Every 6 months, I go to the dentist. My dentist’s name is Fred. He has an enormous belly and wears a white coat, so he resembles a giant pillow. I rest my head against his soft stomach while he peers into my mouth, pokes around, and says “You have a sensationally healthy mouth.” This takes roughly 45 seconds and $75 and then I am free to go. Every 6 months, the exchange is identical. Well, it was until this week.
On Monday, I went to see Fred for my regular check up. As I nestled my head against his tummy, he peered into my mouth for longer than usual. Then he scraped the side of one of my teeth. A mild, yet definite ache spread throughout my jaw. Fred scraped another tooth and it hurt too. He stood up and loomed over me.
“What the fuck is going on here?” he asked.
“Nothing, I swear, it was one time!”I cried uncertainly.
“Your gums are receding, girl.” Fred said.
Anytime somebody calls me “girl”, I know I am either in trouble or they are hitting on me. This was the former.
“That’s impossible,” I replied, “I’m only twenty-three. I have perfect teeth. I take real good care of them too. Look at them, they’re beautiful.”
“Look again,” Fred answered, and peeled my bottom lip away from my jaw. Sure enough, the gums on either side of my mouth were slowly wearing away, exposing the roots of my teeth, which were beginning to turn a distinct shade of dark yellow.
“What the hell is that?” I asked and Fred replied, “Decay.”
Decay? Decay was what happened to corpses buried inside coffins in the ground. It involved maggots and bad smells and smug relatives. And now it was happening inside my mouth.
“What do I do?” I asked Fred. I didn’t want to ask too many questions, because for some reason I believed that the less I knew, the less serious the entire situation.
“Put this cream on your gums at night,” he said, handing me a small tube labeled $25, “And go see a goddamn specialist.”
After I paid and left the surgery, I sat in my car and cried for twenty minutes. I hadn’t realised how much of my self esteem was tied to my teeth up until then. At that moment, my entire personality seemed to hinge on the quality of my pearly whites. If I lost a single molar, I would lose my sense of humour, or compassion, or balance.
I calmed down eventually, drove home and made banana muffins. I rubbed the cream on my gums every fifteen minutes. I googled “causes of gum recession” and was confused that none of the typical reasons applied to me. As soon as my brother got home from work, I made him look inside my mouth and inspect the decay on my exposed teeth.
“That’s gross,” he observed, “And weird. Your teeth look fine everywhere else.”
“I know!” I agreed, “They’re perfectly nice looking on the outside, but underneath they are rotten and ugly and slowly dying.”
“Kind of like the rest of you,” he replied.