Circle One

August 11, 2009 @ 8:13 pm | Filed under:

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.

cindy_lauper_grWith 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.

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27 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. sarah says:

    That last bit had me choking!

    Actually I think you look a little like Cyndi Lauper in the way you scrunch up your eyes here when smiling 😉

  2. Chari says:

    oh, that little man is SO funny! your hair looks like it is having a less frizzy day than usual 🙂 Also, thanks to YOU, I have finally rerad the Betsy-Tacy stories this summer…and I now can say that I KNOW exactly to what you are referring! That makes me happy. 🙂 A blessed day to you………and pass some hugs to our friend Erica please, in congratulations! Thanks!

  3. Kathryn says:

    Yep, it looks like a head. It looks as though you are propagating like a spider plant. Easier than pregnancy, maybe?

    And I think you have a very nice smile :).

  4. sarah says:

    I think your smile is perfect and so does the boy. And please, odd questions aside, do not wait eleven more years to go to the dentist.


  5. Sara says:

    I think it looks like an alien peeking out. But your smile can light up a room, I think. Dentists just don’t make any money any more without the cosmetic stuff, so some of them push it pretty hard.

  6. Mary G. says:

    This is one of your classic posts! I love it!

    Oh and I had put off the dentist for years too … till my second child was about 1 year old. I had NEVER had any cavities but at 31 thought I should go in … I needed a root canal!

    blessings and hugs and your smile (and ear) are fine.

  7. Penny in VT says:

    Awesome post, especially in light of the fact that I’m headed to the dentist Saturday after 3 years not going. Am I nervous? You bet. But at least I know how to answer that question now, I’ll just write “It’ll do”!

    We’re reading the Betsy-Tacy series this summer too, thanks to you – I can’t believe I missed this one in my youth.

    And yes, it looks like a head, a head that is jealous of it’s host’s beautiful smile…

  8. MelanieB says:

    Yikes I am the same way, agonizing over yes or no questions. Dom yells at me for over-thinking them; but some things are just not yes or no. I’m glad I’m not the only one.

    My favorite question on a recent medical survey: “Is it possible you are pregnant?” As this was on the pre-surgery forms I was filling out prior to being admitted for my c-section I felt that a simple tick in the yes box simply did not convey the extreme humor I felt. I wanted to write in: “I should think so… or else there’s a very big tumor in my belly! That kicks!”

  9. Fe says:

    Wow! This could be me:-)

    I’m missing those teeth as well, as is my mother (well, the adult teeth… Mum’s just lost the one remaining baby tooth at not quite 76, and I still have the baby teeth—so no gaps for me)! _And_ my dentist tells me I brush too hard, and that’s why I have receding gums.

    And I only went back to the dentist just before I got married, when my wisdom teeth flared up:-( I’ve kept going since then!

  10. Cheryl M. says:

    Great post, Lissa!! And that last bit has me laughing lots!!!!! :))))

  11. JoAnn in CO says:

    LOVE this! You are so right. When I had tests this past winter (eventually finding a non-malignant brain tumor!), I wasn’t scared at first; it was just interesting! 😉 And my mom, sister, niece, and daughter are all missing those lateral incisors. We’ve seen 2 orthodontists for info for my daughter. My sister hated the gap (never got braces). My niece had bonding done. My daughter says she doesn’t care, and doesn’t want extensive work done (but she’s only 11 now). We’re on a “wait and see” plan for now….FWIW, you have a beautiful smile, a beautiful family, and we love your work and mission! 🙂 God bless.

  12. Michele Quigley says:

    What kills me is that I pointed to your ear to show my son what I was laughing about and it’s labeled “gremlin”! LOLOLOLOL!!

  13. Rebecca says:

    Oh gosh, you crack me up! Your smile (and hair) are gorgeous. 🙂

  14. Meredith says:

    I spit my coffee out on this one, WAHAHAHAHA!! You are much too funny my dear, really you should be a writer or something 😉

    Glad your teeth are fine!

  15. Lisa says:

    I now go a little more often after I figured up how much $ I wasted on un-used dental insurance over the years! It was shocking!

  16. Kristen Laurence says:

    You have a perfect smile…because it’s yours!

    I’ll never forget the time I was in my OB’s office and she asked me if I was happy with my nose. Huh? I responded something like, “Ok, I get that it’s not your idea of what’s perfect, but goodness, think of Who designed it!” I walked out and found myself another doctor. 🙂

  17. Beth says:

    Well, I’m happy with your smile — so beautiful! Just look at the joy radiating form the two of you, gosh.

    (I kinda wish you hadn’t mentioned the ear-thingy though. It’s … creepy).

    Dentist? What’s that? Heh.

    ~ Beth

  18. Sarah says:

    Oh my gosh. Seriously funny post. 🙂

  19. Melissa Wiley says:

    Fe—wow, the baby teeth stayed in! I guess with no big teeth to push them out, that makes sense. Huh.

    Kristen—first, your OB??? was asking about your nose? Was she married to a plastic surgeon? And second: was she wearing a blindfold???? You are stunning, and I can’t imagine where she’d come up with a question like that about YOU!

    Re Betsy Tacy…there’s some B-T fun coming down the pike in September. 🙂

    And Beth: if you think YOU’RE creeped out by the little alien manthing, imagine how I feel. I had no idea that thing was hiding in my hair. I’m like an episode of the X Files.

  20. Monica @ Paper Bridges says:

    oh, same minds think alike. I’m composing a post about the dentist too.

    your ear looks… like an ear. no worries. 🙂

  21. Elizabeth says:

    I’ve never liked my smile-4 teeth are out of line–but my parents couldn’t afford braces. Decided in early 20’s-not a bad deal-could be worse. It’s gotten worse! I have a narrow jaw and there just isn’t enough room for my teeth. My teeth are being pushed out even more and now they are all crashing into each other causing cracks-so braces are a neccesity. I got glasses this past year and now I need braces–and 2 teeth pulled to make room to put the four back in. Ouch! Plus–I’m too old for braces!! kind of wish I wasn’t a coward and could live with the pain! Must be easier than hiding braces for 2 years!

  22. Karen Edmisten says:

    I’ve seen that smile in technicolor real life and I don’t remember thinking anything but that it radiated joy. 🙂

  23. Karen Radcliff says:

    I cracked up at that last bit, and I agree with the poster who said you look a little like Cyndi Lauper. Hooray for generally healthy teeth! But goodness me, if you and your sweetie and your little ones are okay with your smile… two thousand dollars buys a lot of books. 🙂

  24. Melissa Wiley says:

    two thousand dollars buys a lot of books

    Exactly! Right? I mean, really. Not to mention we’ve got three kids in a row lined up for braces…I’m thinking my teeth have had their turn. (Thanks, Mom & Dad.)

    Elizabeth, yikes, teeth cracking each other…you poor thing!

  25. MotherReader says:

    How wonderful that you could go to the dentist and come out with a story – and an insightful one at that! I think you can be perfectly happy with your smile.

  26. Blair says:

    I was really laughing once I saw that “head”! I too always put off dental visits; I think it’s been 5yrs now. I’m also glad to read that someone else has that tooth anomaly…it looks like my 4yr old is going to be missing those permanent teeth. The dentist did say it’s usually genetic but we can’t think of anyone else in our family who has it. Hope we have good dental insurance when she’s older!

  27. Jane says:

    Laughed til I cried. At first glance the ear man looked…well I noticed it, but your musings about it were just so perfect.
    I can relate to the many years between dental visits-one minute baby #2 is a couple of weeks old, next minute she’s six, and I really love going to the dentist.