Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My Teeth

If you've spoken to me face-to-face in the past two or so years, you've probably noticed it. A build-up of tartar on my lower incisors. I appreciate your politeness in not mentioning it. You see, I am 19 years old but have never been to the dentist. I have a self-professed phobia of the place. My mum would try to drag me along when I was a kid, but I'd resist—even breaking down in tears to gain her sympathy in the hope she'd let me off. She always did.

I couldn't expect to avoid the dentist and live my life with pristine teeth. I knew that I would have to go for a check-up one day. Well, this day is coming around sooner than I thought. Last night, before I brushed my teeth, I was pressing down on a bit of the tartar, when a chunk of it snapped off. I was terrified. I knew I hadn't cracked part of my tooth, but this snap left me with a very jagged gumline. It made my teeth look even more hideous, and I looked at myself in the mirror with disgust. I stared my reflection in the eye and said, "That's it; I've got to go to the dentist." When I told my mum about it, I just broke down in tears. I don't know why. I just couldn't stop bawling. She comforted me because she's a good mother.

On reflection, I think I cried because I was lifting a proverbial monkey off of my back. This cluster of tartar has been weighing me down so much, emotionally. I can't remember the exact moment it formed, but I've been extremely insecure about it ever since February 2011. Not a day has passed since that month where I haven't felt ashamed of my teeth. Here's the moment that spurred my insecurity, and made me aware that my teeth were ugly. I was having breakfast at McDonald's with my friend, Alexander. We were casually chatting when I noticed him staring fixedly at my teeth. He interrupted me with, "Savona...show me your teeth." I giggled, then said "I don't want to show you my teeth." He brushed this aside and said "I think you've got a bit of hash brown on your bottom teeth." I knew it wasn't hash brown. I just called it "discolouration", and we changed the topic.

Since that day...no, that moment, my bottom incisors have been an immense burden to me. You'll notice that I never reveal my bottom teeth in photos I take of myself. The mere act of talking is difficult for me, which is a shame because I do love intense conversation. Whenever I speak to someone in person, I tense certain muscles in my face so my lips don't open too far apart. It's horrible, and I've had enough of it. I aspire to be a journalist one day, and the field of television journalism doesn't appeal to me because I would be filmed and people would see my ugly bottom teeth. I would have to enunciate words properly. No muscle-tensing would be permitted, so those sickly incisors would be on show for home viewers. There's a video of me on YouTube where I'm impersonating Woody Allen, and I did several takes of the impression (it was more than just a few lines) just to make sure my tartar build-up would not be visible to the untrained eye. It's little things like this that kill me.

Without a doubt, the most serious ramification of my insecurity is that I am too afraid of entering a romantic relationship. Sure, I'm naturally shy, but if I had a gleaming set of pearly whites and the right girl came along, she could coax me out of my shell. As it stands, I don't want a girlfriend because we'd inevitably arrive at the first kiss and I don't want her to experience the displeasure of sticking her tongue past my tombstone-like teeth. I'm even afraid that she'd accidentally slice her tongue on a sharp edge of tartar.

So why exactly do I fear the dentist? I think dentists are demonised in popular culture. More specifically, the experience of a visit to the dentist is portrayed as terrifying. For example, most of us can recall that episode of The Simpsons: 'Last Exit to Springfield'. "DENTAL PLAN; LISA NEEDS BRACES." I find it hard to watch the scenes where Lisa is in the dentist's chair. The dentist shows off his menacing tools, shows Lisa 'The Big Book of British Smiles' and uses computer imagery to show Lisa what her teeth will look like in the future if she neglects them. Of course, this is all rather comically exaggerated, but when you're as scared of the dentist as I am, it takes on a whole new meaning. And what about that saying: "I'd rather have a root canal!"? Seriously, who invented that phrase? Of ALL the things that could have followed "I'd rather have a", it had to be 'root canal'. Does this mean that root canals are the most extreme form of pain that humans can endure without dying? Granted, some people have told me that they actually enjoy going to the dentist (my mum is one of those people), so that gives me some hope that it's not so bad after all.

This is all I have to say about my fear of the dentist. I hope I've shed some light on what life with bad teeth is like. If you know someone whose teeth aren't exactly aesthetically pleasing, don't give them a hard time about it. I will admit that I used to playfully mock one of my friends because he had some enamel damage, and I feel incredible guilty for doing so. This was before my tartar had accumulated, but that doesn't change the fact that I was being a dickhead. And if you, my dear reader, are not so happy with your own teeth, I hope you have found some solace (however slight) in this post. You are not alone in your struggle.

I am going to the dentist for the first time early next week. Yeah, I'll be nervous, but I can't expect life to be one euphoric wave. A bit of suffering and vulnerability is healthy, because it's often a catalyst for courage. I just hope it's not too painful. I just want to lie on that chair and forget where I am. Hopefully everything will run smoothly and I'll be flaunting wide, cheesy grins in no time. I want to show my friends that I can impersonate James Stewart. I've been too afraid to exhibit this impression before, because it requires my lips to be considerably apart. If you're lucky, I might start a video blog series (something I would have done a while ago if I weren't so ashamed of my teeth). You might even see me reading the six o'clock news one day. And who knows? Maybe I'll finally be comfortable with letting a girl kiss me, and kissing her in return.



  1. Even though you never liked going to the dentist, I admire you for summing up the courage to finally get your teeth checked and fixed. It is a confidence-booster to have a great set of teeth, especially if you’re finally going to job interviews and the sort. Aside from the confidence you can gain from getting a great set of teeth, it can also make your mouth healthier and lower the risk of mouth diseases. So good job to you!

    @Landen Worley

  2. How did your first dentist appointment go? I checked on your other posts to see if you updated us with this incident, but there was none. I’m worried about a friend of mine who is going through a similar situation. She, too, is scared of going to the dentist. I’d like to help ease her mind about it, so I would really appreciate it if you could share what the dentist advised you to do. Thanks!

    Nannie Livingstone

  3. It went very well. I got the tartar removed last year, and have been back to get a root canal on a molar. My dental phobia has vanished, and I would advise your friend that dentists will understand any fears you have and will always explain what they are going to work on to put your mind at ease. For some procedures, there might be a *little* bit of pain but for the most part, you don't feel anything. I wish you the best of luck!