When I was little we didn’t brush our teeth every night. I can’t remember if my parents fought that battle or not, but I pretty much just assume that they tried, but we were little shits about it, so they figured we would just learn dental hygiene the hard way. You know, by growing holes in our teeth.
Both of my siblings did (learn the hard way I mean), but I had this incredible affinity for milk that I think pumped my body so full of calcium that I couldn’t have broken a bone if I tried. Eventually, in middle school, I realized maybe someday some super hunk would think about kissing my odorous, plaque-infested face-hole, and that maybe if he got close enough to actually do it he would die of shock and horror instead. And that is how I learned basic dental hygiene.
Meanwhile, as I maintained a cavity-free existence, I got my first summer job in high school working at a dentist’s office. My job was to set up the station for each patient, putting out the right clamps and drills and blood-sucking devices, and then after the patient left I would clean up and sanitize the tools that were to be reused. Cleaning up required gloves because there were Bodily Fluids (blood. I mean blood.) on everything, particularly after an extraction.
At the time this job did not particularly faze me. When I had free time, I would watch the doctor perform all the different procedures. I saw fillings, crowns, extractions, root canals, the works – the most horrific of which were All of the Above.
In the short term, I felt a lot more confident about going to the dentist. Partly because I understood the procedures and could see that the anesthetic worked and patients felt better afterwards, and partly because I was taking incredibly good care of my teeth. Because I was sure that every time I opened my mouth, the staff was being all judgey about my pearlies. Also, when you’re bored at the dentist’s office pretty much the only thing to do is sit around and floss.
In the long term, however, the job gave me a concern for my teeth that has permeated my subconscious, so that even when I forget to brush, my brain remembers to give a shit about dental hygiene and freaks the crap out of me in my sleep. My two most frequent nightmares are about my teeth. First, that they are crumbling and I am trying to collect all the pieces for the dentist to put back together. Second (and both more frequent and a hell of a lot more traumatizing), that I’m chewing a piece of gum that I cannot spit out no matter how hard I try. The more I chew it the bigger it gets, and when I spit it out it’s inevitably stuck in my molars or on my gums. At first the dream would end with me furiously (but uselessly) picking at it with my tongue or my fingers, and now it usually ends with my dream-self dramatically falling on the floor in a public place, sobbing and wailing that I’m going to die with gum in my teeth, and spitting over and over and over again to no avail.
Lately I’ve had a toothache and I suspect that for the first time in my life I have a cavity. Even though I’ve had more than enough experience with how not-awful dental procedures actually are (although let’s be honest, even the thought of getting my teeth cleaned still makes me cringe. That stupid little hook thingy they scrape on your teeth is approximately equivalent to the feeling of scraping a chalkboard with your need-to-be-trimmed fingernails), I’m completely sure it’s going to be the worst thing ever. Also that I’m going to have terrible nightmares about it for the rest of my life.
On the bright side,
…I sat here for five minutes trying to think of a bright side but there is no bright side. This is the end of an oral golden age. This is a dental apocalypse. This is probably what the Mayans were talking about happening in 2012. Wish me luck.