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Wednesday, April 16, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 46.0° F  Partly Cloudy and Breezy
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On the fly
Should I have told my patient that his zipper was undone?

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I'm a dental hygienist. I love my job, especially the interaction with people, most of whom I see twice a year for a very short period of time during which most of my attention is focused on getting their teeth clean. But you'd be surprised how much you can pick up through small talk. I never lead the way. That would be unprofessional. But some people seem to like to confide in me. The reason I've written to you is a guy I've sort of gotten to know, whose most recent visit presented me with a quandary.

To wit: When I looked down from what I was doing, I happened to notice that his pants were unzipped. He doesn't seem like the type to have left them unzipped on purpose, so I'm assuming it was an accident. And my initial urge was to let him know that his barn door was wide open. Then I caught myself. What if it was on purpose after all? Besides, how do you say something like that to someone you don't really know? So I didn't say anything, but I felt kind of guilty later, like I'd allowed someone to possibly make a fool of himself when I could have taken care of it with a quick remark.

What do you think, Mr. Right? Was it my place to let this guy know that he still wasn't all the way dressed? People around here, other hygienists, seem to lean toward not telling him, but I'm not so sure.

Gingival Rogers

Gingival: I dream of a world where you could not only mention it, you could reach down and solve the problem yourself, but not before providing him with what massage therapists and professors of English literature refer to as a happy ending. Alas, the world I dream of exists only in...well, in my dreams, there and parts of Bangkok. In the real world, massage therapists are some of the most professional people I've ever had the pleasure of working with. (And by "working with,"" I mean I lie there while they do all the work.) They have to be, of course. Otherwise, they might be confused with quote-unquote "massage therapists," which is a different profession altogether.

With all due respect, Gingival, your line of work is never going to be confused with "massage therapy." It's much more likely to be confused with Chinese water torture. And so if there was ever a profession desexualized enough that you could tell a customer his fly's open without running the risk of being misinterpreted, yours is the one. Then again, he is lying down. And his mouth's wide open. And you've got your arms around him. And you've got all those sharp instruments. And he's basically at your mercy. And just thinking about all this makes me wish my next routine check-up wasn't three months away. Or that I'd develop some horrible gum disease, necessitating multiple rounds of excruciating pleasure.

No, I don't think it was your place to let this guy know his barn door was open, Gingival. And unless the animals have all escaped, running around the barnyard like chickens with their heads cut off (ouch, bad metaphor), I don't think it's anybody's place except friends and family. Yes, it's embarrassing when you realize, at the end of the day, that Mr. Happy has been one thin piece of cloth away from sharing his smile with the whole world. But it's even more embarrassing, three-quarters of the way through the day, to be told by a perfect stranger, especially one who's wielding a blade so tiny it makes your teeth chatter. And as we all know, chattering is the last thing we want our teeth to be doing at the dentist's office.

To drill me for information, write to: MR. RIGHT, ISTHMUS, 101 KING ST., MADISON, WI . OR CALL 251-1206, EXT. 152. OR E-MAIL MRRIGHT@ISTHMUS.COM.

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