I’m not entirely sure when it started or why. But at some point over the last couple of months, Instagram began showing me videos of gnarly dental procedures.
I never tire of watching videos of people squeezing zits and cysts. Sometimes I fall so deep down a pop-hole, I lose all sense of time. The best videos have a narrative arc. You see the mound and wonder what’s under there. The dermatologist attacks the mound—trying to excise the buildup. And then: sweet release, followed by a glimpse of the empty cavity.
Yeah, it’s gross, but I can’t stop watching.
I thought these videos gave me my gnar fix. Then Instagram started offering me other cathartic medical videos that appealed to my morbid curiosity. First, it showed me ingrown hair tweezing videos. Then ear wax removal videos.
But none of the suggestions really kept my attention—until I saw the teeth.
I think the first dental post I noticed in Instagram Explore was the extraction of a wisdom tooth. Then the app floated a few more—time-lapses of braces completely restructuring mouths. A dentist chipping off calcium deposits. Another dentist screwing dentures into a jawbone.
It was all a little mesmerizing. And it’s the kind of thing my dad sees all the time. Because he’s a dentist.
I admit I’ve never taken a strong interest in my dad’s job. I have always loved the stories he’s told about his clients. Politicians, farmers, artists, carnies—so many strange and fascinating people who have shared their stories with him over the decades. He’s passed on some of the best nuggets to me, and it probably has something to do with why I ended up pursuing a career that allows me to meet interesting people and hear their stories.
But the rest of his job—the actual dentistry—I didn’t think much about that. I was just happy he was doing something that made him happy. I rarely asked him about it, and he rarely shared.
Then I saw this gnarly video on Instagram.
Look at that shit! What the fuck is it?
I texted it to my dad.
“Isn’t the body amazing,” he wrote in a text. “The man upstairs really knew what he was doing when he put us together. Some of this is really fun. Some is really boring.”
I shared more videos. With each one I watched, I was realizing that his job is a blend of medicine, engineering, and artistry. I told him so.
He texted back: “We call it an art and science. I call it fun. And it’s helping people. I can tinker in the garage but I love the one on one contact with people.”
“Plus the blood and gore is neat,” he said.
The next time we spoke on the phone, I brought up my newfound fascination with teeth. I asked him about how he got interested in dentistry. He told me the story about when he went to the dentist as a teenager.
“I was 16 years old, and I remember I had 16 cavities,” he told me. “And he took my wisdom teeth out. Back in those days he used a hammer and chisel to break them up. I was holding a mirror and watching him. And I just thought that was cool. It was so cool. ”
Apparently, the dentist was surprised that my dad wanted to see his teeth getting ripped out of his jaws. “And he said, ‘If you can handle watching this, you can probably be a dentist,’” my dad recalled
“I guess the same way you feel about watching those videos,” he said.
Turns out, we have more in common than I had realized.
Now, when I stumble upon true gnarly gems, I have someone I can share them with and get an instant expert opinion.
It makes me wonder where I’d be today if teenage me had been influenced by social media algorithms that understood my id more than I do.