A The dentist suggested that he see a hygienist. He did his best to make it seem like this advice didn’t mean I was being sent to the mischievous stride. Her tone was gentler than that, more like a teacher saying, “You’ve obviously put in a lot of effort with this work and it’s very good, but why don’t you take it off and take another look at it?”
The hygienist was very thorough. She also stepped on a line of floss-like finesse between praising my efforts, saying there wasn’t much to worry about, and yet also hinting that if I didn’t fine-tune myself, the consequences would be dire. I heard very clearly the words of my toothless grandfather when he was a newborn teenager without teeth: “This set of teeth has to last a lifetime; Take care of them. “I accepted this, but was then very disappointed by giving me an electric toothbrush for Christmas. I wanted a bicycle.
The hygienist gave me three sizes of those little toothbrush things, explaining that they work better than flossing. He also showed me how to properly use an electric toothbrush. I was amazed to learn that moving it around the inside of your mouth for about 20 seconds is suboptimal. I was even more amazed that I was told that the head should be changed every two months. Hmm. I hadn’t changed mine once in the three years that I’d had it.
She told me to take 30 seconds to move the brush slowly along the front of the upper teeth, then 30 seconds along the back, and then the same procedure for the lower teeth. So, two minutes: little time in the scheme of things, well spent. That night, with my arsenal of new gear ready to go, I approached the sink full of determination.
The puncture is quite complicated. Three weeks later I still haven’t managed to memorize which of my three brush sizes fits which spaces. But the biggest challenge has been lengthening the power brush to the specified 30 seconds for each sweep. I just can’t go slow enough. I have tried setting the timer on my watch and taking a watch with a second hand to the bathroom. I do not help. So I tried dividing the 30 seconds in two, with 15 seconds to bring me from the back of the mouth to the front and another 15 seconds continuing from the front to the back of the mouth on the other side. I still couldn’t handle it. I started dividing the 30 seconds by the number of areas to be treated (13 holes plus the outside of the backs) and I tried to hold the brush at each point for two seconds. Unbelievably, I still couldn’t do it. So after three weeks of trying, I finally gave up, deciding that it was simply impossible. I decided this in the same way that I could have concluded that I just couldn’t learn Mandarin or ride a unicycle.
On reflection, this has really surprised me. I conclude that although the confinement has, to a great extent to my benefit, slow down my life, there is still work to be done; there is more slowdown to do. Many times, looking at myself in the bathroom mirror, I had told myself that I just didn’t have that much time to devote to a new and improved dental hygiene regimen. How long! How deeply ridiculous not being able to sit still for even two minutes twice a day; How madly the adrenal glands must be pumping relentlessly at all hours. What is my rush? Until a fire breaks out, the apartment is flooded, or the dog has learned to open the refrigerator, I definitely have a minute or more twice a day. So now I am renewing my efforts to meet the demands of my hygienist; Apart from anything else, I see you on Tuesday and I long for your approval. If I can brush for two minutes twice a day, it may not mean that I have found inner peace, but it would surely be a sign that I am getting closer to it.
• Adrian Chiles is a host, writer and columnist for The Guardian
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism