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Saturday, June 20, 2009

JAPAN LITE

Teeth cleaning techniques and dental mamas


Have you been to the dentist lately? Of course you've been to the dentist late before, I mean rather, have you been to the dentist recently? Getting your teeth cleaned is no simple matter anymore.

I was surprised at how far Japanese dentistry has come in the past few years. They're not quite to the point of installing implants via Twitter, but the simple gadgetry is still quite impressive.

My dentist, Dr. Yutaka Akamatsu, is an old English student of mine. You see, when you've been in Japan long enough, you no longer need the Yellow Pages — you have an ex-student in every possible job in Japan. And as their previous English teacher, you have an obligation to embarrass them in front of all their coworkers as you waltz into their lives five years later remembering how fluent their English used to be.

Dr. Akamatsu looked genuinely glad to see me, but my experienced English teacher's eye could see inside his brain where little hands had popped out and were sorting through the gray matter, flipping through old files marked "English" trying to find vocabulary lists, pronunciation notes, and that lesson on English-speaking dental patients.

I could have made it easy for him and spoken Japanese but I feel an English teacher's job is never finished. Once a teacher, always a teacher. And Dr. Akamatsu was doing surprisingly well. I think he found those old English files after all.

He promptly handed me over to a dental hygienist to clean my teeth. She went at the plaque with a drill that sounded like it used recycled mosquitoes. Why can't they generate music with those drills instead, I wondered, while fighting the urge to swat at the mosquitoes in my mouth.

Then three dental hygienists started shoving objects the size of space satellites into my mouth. With only two eyes to watch with it was hard to keep up with what all three of them were doing all the time but ultimately, they managed to wiggle a large mirror into my mouth. It took some time to accomplish this and it reminded me of trying to get a large piece of furniture into a small room.

With the mirror in place, the hygienist started picking at my teeth with lots of small instruments. Makes you wonder why they don't try to genetically breed some humans to be a lot smaller than others. Tiny 5-cm people, for example, could go in and do all the teeth cleaning themselves.

One of the dental hygienists held a clear plastic thingy in each hand which she readied for some high-tech lip separating. She inserted one in each side of my mouth and then pulled my mouth apart until all my teeth were fully exposed. This seemed more like a torture method than a dental method though. Chapped lips? Oh, sorry!

It was in this position when I was introduced to the three dental mamas. These aren't you average mama-sans either. They are: Aketa Mama, Kanda Mama and Sonna Mama (Open Mama, Bite Mama and Just Like That Mama, respectively). When the hygienists want you to keep your mouth open, they use the Japanese expression "aketa mama." If they want to you to remain in a bite position, they call it "kanda mama." "Sonna mama" means just stay in the position you are currently in, whatever it may be.

Personally, Open Mama was my least favorite of the mamas. Lying there with my mouth pulled to the sides gave me that Wallace and Grommit look. Now I know that Wallace's rectangular smile is not natural. It's just that he went to a Japanese dentist and his lips never recovered.

After several minutes enduring Open Mama the hygienist took out a digital camera and started taking pictures of my mouth. Does anyone have any idea how to make your tongue look good? I don't even know which is my tongue's best side.

These paparazzi shots were apparently for my dental records.

Next I would spend a lot of time with Bite Mama as the dentist said he wanted to take an impression. But I told him it wasn't necessary. Two hours had passed and really, by then he'd already made a strong enough impression on me.



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