I brush my teeth like it’s the last time I’ll ever be allowed to do it. Each and every tooth deserves individualized attention of at least five seconds duration (I timed it once) and it never feels clean enough until I’ve got to those hard-to-reach places at the upper corners. If it frequently takes me more than the recommended two minutes – well, I do have great big, horse teeth that take up a tremendous amount of space in my mouth.
My upper wisdom teeth are a particular obsession: I practically unhinge my jaw every night, trying to make sure I’ve brushed behind it. One of them broke in half sometime after they came in and I didn’t feel a thing. I have a memory of biting down on something hard and faintly powdery in the middle of a meal and swallowing it without inspection because we were at a formal event and I’m used to horrible food they serve at occasions like those, but I’m also very prone to false memories after the fact so I could be just making it up.
This specific memory suggested itself after a nasty trip to the dentist who inspected the broken tooth and then looked at me as though I were a rhinoceros who hadn’t yet realized it was missing its horn.
“You don’t feel anything?” he asked me with mounting disbelief, tapping it with increasing amounts of firmness.
“G-Unh,” I said, my mouth wide open and draining into that contraption by his side.
“Nothing at all?” Tap-tap-TAP. Well, if he was going to try and knock out the remaining half without anesthesia…
“G-Unh?” I said again, rolling my eyes for emphasis.
“Amazing,” he murmured.
I hate young dentists. Evil potheads. [Actually, this is an impression gleaned from my college years and might not be strictly true. Every single student dentist I ever met during that time was in school on the “Satisfy the Damn Parent with a Goddamn Medical Degree” quota and making up for it in their off time by partying it up like nobody’s business. Not that I’m in any position to throw stones but at least when I had a hangover in the morning, I wasn’t pulling out people’s teeth.]
But my broken tooth, which the dentist helpfully filed down and left alone because he admired its pain-free existence, is not my only bugbear. I also have these giant upper teeth that look like they’d appreciate a steady diet of fresh hay and apples with the occasional sugar cube for a treat. They’re not quite Sarah Jessica Parker teeth, but by the time I’m her age, I bet they’ll look exactly the same. Because the awful truth about teeth is that they grow. And grow. And keep growing. In directions you wish they didn’t. And then people are going to laugh and point.
“I’m going to file them down when I grow up,” I informed my mother when I was twelve and saw the writing on the wall. She guffawed. Then she found out about capped teeth and the laughter died and trepidation took its place. Ha! But then I heard those things chip and break rather easily, so she feels much less threatened. Boo! Given my general clumsiness, I’m deathly afraid that I’ll get them and then one day I’ll look up from my delicious meal of ribs or somesuch and find myself with gargoyle dentures. Help of that kind, my looks can not take.
Dear God who art in Heaven: I know I do not look like Vivien Leigh but could I not at least have had her teeth? It would have made up for much. (I suppose I shouldn’t have cared then, in the way I do not care about other facial features. Hmm.)
But this is not about my oral shortcomings. [We will not touch the pun implicit in that sentence with so much as a barge pole, please. This is a family blog. Or so we will pretend for today.] What has often disturbed me in the midst of all this physician-approved dental hygiene is the… um, mess of it.
Have you ever seen people brush in the movies? Just as making love in the movies looks divine, brushing teeth in the movies looks so much neater than what I do. My process does not involve minimal amounts of foam, discreetly spit into the basin and rinsed out with one mouthful of water.
My process involves a great deal of foam and spit, sometimes dribbling down my chin, frequently hanging by thick threads of toothpaste coated saliva, and requires several mouthfuls of water. Gross, yes? But clean, my friends, clean. When I go to bed at night, I know that all the microscopic evildoers in my mouth have been terrified into paralysis at least for the time being. Most of them are probably dead.
Yet, it occurs to me that I’ve never actually seen another person brush so I don’t know if this is normal. I look the other way when I find myself sharing a sink with another person, be it my best friend or my mother. When I’m at a public bathroom (on a train, at the airport) and somebody is cleaning out their mouth, I politely look elsewhere. I’d love to say this is because I’m just that icily well bred, but actually, it’s because I’ve never felt the need to check out somebody’s cleaning rituals in case they’re just as gross as mine. I don’t think I could look at my near and dear ones the same way if I had to see them with toothpaste-y drool running down their face.
This might have a mistake in strategy because I just realized I really have no idea if I’m an offense waiting to happen. Does everybody else brush like the movies?