By Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove
Tonight, while maneuvering through the usual elaborate pre-sleep dental regime, I once again thought maybe I could cheat. Just use the rubber tip and forget the floss. Maybe even chuck the electric toothbrush. But the rubber tip once again sucked me into the full 12 steps (okay, three).
Except this time, I slipped into the Long View. I saw my mother, brushing. Period. She didn’t have a medicine-shelf full of apparatus , plus a magnifying mirror, as do I. A lot has been added to the obstacle course of preparing for bed in the past 35 years since she last had to think of it. Unless Heaven harbours a great staff of hygienists.
This birthday I moved into my 74th year – about the last year of my mother’s life. Her teeth mostly lasted to the end. She didn’t have a 12-minute routine every night, whereas I’m likely among a crowd of millions who pay this homage to the Good Dental Health Paradigm. This view, varying slightly between dentists, has long posited that our teeth are in the vanguard of the push to longevity.
A Shared Goal of the Privileged
Being alive for longer is part of the full ambitious project – good teeth and gums support this goal. A handsome smile and freedom from nasty pain are the icing on the cake
And all it takes is, first, Money. Pays for the two to four visits to the dentist annually, and for the specialized skills of the periodontist, the denturist, orthodontist, and the gum expert, as each are needed.
Then there’s learning the Proper Self-Care. The brushing – first learned and one of the most difficult, apparently. Most of us, I’m told, push sideways which is Wrong! Up from the bottom for the bottom, down from the top for the top. About 8-10 times per tooth. Mastery of the rubber tip can take a few lessons from a diligent dental hygienist: over the place where gum and tooth meet and then between each pair of teeth. Oh and the floss – proper sawing motion can be tricky too. The little wire brush requires delicacy – very easy to bend it into uselessness. Check out the dozens of products in the dental hygiene section of the pharmacy – and each requires practice!
And the time it takes! A good 10 -12 minutes morning and evening is advised but it doesn’t – of course – guarantee triumph over dental distress. The nerves have a life of their own, and even the best of care doesn’t seem to stave off root canals and subsequent porcelain caps.
The Big Time
Gums are also inclined to go rogue. Gum surgery or tooth removal bump us into the big time of dental skill . And cost. Murky territory. Seems a second opinion may well differ from the first. The patient is invited to make the choice. One starts to factor in how long one is likely to live, to justify that extra several thousand for a sturdier result. And this is before plates and bridges get mentioned.
The size of the ‘operating room’ for the ‘dental flap’ procedure I decided upon was three times bigger than that in which I was anesthetized and underwent a gastroenterological treat a few months later.
No Begrudging Dentists Their Fees
We acquiesce in all this. Compliance is not questioned. As wee sheep to the slaughter, we fork out our thousands and dedicate time, morning and night, to maintenance of: our teeth. And mostly, if we can manage the money or have insurance, we take it for granted.
There’s no doubt that these professionals – the dental fraternity – have spent years working toward establishing their practices and making their way into Payoff Time. I for one am very glad that they are as good at what they do as they now are. There may be some charlatans in the crew. There are some who love the challenge of a good puzzle and do more experimenting than one might like (my former dentist delighted in having performed a “hemisphere” on my back molar, cutting it in half vertically. He showed it off to various colleagues in the office. And the work was good enough that this latest periodontist called in his staff to have an admiring look – before pulling it out).
I love a really good dentist.
I love being free of searing pain in my mouth – either every day or in the dentist’s chair – and their skill brings that about. Great! And I can still smile freely.
But I’m a little mystified by how I obey so easily.. With a doctor, I check out websites before agreeing to treatment, and ask lots of questions and maybe talk to another doctor. I am very meek with my dentists. I fully buy in, by my actions, backed up by my pocketbook (emptied every four months). Pain is avoided, vanity preserved, some set of important expectations are clearly being met.
Something Has Changed
In previous eras, expectations about teeth must have been different.
Or, am I living too long? Once, I was taught to hope to have most of my own teeth ’til 60 years of age – kept me going to the dentist even in tough times. Now, I or my dentist or both of us share loftier hopes. Let’s chomp our way lustily ‘til 90!
Who’s with me? (said with a Smile)