Imagine terminator in a dental chair and tell me that isn’t your worst nightmare….read more
I look at the door. I have no idea why I’ve come here. It doesn’t look promising. This is where you end up if you don’t use proper dental equipment. If I’d thought about it I would have cancelled, it can be difficult but there’s always a way. I could have uploaded data from someone else’s toothbrush and said mine was temporarily not working or something.
Here -is the dentist, only not how I remember it. Not one of those cheap dental x-ray booths in the shopping mall either. I don’t think they work anyway, they are backed by private dentists I’m sure. This place, this is an NHS dentist.
It’s been 6 years now since dentistry was made free on the NHS, only the NHS has robodents-that’s what they call them-stupid name and not clever. If you fail to brush properly and they are watching, well not watching but collecting data from your toothbrush, you have to attend a centre like this one-a robodent-like I said stupid name.
This place looks very low key, squeezed between a charity shop and the high street bookies-how is it when even my tooth brushing is checked, the bookies is still here. I struggled to even find the entrance, there was a vaguely human looking model on the front door with white teeth but the name of the place had long since been removed and the number half scratched away. It looks deserted, probably everyone else brushes their teeth. I brush mine but – I went manual awhile ago. My toothbrush can’t even connect to any device. I found it in an online antique store-slightly used but still usable.
When I push open the door, there’s a pile of dust at the bottom step that someone hasn’t moved. It otherwise looks clean and clinical. I guess no one pays much attention to the place, there’s no need, my device will tell me the way and also when I’ve arrived, except-well I often switch off location-something for which I can be fined-for a moments privacy I live with the odd fine.
I go up the stairs. The place feels empty. There are still human dentists but you have to pay for them. They are expensive. I can’t afford it-probably too many ‘You have switched off your location, you will now be fined’ fines. This place is eerie.
I approach the reception desk. The receptionist doesn’t notice me. She is not human, noticeably not human. I think it’s the skin, well the silicon or whatever it is. You can see it has the wrong lustre even from a distance. She is dressed in her neat clinical uniform. I clear my throat to draw attention to myself but I know it won’t work. She has eyes, glass ones that can’t see. I can see that one of her eyes has fallen out and is resting on her cheek. I can see the wires and it makes my stomach churn. I hate the sight of failing tech. She will only sense my device and not me.
She needs some maintenance. I can see now there is a stain on her uniform and the hem of it is down. The place smells a bit, like its been cleaned of germs but somehow the stains of dirt have remained. That’s often the case when a machine cleans somewhere. All the germs are dead but the dirt remains. This is not a good sign, perhaps it’s awhile since anyone has been here. I take out my phone and switch on location and wait a minute. The machine in front of me-the one with only one eye, picks up my location, who I am, where I am. She turns and smiles. She does have perfect teeth. I try to avoid looking at the eye perched on her cheek out of politeness, not that she would notice.
‘Hello’ she says in what is meant to be a calm soothing voice, but is actually just slightly too mechanical. ‘The dentist will see you now.’
I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so prompt but I guess because of how it works, it is just very efficient. I smile back but she does not react. The eyes don’t see anything. It is quite spooky.
She points at a door, ‘Through there’ she says and this time rather than smile, I send an emoji and I can see she gets it and she understands.
I walk to the door, take a breath and go in. I hear the door lock behind me, an electronic lock. I cannot escape until it is finished.
A voice says, ‘Please put your bag on the floor and hang your coat on the hook.’ It waits for me to do that but I have no coat. I put my bag on the floor and ping the hook as if my coat is on it.
‘Oops’ it says sensing something but not the weight of my coat,’ I think you’re coat fell on the floor’ There is no way around this, I once had to hang my trousers on a hook. I am better at it now. I know how these sensory coat hooks work, I grab it again and pull it down and hold it for a few seconds. It senses the weight of me and thinks it’s my coat and is satisfied it is hanging.
The whole room smells slightly odd again.
The voice continues. ‘Can you see the chair in front of you?’
‘Yes’ I say.
‘Take a seat’.
I slide onto it gingerly. Its not that I don’t like the idea of a robotic dentist, its just that I feel more comfortable with humans. I’m the same with my hair, I have it cut by a human when I can. Being honest robotic hairdressers aren’t that good which you’d know if you could see my current cut.
‘Lean back’ it says.
‘Don’t be nervous’ it says.
How can you avoid being nervous. There isn’t a single human in the place. If something goes wrong, there is only me against a bunch of machines. Imagine terminator in a dental chair and tell me that isn’t your worst nightmare.
It’s just so eerie. There must have been human dentists here once. In fact as I look around there is a lot of dust on surfaces that are no longer used and there is even a disused old coffee cup on the floor in the corner. Probably left by the last person who did maintenance here-this was a human dentists room once. Some woman plied her trade with wide mouthed individuals. They talked, they laughed-maybe not that-but the conversation was pleasant, ordinary. This is clinical, mechanical, terrifying. I want a soothing voice but it sounds like a machine. I am alone here. No dentist, no nurse, just me and the chair and a machine.
‘Open you mouth’-it’s a command not a request. It could as easily be talking to a dog.
I open my mouth. I don’t even know how it knows I have opened my mouth. I wished I knew that, how does it know my mouth is open because frankly that is critical to what happens next.
Suddenly the light is on above me and its blinding. I want to ask them to make it less bright but I can’t because I can’t possibly close my mouth, plus there is no one to ask.
I can hear something moving towards me but I can’t see it. I clutch the edge of the chair and look away from the light. It knows! How does it know. I wished I’d research this.
‘You have to stay still now, shall we try again’. Is it me or is that a more menacing voice, slightly threatening.
Before we try again, strange padded pad things come up the side of my face holding it in place. They are not pushing against me but they are firm. I feel like an animal, trapped. I can see the light but nothing else. I can’t move my head. My mouth is still open. My mouth is trapped open. How does it know exactly where my mouth is. What it if takes out my eye, I read that somewhere, I am sure I read that somewhere. I should have paid for a human dentist. I should have shoved a thousand deadening pills into myself before I came.
I can hear the machine-whatever it is –it’s coming closer. The light is still blinding. I want to scream but if it doesn’t examine my teeth now what will the next step be. How menacing does it get?
It’s in my mouth now, I know that. It’s louder than I thought, moving from tooth to tooth. I can hear it buzzing and still the light is so bright. I want to be ill but who knows what chaos that would cause. Then I know that is what the faint smell was when I walked in, human vomit, cleaned up by a machine. I bet if I examined the floor, the germs would be gone but the residue would remain. I hate this. I am terrified. There is nothing I can do but lay there with my mouth open, eyes wide with terror. Be still.
It taps each tooth, it’s taking an x-ray as it goes.
It is slow and a little more brutal than I’d like. When it goes to the back of my mouth it stretches the side of my lips and there is no way to say it hurts or to tell it to stop. All the time it is saying nothing but silently whirring. Recording information. I hate this. I try and focus. I will get through this.
I sit there paralysed in terror. Maybe for 10 minutes whilst it examines every tooth. At one point the whirring stuttered and I wonder if I will end up stuck here, unable to extract myself from this chair with the machine broken and inserted in my mouth. I wonder if every other dental surgery in this place is full of patients that got stuck here when the machinery broke. I wonder how often a real human ever turns up to check that everything is working. I wonder if this is a second rate machine because that’s all the NHS can afford. I wonder whether all those location fines are worth this.
I can hear its endless whirring as it moves slowly in my mouth. It says nothing.
Not relax your tongue or anything. It is clinical, mechanical and terrifying.
It is up to me to keep my tongue in check. I sit still. I focus. I will get through this. I swear after this I will save money and keep the location on my phone on. I will never let a machine do this again.
It is taking a long time.
I wonder what happens if the power shuts down and I am just stuck here. I wished I’d put a supply of food in my pocket- I will be trapped, or at least my head is trapped in this chair. I even wished I brought a coat to keep warm. These doors never unlock in a power failure. I could be here for days, weeks, I could die in here with this stupid thing in my mouth all for some sentimental idea about how I’d like to clean my teeth the way I used to, without the state checking I am doing it properly.
Finally the light goes off and I can see the instrument on the mechanical arm that has been in my mouth, being retracted back into wherever it came from. Over on the desk, which is just some kind of overhang because no human ever sits there anymore, something else starts to whirr away.
The pads that were holding my head begin to retract as well, the chair comes back to the upright position. I sit up. I have made it. I wait for what seems like a long time. Too long but I know I can’t leave until it says.
‘Your teeth are healthy but you have some gum trauma.’
If there was a real dentist here, I would ask what that was.
‘You have been over-brushing, over-brushing leads to gum trauma.’
Thanks I say out loud to a room that doesn’t hear me.
‘To prevent gum trauma’ The voice stops momentarily. I wait. It starts again.
‘we have rewritten the program for your’ the next word takes awhile as well.
‘We have sent the program to your device’
I go to my bag and there is my device with an emoji with huge teeth on it.
‘Just click on the emoji when you get home,’ and again there is a wait.
‘and the program will be transmitted to your toothbrush.’
‘Thank you’ I say, but no one hears.
The door unlocks behind me and that is it.
I put my back over my shoulder and ping the coat hook as if I have removed my coat.
I go out past reception without acknowledging the receptionist who can’t see me anyway.
This is how it is now. I had to go to the dentist because my records show I haven’t used my toothbrush in a year. But the truth is I have a manual one, a real one, an unconnected one. I brush my teeth myself without any data download. I just hide in the bathroom and brush my teeth, but I have done that for the last time. I do not want to come here again.
I know I will click on the emoji when I get home. I know from now on I will need to use the electric toothbrush or risk a fine. They will know by now that I have wasted resources on a dental visit when in fact I have brushed my teeth just not with a state sanctioned electric brush. They are probably tracing the purchase as I leave. Another fine. I need to accept, I need to change. I have used a manual toothbrush. I have knowingly used a manual toothbrush. I have drained the state of resources which were not mine to use. I feel guilty even as I leave. That is how they do it though isn’t it. There will be an email when I get home, maybe even a shaming on social media. I don’t think about it. I think about how nice it felt to hold my own toothbrush in my hand, to brush my teeth myself, to control it. I won’t do it again.