I settled into my chair, looking at appointments for the day when someone knocked. It was Shasha’s father. But her appointment was only later in the day. He entered, followed by another man who carried Neha in his arms. Neha is Shasha’s younger sister. Her chin is covered in blood; the bib has failed to do its job. Her blue dress is soiled with blood and saliva.
Her father blurts out, “ We heard a thud in the bathroom and we rushed to find Neha on the floor, unconscious. Her mother’s hair brush was lying by her side, its handle smudged with blood.” I immediately put on my apron and gloves to examine her and tell her family to wait outside. Ruby, the nurse joins me and hands me a swab, while I hold tweezers in the other hand.
My head is abuzz.
Only yesterday had I met Neha at my clinic. I had peered out to summon someone when my eyes met with big, brown eyes trying to peep in. She was almost six years old and her eyes brimmed with mischief and curiosity. I smiled at her, but was only greeted by a cold stare. I craned my neck back in to pack up for the day. As I kept the mouth mirror to be sterilized, I goofed about, contorting my face. My reflection was no where close to funny, hidden behind the mask.
I had laughed, again under the mask.
Shasha, an eleven year old girl, was the last patient yesterday who wanted braces because she felt that her teeth were protruding. Well, her teeth seemed unruly but were still under control. Children these days are very conscious of their looks. So here she was, all set to be caged for a few years. In my childhood, my mother would teach me to use a fresh twig of mango or neem tree as a toothbrush. The trick was to brush while pressing the teeth inside with the twig. I grew up in a small town in India and I did not use a toothbrush until I moved to college and to a bigger city. The twig had worked, apparently, because I have one of the most beautiful set of teeth. It could have been genetics too, but I would rather go with twigs. Having a good set of teeth is an advantage in my profession. I only wonder, how do dentists with crooked teeth assure their patients of successful results; or the almost bald trichologists succeed in selling hair treatments to the gullible patients sitting across the never- to- be- missed Before- After poster hung in the clinic.
I had met Neha again on my way out. She was hiding behind her father’s legs and was nudging Shasha. And she was grinning. Like a true dentist, I noticed shark teeth lurking from behind her baby teeth. I held her jaw, examined her teeth and casually told her father to help her get rid of the two baby teeth in the front line. Her father told me that she doesn’t let anyone touch her tooth and they were afraid that she would have crooked teeth. His fears were in the right place. I bent forward and told her in a heavy, made up voice, “There are SHARK teeth coming up in your mouth and if you don’t get rid of your baby teeth, sharks will kill them and then they will eat all your favourite food that you put in your mouth. Everything!” Her face turned ashen and I had immediately regretted my theatrics. Shark teeth aren’t abnormal and happen in approximately 1 in 10 children. Mostly, shark teeth resolve without intervention (i.e. the baby tooth falls out and the permanent tooth takes its proper position). But her baby teeth had seemed to be in no hurry to go.
I feel cold fingers on my wrist and I come out of my reverie.
Ruby has cleaned Neha’s face by now. She gestures me to come closer and whispers, “I killed both of them before they could eat my pancake.” She grins again, the baby teeth are gone and so is the twinkle of her eyes. Her cold stare sends chills down my nape. I bite my tongue hard for causing such a tumult and turn away, towards a mirror to put on my mask. To my horror, two devil teeth have cropped out in my mouth, ruining my perfect set of pearls.