Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Ghost of Dentist's Past

As mentioned earlier, I had begun to acquire cavities in my early teens, the first of which I recall beginning to hurt when I was fifteen. Long before the days of the internet, with family I either kept ignorant of my problem or who simply never asked or had the resources to support regular check-ups, I was also very ignorant of dental care in general, or even what the status of my teeth was, of what was happening in my mouth over the years. I would over time begin to think of it like "rusting," in a way, or, ironically, like my teeth were constructed like the hard, sugary material of candy canes. my saliva synonymous with the real culprit, sugar, as I was told as a kid. If you think about it, with some very sped up time-lapse photography, the effect is much the same. See also: Erosion.

As I watched the spaces between my teeth slowly grow bigger enough so I barely opened my mouth even at 17, I never at that time believed that there was anything I could do to fix or further prevent it from happening. The more I learn from Rakhee and my appointments now, and the more things I google, I can't help but still feel "cheated" by my mother in a way. I refuse to any longer believe in this defeatist term "hereditary" thrown so easily around by the doctors of my childhood. Maybe I'm a moron in medicine's eyes, but from all I've ever read of statistics and critical thinking 101 and nutrition, so many of our health problems often summed up nicely by words like "hereditary" can be traced instead to the shared circumstances of our upbringing. To be a doctor and sum up so many conditions neatly by calling them hereditary, especially talking to young people, seems misleading but also downright irresponsible to me. Maybe my mother will always in many ways be that same ignorant child who never grew up or accepted responsibility for her actions after she had me, but maybe the reason that she told me that I was going to have gum disease like my parents so it didn't matter if I brushed or not was partially because HER dentist was an asshole and never ever gave her HOPE as a tortured teenager that there was anything she could do about HER teeth.

Maybe it was "hereditary," I guess I will never know officially. But what I DO know are that my mother has drank soda practically as a substitute for water her whole life and ate like crap, and I ate candy and all sorts of things containing high fructose corn syrup my whole childhood and virtually never brushed at all. If you ask me, hereditary REALLY just means "to follow along blindly in your parents' unhealthy habits and bad choices, and years later not have to feel guilty about it, because it was just "in your genes." What a great scapegoat for the US health care industry, to never seem to emphasize preventative care, to make patients feel like if obese, meat-eating, couch potato parents suffer from high cholesterol, heart disease and strokes, that they too may share the same fate? Hmmm? This is certainly the way that my hypochondriac mother has been made to feel for most of her life.

Dear Dentist,
If as a teenager, I had somehow seen the light and altered my diet and dental hygiene, would my cavity resistance really had been futile? Was the condition I had as early as twelve years old really an irreparable "disease," or just a long series of bad habits, never discouraged by my parents own bad habits and poor health. Was I really just postponing the inevitable, and would that not then also mean, that I still am? Would that not make the dozen dental students and professionals I have been currently seeing all big fat liars? Or maybe really, just one of them from my past? Because looking back now, after all these years, frankly, I believe that that is fucking bullshit, and while I may have over time learned to not "blame" anyone for these unfortunate choices I have had to live with over the past 20 years that will effect the rest of my life as well, I am still pointing a finger at YOU, Dr. Karpinski in Auburn, New York if I remember correctly since 6th grade, for letting such retarded seeds get planted in my mother's head that allowed her to grow such ignorance and neglect for mine and her own teeth.

When I was 17 I didn't know what could be done. I had never heard of implants or veneers or bridges. The only 2 options I had ever heard of living in the backwoods of upstate NY for teeth were to either get them filled or pulled. Picture me, a senior in high school, terrified of going to the dentist because I thought I needed dentures. No, really. What else could be done? I didn't have movie star money for some other magic procedure. i had read in a magazine back then that Harrison Ford had had his front teeth knocked out filming Indiana Jones and he had had some kind of "false" teeth put in. He looked fine, but, he was also a damned movie star! I was on welfare. Scratch THAT idea. Next?

 I had heard you could somehow get them "capped," though I had never heard of any friends or anyone who had had it done. My grandparents both had dentures they never wore, and somehow survived gumming everything. I remember how Ma would always pick nuts out of her bowl of ice cream. I wonder now, thinking back, to what extent the foods they both ate was truly effected in ways I was never aware of, in ways I have no doubt adopted myself over the years.

There was one kid who transferred in to my class senior year who was the first kid I had ever met my age who was missing a front tooth. Though I don't recall the cause, he wore what he called a "partial," which I deeply feared was what was going to become of me. He had somehow come to terms with it, it had seemed, and would always take it out and flash it around and I think in some ways, it drove me crazy because he was somehow more comfortable with himself than I was. Here, he had what could be conceived as a similar predicament as mine, but no one really seemed to judge HIM for it, so what was I afraid of? Why could I not even confide in my best friend, who also happened to be the first person I later found out, whom I would know that had a "bonded" part of a front tooth he had chipped? Why could I never find the shoulder of a best friend to support me to walk through the doors of a dentist's office so many years ago? I know, I can keep myself awake all night again and again with questions like these, and even though I am finally on the road to recovery, I still can't help but always ask myself:


Because I'm not sure I really still know that answer. But I hope to find it somewhere, buried deep within this mouth. I hope to finally bury all these old confused parts of me deep within their graves in my jawbone, and commemorate them with shiny new headstones my long-forgotten favorite foods will be able to visit again daily. I hope these ghosts and me with my lifetime of insomnia, can finally get some sleep...


  1. Blogger ate my long comment. (Sigh.) Let's try again.

    I think your mom either misunderstood what the dentist said or outright lied to you. No dentist would tell a patient that oral hygiene was futile! Sure, you would still have had some cavities, but I've never heard of a dentist saying that the teeth will "rot from the inside out" despite regular brushing.

    I used to edit a dental journal and believe me, there are people with worse mouths than you had! Many of them are older and have been suffering through pain, embarrassment, and difficulty eating and talking for decades. So three cheers for you seeking dental rehabilitation while you're still a young adult.

    My mom had bad teeth. Not as bad as yours, but there were a couple missing teeth, discolored front-tooth fillings, crooked teeth, and crowns that refused to stay cemented on. She finally decided she wanted to pursue implants a couple years ago. Now she's got a lovely smile, with implants supporting a fixed appliance for her top front teeth. The bottom teeth have been straightened with braces. And just this afternoon, she's getting a bone graft where there's a molar missing so that there will be enough bone for another implant. She can basically eat what she wants without fear that she'll dislodge a crown while eating at a restaurant.

    Congratulations, Paul, on pursuing your Amazing Mouth Project. You'll never regret doing it, and your smile will return.

  2. Thank you Orange, for your insight and support.