I had a dentist appointment yesterday, which got me thinking about teeth.
My god given teeth were bad, that’s the truth of it. I inherited two “bad teeth” characteristics from my mom’s side of the family. A space between my front teeth, and eye teeth on both sides riding way up high like Dracula. Only my eye teeth decided to be a little different, and one eye tooth rode up high and one stayed all cozy in my gums, leaving the baby tooth in place.
My dentist tells me every visit that my teeth are big and healthy with great enamel, so I didn’t entirely lose out when it came to genes and my teeth. But that eye tooth, dammit.
When the baby tooth was still in place long after it should have fallen out and I was a teenager, my dentist (who is still my dentist to this day) suggested we pull the baby tooth to see if that prompted the left eye tooth to come done.
And still that eye tooth stayed all cozy in my gums and instead, my front teeth drifted farther apart until there wasn’t room for an adult eye tooth, even if it wanted to make an appearance.
There I was, a teenaged girl with a fang on one side, a space on the other and ever widening space between my two front teeth. It wasn’t a straight space between my big front teeth, either. My teeth were like stage drapes, open at the bottom, the space more of an open topped triangle.
I was so self-conscious about those teeth that I usually said something about them before anyone else could, which usually made the person feel bad enough for me not to say anything or to say something like, “but they’re what makes you, you” but there were still some people who barely knew me that felt the need to point out that I could “fit two quarters between my front teeth” or wonder if I could “whistle through that hole”.
My parents had four kids and crummy dental insurance, and braces weren’t in the cards for me in until I was old enough to get them myself. Too bad we couldn’t have paid for them in teenaged girl tears because I’d have had that covered in no time. I endured high school, and much of college, and when I was 24 I took my tax return and put it down on braces with a promise to pay the rest in monthly installments over the next two years.
But that eye tooth, dammit. It still hadn’t made an appearance and it’s pretty hard to hook a bracket onto a missing tooth, so instead I had to make a trip to the oral surgeon, where they sliced my gum open, found that tooth and attached a button to it with a very thin gold chain- which then was attached to my braces to pull it down little by little. In the meantime, they put my front teeth where they belonged to make room for the big arrival.
Months went by, my tongue checking every single day for the point of that tooth, and nothing. The hygienist at the orthodontist’s office, where I went for an adjustment every two weeks, was feeling my pain, and six months after my initial surgery, she yanked so hard on the chain attached to that tooth that the chain broke.
I could hear my Orthodontist in the other room, telling the surgeon that it was his assistant’s fault and he would pay for me to have a second surgery.
The surgeon, knowing that my tooth hadn’t moved in six months, took it upon himself to apply severe pressure on my tooth. I had to brace my head against the force, and then suddenly, I heard a crack inside my head. The tooth, he said, was fused to the bone, and he had to break it free.
And, hallelujah, that tooth started poking through my gums in no time after that. My braces kept putting them all in line, and the left eye tooth took it’s rightful place. My braces came off, and my teeth were straight, and big and white and healthy. I could not believe the before and after pictures the orthodontist showed me. Twice, in the years later, I ran into people I went to high school with and their mouths literally hung open while they gaped at me. My sister said, “Just look at how she’s staring at you” when it turned out I had gone to high school with one of her kid’s friend’s moms and I knew that it should have felt good, a compliment, but instead it made me angry to know what they thought of me before. That I was the same person and they couldn’t see past my teeth. Getting my teeth fixed had changed the whole shape of my face, and gave me the power of a dazzling smile that I never had before.
But that eye tooth, dammit. Maybe six months after my braces came off, I was feeling sick, thinking I was getting a cold because my sinuses felt all funny. Then my face started to swell. My cheek puffed up and I called my dentist and bless him for meeting me at his office on a Saturday and shooting my face full of fourteen-hour numbing power. The oral surgeon, whom I would see on Monday, would later tell me that was the worst idea ever because injections provided bacteria with a path right up my face via needle tracks, but I hold firm that my dentist saved me that weekend. My face was throbbing, and swollen and the surgeon informed me on Monday that my eye tooth was dying. The eye tooth that I had endured multiple surgeries, cranking and yanking and pulling, to have.
First came the root canal, and then some serious bleaching because my dentist had never been happy with that tooth, ever since the orthodontist set me free, and then a filling. And then every year my dentist shakes his head and says, “that eyetooth” and we both agree it’s in the worst possible angle and food gets stuck there and I am a chronic flosser because of it.
“Someday,” he told me once the filling was complete, “it’s going to get brittle, and you’re going to have to think about a bridge or an implant.” It’s been eighteen years since then.
But that eye tooth, dammit.
“Well,” my dentist said yesterday after looking at my teeth and xrays, “your body is trying to dissolve your eye tooth, like it would do for a baby tooth to get rid of it.”
He reached in and gave it a jiggle.
“It’s not really loose, and sometimes the process does stop and it’s fine, so we’ll just have to wait and see. It might be time for to start thinking about an implant. The rest of your teeth look great, though.”
But that eye tooth, dammit.