First Lecture

Day one of specialized courses on human awkwardness and uncomfortable situations.

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Hi there, aspiring dentists! Welcome to our first lecture of “Intro to Dentistry Small Talk”!

I am your professor, Dr. Alan Bland, and gosh am I having a doozy of a day. Just busy busy busy. Did you catch the game this weekend? Got real interesting in the fourth quarter, but I fell asleep before the end. Early to bed, as they say. I like to get up at dawn and read the paper on the back porch. What’s your morning routine? I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for summer. When it’s summer I’ll probably be wishing for winter. The grass is always greener—literally is in the summer, am I right? What kind of movies do you like?

Don’t answer that.

Did you all see what I did there? Of course you didn’t. The small talk came at you too fast. It hypnotized you, and I could have extracted a tooth from every one of you before you knew what was happening. That is the art of dentistry small talk. When a patient reclines in your chair, their mouth pried open like an unlidded Pringles can, you don’t simply engage with their teeth. You engage with their mind.

You numb their nerves with novocaine, but you numb their awareness with banal anecdotes. You scrape away their plaque with a metal hook, but you ask questions that scrape away their basic understanding of social interaction. You drill into their molars with 4mm bits, but you drill into their very sanity with off-putting, monotone humor. I cannot overly stress the importance of off-putting, monotone humor. Knock knock. Who’s there?

Tooth decay.

This course will provide an overview of dentistry small talk.

By the end of the semester, you should be able to verbally sedate your significant others for an entire dinner conversation. Some of you think you can do that already. Your S.O. is already tired of your lifeless face, right? You’ve been uninteresting since birth, and you don’t need these classes. You’re wrong. By the time you graduate, you will inflict a tedium so profound they will leave you on the spot.

Before we go over the syllabus, I’ll introduce you to the fundamental principles we call the 4 Cuspids of Dentistry Small Talk.

Open Ended Questioning,
Rapid Topic Change, and
Exiting Abruptly

As long as you follow these 4 principles, you will BORE anyone who sits in your chair.

Banality is pre-eminent among the four Cuspids. It means never saying anything another person wants to hear. It means never delivering a payoff to any story, no matter how long-winded, so whatever hope arises during your dull anecdote is deflated by the disappointing, flaccid conclusion.

Did you know I went deep sea fishing for my birthday? I didn’t catch anything.

My wife and I tried that new sushi restaurant on Main street. It was chilly in there.

I had a bad dream last night after an episode of Law and Order. I can’t remember it.

As you improve in Banality, you’ll learn to punctuate things with a joke so devoid of humor it steals a future laugh from your patient’s soul.

Did you know I went deep sea fishing for my birthday? I didn’t catch anything, unless you count the sunburn am I right?

The second Cuspid of dentistry small talk is Open-Ended Questioning. Remember, your patient’s mouth will almost always be forced open, by a mouth prop or by your hand, so they will be unable to talk back. Open-ended questions, therefore, are completely futile. Use them as often as you can.

What are the pros and cons of the Electoral College?

How would you explain Instagram to a peasant in 13th century France?

Why do you feel the way you do about your mother?

The third Cuspid is Rapid Topic Change. Never let your patient settle comfortably into a topic of discussion. You must keep them off-balance, sending the conversation perpetually askew like an impacted wisdom tooth.

The leaves in Virginia are gorgeous in the fall. Nike cross trainers don’t last as long as New Balance, have you noticed that?

My wife and I love that new singing show on NBC, what’s it called? I’ll never understand how they break down the charges on a cell phone bill.

The fourth and final Cuspid is Exiting Abruptly. When the dental work is done you must jarringly stand up, say something psychologically questionable to the hygienist and walk out. Then you must pause midway out of the door, almost like it’s an afterthought, to say goodbye to your patient.

So why pay for TurboTax premium when you can get all the same features with-

Schedule him for a follow-up, will you, Sue Ellen? Try not to screw it up this time I’m just teasing you know that right.

Oh, take care, Mr… Jones? I’m bad with names, sorry.

Used together, these four principles will deliver a blast of nitrous directly to your patient’s will to exist. They will become a listless, befuddled blob of dental filling, ready to be molded by your sculptor’s touch.

Those of you who are still conscious, please wake up your classmates and turn to the second page of your syllabus. Knock knock. Who’s there?

Presentations next week.