Just following doctor’s orders!

Victor, a British transplant here in Milan, was recently ordered by his Italian dentist to buy a “bocchino.”

You’re not sure what that is? Well, you’re not alone: he wasn’t sure either. (It’s a good thing, too, because the word is also slang for “blow job.”)

Prescribed fabulousness.

After a grueling cleaning session with a material that smelled and tasted suspiciously like lemon Ajax, the dentist had no doubts. Victor must get himself this “bocchino” immediately. Slightly alarmed, he asked the dentist where to buy one.

“Oh, right. Just go to any tobacconist,” il dentista replied. “Shouldn’t cost you more than five euro.”

Completely baffled, Victor stopped at a café with the  “T” symbol front and inquired about this mystery tooth-saving device.

“The guy looked at me for a second,” Victor recounted. “Then put a few cigarette holders on the counter. I went for a black-and-gold one. ”

Makes perfect sense. Victor is a smoker. His dentist understands that it is unlikely that Victor will actually stop smoking, so he orders him to use a cigarette holder that will stain his teeth less.

Victor, amused at what he describes as “prescribed fabulousness,” is perhaps puffing a bit less these days, if only because huddling outside for a ciggy break at work it is just, uh, slightly affected – when you use a holder.

This reminds me of the first dentist I ever went to in Italy. Limping by on a stolen bike trade and a sporadic gig selling leather backpacks at the San Lorenzo market in Florence, my dentist visits lagged behind the prescribed every six months. (I’d done better with writing semi-regular aerograms to my grandmother – you can’t manage everything.)

Expecting the worst, I was surprised when the dentist said there was nothing to worry about, it was likely that I’d make it to my 80s with the original set.

His only recommendation? Floss once a week.

“Once a week? You mean, once every SEVEN days?” This went against every law of good American dentistry. Maybe I hadn’t heard right.

“Once a week, yes,” was the somewhat impatient reply.

“Isn’t that supposed to be once every 24 hours?” I insisted.

“Sure, except you’ll never floss every single day. But you’ll remember to do it once a week, right?”

He may just be the wisest man to ever probe a molar. Dentists (and doctors, too, at least in my experience) are a lot more laid back in Italy. They don’t pronounce diktats you’re unlikely to follow and then feel guilty about. Sensitive gauges of human nature, they offer advice that you’re likely to take. They’re on your side. The tell it like it is.

Sure, Italians aren’t exactly known for sporting brilliant pearly whites, but the general philosophy must work or Italians wouldn’t live to be one of the oldest populations on the planet.

Anyway, it’s a lot less hypocritical than ending dental check-ups with a lolly.