Hey there, sweetness. No cavities. You are a great flosser. But why don't you smile more? I bet it's 'cause of this little gap here in your cute little bunny teeth. No, here. Open up, let me show you. I've got just the thing you need. Your boss'll give you a raise! Just lie back and let me take care of it.
Who says that? Surely not a licensed dentist, least of all one in the progressive San Francisco Bay area, least of all one who caters to patients like Mother Jones senior editor Kiera Butler. But orthodontic capitalism makes potential sexist creepers of us all, according to Butler's "Open Letter to My Former Dentist."
Summoned to her tooth-jockey's chair to look at some loose bonding on her choppers, Butler found the mouth man had other things on his mind:
I asked you to take a look at the bonding, and you did. Then you took off your glasses and said, "Forget the bonding for a minute. Let's have some fun."
In retrospect, this seems like the sort of statement from a dentist that warrants palming a scraping tool from the instrument tray, you know, just in case.
You asked me if I ever felt like no one was paying attention to me when I was in a group, or if I was shy about talking to people.
"No," I replied. "I'm a journalist. I love talking to people."
You said that you suspected that my colleagues were ignoring me—and that maybe I should try to observe this behavior over the next few weeks. If I did feel ignored, you said, you knew why: my smile.
"You have bunny teeth," you said. "It's distracting."
You took out your camera and asked me to smile. Then you took a few photos.
Nope nope nope nope not cool. But then, when you're a woman, and your doctor has you in the office, and he's got a great tailwind going with his weird gendered sales spiel, how exactly does one engage the brakes?
Butler then recounts how the doc slapped some composite on her teeth to close up some gaps in them and even out their size.
Even though I could barely see a difference (and honestly didn't care enough to look that closely) I told you that I liked how it looked, because it seemed like the easiest thing to do.
You told me that the composite made me look more "refined." Then you told me about two women patients whose smiles you had fixed. One of them had been out of work, and the very afternoon that she left your office, she went on a job interview and got an offer. The other woman's boss asked her to manage "a team of 36 people" right after you worked on her teeth.
"Does the same thing happen to men?" I asked.
You told me that you wouldn't know, because men are not as chatty with you as women.
Then comes the real sweet talk.
I told you that I had to get back to work, so you removed the composite from my teeth. While I was lying down in the chair with my mouth open, you told me that if you fixed my smile, you firmly believed that I would start "dressing better." I would also wear more make-up, you predicted. You told me that I was a beautiful woman, but that my smile was distracting.
The upshot: Butler makes haste to egress the toothy soothsayer's lair and never comes back. She makes clear that this ranks low on the scale of egregious sexual harassment scenarios, but is still a little sauced about her dentist's "use of the tired and sexist old sales technique of making a female customer feel bad about her appearance so that she will buy something."
What's she talking about? This sort of thing, basically.
Dentists out there: Don't be that bro.
[Photo credit: Steve Martin screenshot from "Little Shop of Horrors"]