light turns on.

I couldn’t have been more than 15. The hygienist was, as I recall, a haggard, old, crusty woman. She was the type of person who just wants to get the job done. No bullshit. I was there often enough that she was familiar with me and my disregard for her work.

There were so many things happening in my mouth during that visit. I think there was even some sort of apparatus keeping my mouth open. I was put in charge of the suction straw. The hygienist must have tired of stopping every few minutes to find exactly where all of the saliva was coming from and collecting it from the recesses of my mouth. I was holding the straw with my right hand. My left hand was in my pants pocket.

Once the hygienist had finished working on the left side of my face, she swung her chair above my lowered head and around to my right. I held on to the straw with my right hand. Now, I was getting in her way. She asked me to hold the straw with my left hand and I refused.

She asked again.

She stopped working.

I conceded.

As quickly as I could, I pulled my left hand out of its pocket, grabbed the suction straw, and threw my right hand into its pocket. With the adeptness of a 15-year old boy, I used the pocket lining like a mitten as I fished over to the left to find and contain my spontaneous erection.

I bet mammoths flaunted their franks unabashedly in the Siberian tundra. Their tusks, trunks, and todgers were just out, in the open, exposed to the elements, and their teeth were fine – a million years later, we’re marveling at them. We should all be so lucky.