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The Calculus
Paul Hostovsky


My hygienist likes to include me
in the decision making.
“Shall we use the hand scaler
or the ultrasonic today?” she asks me.
I like the way she says “we,”
like we’re doing something intimate
and collaborative,
like building a snowman,
or more like dismantling one
after an ice storm, flake
by frozen flake. “The calculus
is caused by precipitation
of minerals from your saliva,” she explains.
“You can’t remove it with your toothbrush.
Only a professional can do that.” She’s very
professional. She doesn’t dumb it down.
“Pay more attention to the lingual side
of your mandibular anteriors,” she says.
I love it when she talks like that.
I love the names of teeth: incisor, third molar, bicuspid,
eye-tooth. Her own teeth are
virtuosic. “Calculus comes from the Greek
for stone,” she says. “In mathematics
it’s counting with stones. In medicine,
it’s the mineral buildup in the body: kidney stones,
tartar on teeth.” She teaches me all this
as I sit there with my mouth open,
looking astonished.

© by Paul Hostovsky.
Used with the author's permission.

Paul Hostovsky starting writing poetry in the fifth grade, inspired by his novelist father. Today, he is the author of more than a dozen books and his award-winning poems have been featured in a wide variety of print and online journals. Paul lives in Boston, where he is a sign language interpreter. Learn more about him at



Post New Comment:
I can't wait to show the poem to my hygienist in two weeks.
Posted 07/02/2016 07:59 PM
This is just wonderful. I just love: “Pay more attention to the lingual side / of your mandibular anteriors,” she says /. I love it when she talks like that.
Posted 07/02/2016 08:10 AM
always enjoy this poets take on life! another good one! Can't wait to take this to my hygienist!
Posted 07/01/2016 09:58 PM
Good poem on a subject that isn't covered much. I'm taking it to my hygienist tomorrow. She'll get a kick out of it as I did. And I learned something too about Calculus.
Posted 07/01/2016 04:27 PM
Terrific poem!
Posted 07/01/2016 04:05 PM
Lori Levy:
Great! Hope you showed this poem to your hygienist, Paul!
Posted 07/01/2016 01:02 PM
Wonderful collaboration of art and math, Paul. This is different. As Pound said, "Say it new." And that is what you've done! Thank you.
Posted 07/01/2016 11:50 AM
wendy morton:
An astonishing stoney delight.
Posted 07/01/2016 11:11 AM
Unexpectedly fun. ;-)
Posted 07/01/2016 10:34 AM
I love this!!! I have a great hygienist, too, but the dental assistant is another story. Mine has purple hair and after an eye-tooth extraction not long ago, some of her instructions were: No vigorous spitting. Don't 'hock a loogie'!!!
Posted 07/01/2016 08:03 AM
Gilbert Allen:
Tender and funny--a nice combination!
Posted 07/01/2016 07:59 AM
Larry Schug:
Hail hygienists! A good hygienist is worth a handful of dentists (no offense to dentists). Excellent poem!
Posted 07/01/2016 07:13 AM
Whoa! A dental hygienist in a delightful poem? There is hope for the universe, after all. Truly enjoyed this ode. Thank you, Paul.
Posted 07/01/2016 06:34 AM

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