Monday, February 1, 2010

Toothless Wonder . . . ing

Out! That lower-left front tooth must come out. Dentists pampered it for twenty-eight years and I was diligent about home care, but a bone infection will uproot the tooth Thursday.

A gap-toothed grin in a first-grader’s photo is cute, but it’s not so cute for a 57-year-old woman. A tooth will fill my grin; it just won’t grow there, although I hope to grow used to that idea—and the new tooth.

Dental insurance helps, but my co-pay to fill the gap in coverage is almost a thousand dollars. Trillions, billions, and millions brush across the landscape of the daily news so often that such numbers have lost meaning. But a thousand dollars really is a lot of money.

What if I didn’t have insurance or didn’t have the co-pay? What would my options be? Option 1: Do nothing. That scenario is frightful. Doing nothing might lead to an emergency room visit for a massive systemic infection—or worse. Option 2: See a dentist, get an antibiotic prescription, take medicine, and hope it goes away. When it doesn’t, revisit Option 2. Repeat. Option 3: See a dentist, get the tooth pulled, feel the air between my teeth, and don’t fill the gap.

A tooth extraction is pricey, but not as pricey as replacing a tooth. Fortunately, I don’t have to choose one of the preceding options. I’ll have a temporary tooth until my mouth heals enough for my new (fake) tooth.

I wonder, though… how might my life change if I had to choose Option 3? I’ve noticed gap-toothed people. I admit that I’ve even been a bit judgmental. There’s that (erroneous) perception that lacking teeth signals a lack of intellect, care, and education. A person missing teeth might be stereotyped as the dumb hick, the hobo from the Depression, or the homeless person of the twenty-first century; each can be judged as dumb, desperate, and/or derelict.

Having a tooth pulled won’t extract points from my IQ or remove personal hygiene from my daily routine. But if my tooth loss is obvious, stereotypes might compel others to believe my IQ is lower, that maybe I’m not quite clean. I’m guilty of assigning them to others, so why wouldn’t such stereotypes be assigned to me? I won’t be a different person when that tooth is gone, but I might become a different person.

If I applied for a job and the employer had to decide between me and another candidate, the person with a full set of teeth would get the job. Would I feel judged if I were speaking to someone and their eyes focused on my mouth? Yes. I would cover my mouth, silence myself, and retreat. That could become a way of life: Keep quiet, closed-mouth smiles only, avoid interaction with people. I likely would become isolated because I care what people think.

I’m grateful I won’t have to encounter the foregoing scenarios. Still, I’m anxious about my new tooth. Will it be obvious? Will I look okay? Will it hurt? Will I hate the way it feels? Will my days of biting into a crisp apple be over? And what if… “Gap! I mean, gasp! I look better and feel better?”

I already feel better about one thing: Having considered how it might feel to have a toothless grin, never again will I be so quick to judge when I see gaps in the mouths and lives of others.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Chris,
    I loved this story. You are truly a gifted writer. You should try to get some articles published in a magazine or newspaper. Or compile all of your short stories into a book. Glad I finally got onto your blog after all this time. I've thought of it lots of times when I was somewhere away from my computer. Looking forward to reading more.