‘Have you been flossing?’ The four most terrifying words in the English language. The dental hygienist peers down at me through her scary goggles and speaks in a strange, muffled voice through her mouth mask. Despite all the face furniture I can see that she is arching her eyebrows. ‘Have you been flossing?’ I’m more inclined to lie in answer to that question than in response to any other situation, no matter how intimidating.
The time the banker boyfriend had me cornered in his swanky mews house and was throwing a wobbly about my phone ringing late at night was a doddle in comparison. I’d rather account to an irate City boy screaming ‘Who was that on the phone?’ than a dental hygienist asking ‘Have you been flossing?’ any day of the week.
After owning up that it was my ex-boyfriend who still called me sometimes when he was drunk, I was thrown out on to the street in my pyjamas. But I fancy that is a breeze compared with what will happen if I answer honestly the question: ‘Have you been flossing?’
Either the flossing police are going to take me away; or the association of dental practitioners will rescind my dental insurance; or the hygienist will start slapping me around the face yelling, ‘How dare you come in here with your filthy, unflossed teeth, you loser, you make me sick, your sixth form teacher Mrs Lloyd was right, you are never going to amount to anything…’
So why don’t I just floss? Surely that would be easier. Why is flossing the thing I am second least likely to do after telling the truth about not flossing?
Sometimes I stand in front of the mirror after I’ve brushed my teeth saying: Go on, do it. Tear off an arm-length strip of floss as demonstrated to you by the hygienist and start sawing around your teeth. But I can’t. It is the most absurd, tedious, squeamish-making thing to do in the world.
So given that I can’t bring myself to do it you would think I would bring myself to tell the hygienist that I can’t do it. For those are my options, clearly. Floss, or face up to telling the truth about not flossing. I should say: ‘No, of course I haven’t been flossing. I can’t be bothered, and it gives me the creeps, like a fork on a squeaky plate.’ But I’ve been lying about flossing for so long now that I would need a flossing truth and reconciliation commission in order to come clean.
Until the dental practice offers some sort of flossing amnesty I am never going to be able to set the record straight. So I lie there squirming in the reclining chair as the goggle-eyed hygienist makes me put on goggles too and then starts with the ‘Have you been flossing?’
She knows. She knows I haven’t been flossing. At her mercy as she pokes around, I say: ‘U-huh, ’ay ’ave ’in ’oshing ’esh.’
She straightens up, takes her implements out of my mouth and says: ‘What have you been using?’
‘What sort of floss? Tape or normal?’
It’s a trap, of course. But I’m ready.
‘Actually,’ I say, ‘I got myself one of those flossing machines.’
That’s not a lie. I did buy one for £39.99 in Boots. I used it once every couple of weeks for about three months until the battery ran out.
‘Yah, ich rarree gurr…’
‘Really?’ she says, switching on the screechy thing and starting to chip. ‘There’s a bit of build-up here…’
‘Wah I rarree har ’een ’eying haarr…’
‘Have you?’ she shouts above the din. ‘Can you remember what model this flossing machine of yours is? Is it the Braun Oxyjet? Or the Oral B Triumph 5000?’
‘Arrrrrr ah hhink itsh ar ’aaaun…’
Please god, let me spit. She won’t let me spit. I’m going to choke. She’s going to let me choke to death unless I tell her the truth.
The suction pipe gurgles, the pneumatic tartar-chipping machine screams, the water sprays, the pieces of rock-hard tartar fly out of my mouth and round the room at 150 mph, my jaws lock, my eyes stream, the goggles fog up and at the very second I am convinced of my imminent death by scale and polish, she barks, ‘Rinse!’ and I collapse on to the plastic cup of green-tinted water gasping for breath.
This is what always happens. And so on the morning of my latest appointment I ring and say I am feeling sick so must cancel. It is not a lie. I am a fugitive from flossing on the run from dental justice. It is not an easy life, and many people would choose to turn themselves in. But for now, at least, I live to not floss another day.