I went to the dentist today, the first day (I think) that Park Dental has been open at its Downtown Duluth location in the Medical Arts Building. There is a Park Dental location near my workplace, but I have an affection for running errands downtown, normally.
So much has changed — for starters, the waiting room has no coffee tables, no magazines, no children’s books. There used to be free coffee, no more. There was a sneeze guard, a plexiglass shield, separating me from the staff as I checked in, signing papers verifying my health and acknowledging the risks of COVID in dental work. I was given a mask (I had left mine in the car, because you can’t wear a mask to a tooth cleaning. But of course, the waiting room, the waiting room.
As I entered, I was asked to wash my hands. I was given a Dixie cup of hydrogen peroxide to swish, to sanitize my mouth. My tooth cleaning was the old-fashioned type, with scraping because the water jets that used to blast the tartar off my teeth are too risky. (They produce aerosols that could carry the virus into the air.) It was barbaric, and I kept feeling like McCoy, faced with 20-century medicine:
… they used to scrape their teeth with knives.
I kept thinking that this is so much more dangerous for her than for me. I’ve been fairly effectively isolated for weeks. But with my mouth open, I could only visualize my mouth as a possible fountain of viral load.
How much is visiting my dentist like visiting a doctor, and so my conscience is clear (if I am somehow asymptomatic)? Or is it more like visiting a hairdresser, and I have endangered her unnecessarily? (I went 38 years between dentist visits, which might inflect my answer.)
Afterward, I walked past Rogue Robot, where some displays are moved in preparation, I think, for a socially distant reopening, and Starbucks, open again, with chairs gone, stickers on the floor, and tables rearranged to control traffic in and out of the coffee shop.
I rarely bought Starbucks for the coffee — I was buying a ticket for a seat at the “third space.”
I walked back to my car, in a lot with no attendant, because no one is parking downtown. That will slowly start to change, a thought that I approach like I approach flying in a plane, like I approach visiting the dentist: my brain fights the knot in my belly.