How Should We Handle Casual Remarks About Ourselves?

There’s a reason I don’t look forward to the end of mask-wearing. It’s not that I’ll miss my Van Gogh masks printed with “Starry Night”, “Irises” or “Undergrowth with Two Figures.” It’s that I’m wearing a full set of braces. Top and bottom. With an ever more elaborate configuration of rubber-bands to keep it interesting. Call it vanity if you must. But really, it gets old when people stare at your teeth and you know they’d like to offer, “You should get Invisalign.” And no, Invisalign wasn’t an option.

It all began when I learned I could dislocate my jaw and put my whole fist in my mouth. And no one said, “Don’t do that or you’ll freeze that way” – not because my mom wouldn’t have, but she never saw me. Not sure what inspired me, but it made my big brother laugh so I offered this entertainment in exchange for him letting me tag along to play baseball with him and his friends.

Fast forward to when, in the California wilds, I got a pecan stubbornly lodged in a molar. That dentist – who must’ve suffered from mercury poisoning –  said, “It’s filling a cavity so we’ll just leave it there.” This didn’t surprise me because I’d had experience with a crazy dentist before. I even found a Facebook support group discussion about him, Dr. B. would drill indiscriminately until the patient screamed and writhed so much he’d stop. And he didn’t use Novocain. (Having experienced that hellish pain as a 5-year-old, then later having experienced unmedicated childbirth, when a doctor asks me to grade my pain level on a scale from 1 and 10, my level 10 is pretty extreme.) Anyway, to avoid the pain of a pecan stuck in a molar, I chewed just on the right side for months until I found a sane dentist. And since my bite was off, by then since chewing on just the right side for months, I couldn’t give a good answer about whether the new filling felt “right.” (Note: For the past year, my orthodontist has said my braces are coming off “soon.” On a scale of 1 to 10, I don’t know what he means by soon.)

The weird thing is that, according to my dentists, I’ve always had a perfect bite. Even when my teeth didn’t hit on one side. The next dentist, Dr. F. said he’d apprenticed with an older dentist who kept loose mercury rolling around inside a drawer from which he made his own amalgam with his bare hands. Dr. F affirmed he was looney. (If you’re not familiar with mercury poisoning: the Mad Hatter in “Alice in Wonderland” had it from inhaling mercury vapors used in hat-making.)

Dr. F. referred me to a periodontist who counseled me to hold a pencil in front of my face, while looking in a mirror, and practice opening and closing my mouth in line with the pencil. He made a costly mold of my teeth that showed my bite was indeed perfect, even though I couldn’t bring my teeth together properly. He even gave a slide-show lecture about my case to several hundred nurses. I asked about royalties, but he just laughed so I assume he was pretty rational.

So, how did that Invisalign comment open up this history and what’s my conclusion? First, Invisalign has a great shtick, but none of us should be advertising for free on anyone’s behalf. And it’s best not to assume we know what’s going on with each other, especially based on appearances. So, as I go about maskless, please don’t mention my purple rubber-bands unless you want to hear the entire back story, including Dr. P. who committed suicide and Dr. R. with the unfortunate occupational liability of having bad breath.

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4 thoughts on “How Should We Handle Casual Remarks About Ourselves?”

  1. Great blog! Love it. Had Dr C. For 43 years and he was a “hummer!” You know, just happy as a clam, just bustling from exam room to exam room and never stopped humming, and except for “how ya’ doin’ pardner?” Show tun s, pop songs, Beatles, Sousa marches….

    1. Paul — Looney as heck, but sounds like a pleasure compared with Dr. B! Dr. B was rumored to have an army dentist in the field, which figures. My dad said that during WWII, if you had pain, an army doc might just sever a nerve here and there. The machismo mind-set certainly has a place in the war mentality.

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