Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my annual visits to the dentist. The reward of stickers and lollipops, the posters on the wall telling me to “SMILE,” and the shiny dental hygiene tools all made me feel worthy and beautiful. Thank god I have this positive association with dentistry, because otherwise I’m not sure I could have found a way to love my pus-filled, rotten molar.
That’s right. One of my teeth is infected and dead, and I am proud of it.
My naturally sparkly white teeth, free of calcifications or ugly fillings, were my greatest pride growing up. They were the one thing I could lord over my friends, family, and strangers to feel better about myself. That is, until one day, when I looked in the mirror and I discovered that one of my teeth was slightly off-white. So I went to my safe place: the dentist’s office.
My dentist poked the black sheep of my teeth with his tools, and after my shriek that lasted a full minute and a glance at the large boil forming at the base, he was able to determine that I had an abscessed tooth. A beautiful, protruding abscessed tooth.
An abscessed tooth is defined as a severe, painful infection. How could I, a woman who took such joy in my annual cleaning, be in this mess? My dentist, now my spirit guide in my vision quest towards a brighter tooth future, had the answer: “Well how do you take care of your teeth on the other 364 days of the year? It looks like you never brush or floss at all.”
I looked at him, dumbfounded. “Brush? Floss? Isn’t that your job?” After a long facepalm, my dentist expressed amazement that I had made it this far without encountering an issue, to which I replied, “OMG, thank you!”
Despite my dentist’s attempts at flattery, I was still faced with a sense of failure and self-hatred. My tooth had to be pulled. It was going to look like disgusting vacant lot amidst a well-manicured subdivision. I couldn’t bear it. So I had to learn to love it.
In a haze of tears and Novocaine, I was able to muster: “Can I keep it?” My dentist looked me square in the eye and said, “Absolutely not.” Thank god I knew where they keep their medical waste bins, otherwise I would have never seen my little girl ever again.
On my way home, I held the bloody stump of a tooth in my hand and it was there that I decided, “I’m going to turn you into a monument to fallen teeth everywhere.” I called her Molar the Grey and crafted her into a necklace that an Urban Outfitters buyer would go nuts over.
It was actually really easy learning to love my sick lil’ tooth even more than I love my defiled mouth. But now I have a tooth I can look at without going to a mirror, and to me, that’s a reason to smile.