I hadn’t seen my sister or my nephew in a few months, and was hoping they’d notice how my body weight had shifted.
“What the hell happened?” my nephew asked right away.
“Well, at first I cut out pasta, and then bread, and now I only eat small amounts of bread and a medium amount of pasta. Once in a while I have a potato, oh! and I switched cereals. I didn’t actually lose weight per se, but I think my whole body composition might have changed. Is it really that noticeable?” I asked him.
“I meant your teeth?”
“What about my teeth.”
“The bottom ones are all crooked, and one’s sticking straight up.”
I ran to the mirror and sure enough one of my bottom teeth had migrated out of its gum. It must have happened after I had my wisdom teeth pulled. The rest of my teeth sort of caved in around it forcing the big tooth up and out in search of sunlight. I guess it happened so gradually I didn’t notice.
“You have to fix that,” he said. “You should get Invisalign for your bottom teeth. It’s fun.”
I almost always do what I’m told when something’s sticking out. I went to the dentist, got the molds taken, and waited for my $5000 invisible braces to be ready.
I never really gave it another thought until I put the braces in my mouth and felt the excruciating pain of trying to move a whole row of more than a half a century old teeth from one location to another.
“What’s the matter?” my dentist asked. “Is something pinching you?”
“Yes, my whole m-ow. I can’t tay it!” I yelled at him. “This wasn’t even ma idea and the edge of da plastic is igging into my hongue. Why would anyone make deeze?”
“You’ll get used to it, I promise. It will hurt a lot less in just a few minutes. Go home and have a glass of wine.”
“I said, go home, relax, and have a glass of wine.”
“Omay,” I said and left crying.
By the next morning my tongue was bloody and shredded and when I took the braces off to take a bite of food, I immediately spit out part of a tooth. It had broken off just enough to make me look homeless and afraid.
After the dentist bonded my broken tooth, he gave me a small mirror to see his handy work. I immediately noticed the corners of my upper front teeth were missing too.
“What happened to my corners?” I asked.
“They’re still there, but some of the enamel has worn away,” he said. “That’s what happens over time.”
“Is it gonna grow back?” I asked him.
“I’m afraid not, but I can bond the corners for you. You have a few cracks on the surface of your front teeth as well.”
“I do?” I asked, putting on my glasses to look in the mirror again.
“Look at that. My teeth are crumbling,” I said. “You have to fix them.”
And so he fully bonded my two front teeth. I quickly looked in the mirror and couldn’t believe how bright and polished they were. They reminded me of something I’d seen before. Something rounded and glossy white, a toilet perhaps. It was hard to fully access them with him looking right at me waiting for me to say whether he did a good job or not. Had he given me a heart transplant, I’m the type to say it looked great even if he’d accidentally sewn it to the outside of my chest.
I know how it feels to have something you worked hard on criticized so I try not to criticize other people’s work, even though I knew in a split second the teeth were too big for the overall size of my head, as well as the room I was standing in.
Also, they made me look like a liar. And a thief. I just wanted to go home.
When my husband picked me up after the dentist, he made the face he usually makes when I have food in my hair.
“What’s so funny?”
“Well something’s funny.”
“No, it’s just your teeth.”
“They’re making you laugh? Why? Oh I know. It’s because they’re a little big? Is that what it is? Or is it because they look like I’m gonna try to sell you a fake watch?”
“No, they’re fine.” And then he looked at me, tried not to laugh again, and kind of pushed his head back against the headrest, like he was scared.
“They’re that bad?”
“No, they’re hardly noticeable. It’s just like a little white surprise in there, but only at first. They’re actually fine. And I’m sure you can go back and have them toned down a little. It’s not a big deal.”
“But do you think I can I go out and talk to people like this, in the meantime?”
“Of course, but why’d he make them so long?”
“They’re too long, too?”
“No, they’re just a little longer than they were before.”
I slowly pulled my visor mirror down.
The two teeth I feared looked a little fake were actually two fluorescent claws that had somehow been glued together to form what appeared to be one gigantic, curly front tooth.
My husband snapped my visor mirror shut and said, “Stop looking at them. They’re fine. Forget about them.”
Calling my teeth, “them,” suddenly made it feel like they were a gang.
I looked at them again trying to imagine how my life had suddenly changed. I looked completely immoral.
It occurred to me that we all have certain size and shape teeth for a reason. Perhaps every one of our God given features is an indicator of something else. A bulldog’s teeth are there to signal aggression. Mine had once signaled I was basically happy and yet occasionally prone to tears, but now they said, “I just stole your wallet.”
As soon as you blatantly change something physical, you misrepresent some aspect of your inner being. Sometimes that’s a good thing. You don’t need to walk around telling everyone you’re old and judgmental. You can hide all that ugly wisdom with plastic surgery. But changing the shape of your teeth is just blatant false advertising.
I eventually went back to the dentist and asked him to mess them back up again.
“Just break them and get rid of the corners. I’ve lost all sense of self,” I pleaded.
But as soon as he started filing off the bonding, I started imagining he was filing my real teeth down too.
“DOP!” I yelled.
“What’s the matter?”
“Are my deeth till dere?”
“Yes, of course they’re still there,” he said, removing his hand and tools from my mouth.
“What if you just kept filing and I never stopped you, would you have eventually taken them off completely?”
“No, that would never happen.”
“But it could happen, right?”
“It could, but it won’t.”
The word could was too much. I started to jerk my head back every time the file hit my tooth.
“I can keep going, or I can stop now,” he said with one finger still in my mouth.
“I hink dir hood,” I said with my eyes closed.
“I know it seems like I took off a lot, but I really didn’t. You should look in the mirror in case you want me to do more.”
I looked in the mirror. They looked exactly the same, but I was afraid to lose them completely if I complained they were still way too big and white.
I went home knowing if I didn’t find a way to fix them, I’d never be able to laugh again without risking losing the respect of everyone I knew. So I did the unthinkable. I took a nail file and started reshaping them myself. At first I couldn’t quite figure out where the abnormalness was coming from. There were several, super white bulky regions, but teeth aren’t flat so it was hard to decide which areas to reduce, and which to leave alone. I couldn’t get in between the two front ones with my file so I used a small cuticle scissor to gouge them apart and then I just filed away at the corners as though they were my fingernails.
I could have been a dentist if I’d known all I needed was a file and a little pair of scissors!
I was so happy with my self-corrected teeth, I ran down to the lobby to smile at people.
“What’s the matter?” my doorman said.
“Oh, I thought you were showing me something in your mouth.”
“I was. I mean I am. I’m smiling.”
“Did you get all new ones?” he asked, really looking.
“No, just these two, and I redid them myself afterwards. With a nail file. And a scissor. What do you think? They’re good, right?”
“It’s very important to take care of your teeth.”
“I know, but how do they look?”
“They look good.”
“But do I look good? Or do I look like I made a terrible mistake?”
“I don’t follow you.”
It was then that I remembered part of his job was to not insult people. You may think your doorman is your friend, but he’s not. He’s paid to say hello to you over and over again.
I asked my son instead.
“I think they just need to be tapered,” he said.
“Here? Or here?”
“Everywhere. And don’t file them yourself anymore. That’s insane. You need to go to a dentist who knows how to shape teeth. I’m sure you can find someone.”
“But where??” I wondered, and Facetimed my daughter, hoping she’d say, “Wow, whoever home filed your teeth did a great job!”
“How are they?” I asked.
“Wow good or bad?”
“Actually, they might be okay. They’re almost the same as your old ones but just a tiny bit different. The good news is you’ll eventually grind them down no matter what anyway. Just give it time.”
“Like how much time?”
“I’d say a year.”
“I can’t smile for a year?”
“No, you can still smile. And I still love you, but I have to go back to work.”
Next, I decided to ask a friend who once told me I needed to wipe down the inside of my refrigerator. So I knew she’d tell me the truth.
“So? How are they? Good? Or terrible?” I asked her.
“You look like you’re wearing Halloween teeth.”
“So you’re saying they’re not good?”
“I would say no. They’re not good.”
“So I have to go back and fix them again?”
“It’s up to you, but let’s take a picture and see how they look on film first.”
Afterwards, we both laughed for the better part of an hour at what looked like a picture of me proudly holding two Ping Pong balls between my lips.
Just to be sure, I Facetimed my sister.
“Tell me the truth. I can take it. I already saw a picture of me, and everyone else already told me they look terrible. If you say they look good, I’ll know you’re lying, but I’m still hoping they do. So just say exactly what you think. Do I, or do I not, look like a gambler?”
“Honestly, you look the same. Maybe a tiny bit more likely to gamble, but not in a noticeable way,” she said.
“See, I can work with that. It’s the truth, and I wanted the truth.”
“Oh my God.”
“I just saw them from another angle.”
“It was a bad angle, but they already look better now that you stood up.”
“So I only look ugly from certain angles, particularly when seated?”
“A tiny, tiny, bit, but it’s not that bad.”
A tiny bit ugly from certain angles is not the end of the world. I’d just have to identify all the ugly angles and then not turn my head that way. Or I could simply adjust my remaining hopes and dreams to that of a slightly uglier person.
Using a hand mirror and my bathroom mirror, I was able to identify six bad angles on my left side alone.
Exhausted from turning my head, I went back to trying out smiles that don’t involve separating of the lips. All of them made me look condescending and spiteful. I tried bleaching my other teeth to reverse the perspective, hoping the whiter teeth on the sides would create the illusion that the front teeth were further back. I filed them some more and used my floss like a saw in an effort to pry them apart.
And then I gave up.
I can’t look at myself in the mirror anymore. All it’s doing is making me want another nose job, and I can’t live through another dental appointment trembling in fear of losing my actual teeth. I can’t care if I’ve somehow gotten the teeth of a person who society associates with Ponzi schemes. The bonding has to wear off eventually, and who the hell walks around smiling anyway? And the truth is having funny teeth is a good way to find out who your real friends are. They’re the ones who always tell you the truth even when it’s bad news.
And they’re the ones who love you, even when you buck up.