Today I went to the dentist for the first time in eleven years. I know, terrible, right? What can I say: during those eleven years I had five babies, wrote seven novels, moved three times (twice to new states), and had no dental insurance. Besides, dentist appointments would have made a serious dent in my blogging time.
Truth be told, we’ve had dental insurance for the past three years, and I still put off going. Classic avoidance syndrome…I knew it was going to be bad, so I put off dealing with it, knowing all the while that the longer I put it off, the worse it would be.
Well, today was the day of reckoning. I’ve had some tooth pain…for quite a while…
I got off easy; don’t ask me how. I lost a filling at some point (that’s where the pain was) and have another filling that needs replacing, and apparently I’ve been brushing too hard for so many years that I’ve actually caused some gum erosion, but other than that…I’m okay. Whew. No new cavities, no serious problems. The relief is, as you might imagine, tremendous.
Sitting there in the chair awaiting the beginning of the exam, I learned something about myself. I knew intellectually that I ought to be feeling a sense of dread. But I realized that what I actually felt was…burning curiosity. I was eager—really eager; I keep trying out other words here but eager is the one that expresses how I felt—to find out what the verdict was. It was suspenseful, a mystery about to be revealed. I was more interested to turn the page in the story and find out what happened next than I was afraid of the dire outcome I was pretty sure was waiting for me.
Not that I’m disappointed the story turned out to be sort of boring. In the dentist’s chair, boring is good.
Another thing: am I the only one who finds some of the questions on medical forms nearly impossible to answer? This is the same problem I had with true/false and multiple choice tests in school. The selection of possible answers always seems too narrow, the questions ineptly phrased.
Are you happy with your smile? Yes No (circle one)
How can I possibly answer that with a simple yes or no? Do I wish there were something different about my smile? Sure I do. I’d love an Osmond-bright smile. As a kid I had braces to push my canines next to my two front teeth, closing a space where I’m missing teeth—a genetic anomaly I share with my mother, my oldest daughter, and Betsy Ray. (At least, I have always supposed that that accounted for the charming gap between Betsy’s two front teeth so ofted mentioned in the Betsy-Tacy books.) The braces closed my gap, but canines tends to be yellower than other teeth and this is certainly true in my case. Short of having them capped, there’s nothing I can do about it. (So says the dentist.)
But: Are you happy with your smile?
Am I self-conscious; do I hide my smile or suppress it? Nah. I pretty much forget about my teeth when I put away the toothbrush. Occasionally I wonder if other people notice, and then I think, Of course they do, but noticing isn’t minding. Besides, don’t we all tend to be hyperaware of our own physical flaws, and hyperaware of others’ physical strong points? I notice your pearly white teeth; you notice my naturally wavy hair. (What? The Internet says I have fabulous hair, so it must be true.)
(Of course, the Internet doesn’t see me on all the days my hair decides of its own accord to pay homage to Roseanne Roseannadanna.)
Look at those sparkling white teeth!
“You didn’t answer this question,” the dentist pointed out, looking over my form. “Are you happy with your smile?”
“It isn’t a yes or no question,” I said. “I wish my teeth were whiter. But, you know, am I happy with my smile? My children are happy when I smile at them, and that makes me happy…my husband loves my smile…so…” I trailed off, because I was really thinking seriously about this. In photographs I am always smiling really big, too big; sometimes I look like a gremlin. Or this gal.
With teeth like that, who wouldn’t smile big?
“Sure, sure,” the dentist persisted. “Your children like your smile. I get that. But you—are you happy with it?”
Oh, doc. I know what you wanted me to say. You want to make me over; you want two thousand dollars to put crowns on perfectly healthy teeth. You want me to admit my insecurities, my desire to be Beautiful, because you can help fix me. I get that. It’s your job. And then when my teeth are blinding as snow in the sunshine, I can start counting up the lines around my eyes. (From all that smiling, of course.)
Are you happy with your smile?
Eh, it’ll do.
Is it just me, or does it look like there’s a tiny human head peeking out from my hair where my ear should be? I’m thinking my teeth are the least of my worries.