In my final week of being on my parents’ insurance, I made a final dentist visit before I entered the marketplace. Under my Obamacare plan I would have no dental insurance for the foreseeable future, so I wanted to be reassured I was cavity-free.
By mistake, I made an appointment at a new dentist’s office. The day before the appointment, the receptionist called to confirm I had insurance. “Well, I sure hope so,” I said.
A terrifying seven days unfolded before me. What if I didn’t have insurance? Did I need to spend the next week living in a cushioned bubble? Could I even go outside? What if I twisted my ankle showering? What if I developed strep throat? Who would pay the hospital bill?
“It’s not showing up in my system, but I’ll try again,” the receptionist didn’t reassure me. “I’ll call back if I can’t figure it out.”
Thankfully, she didn’t call back. I rolled up in the morning, and they asked me to fill out paperwork, per usual for a new doctor. The form asked why I was there. “For a beaming smile,” I wrote.
Have I ever had cavities before? Nope.
In fact, my prior dentist sang the highest praises of my teeth. Every time I sat in his chair, I wondered if he treated everyone with the same regard. Were my teeth actually the best? Had he really never seen such beautiful teeth before? Should I consider a career in mouth modeling?
My brother actually started going to a new dentist - the dentist I was now at - because he stopped believing our old dentist’s lies. My brother decided he needed braces, and our former dentist refused to acknowledge an ounce of imperfection atop my brother’s gums. The new dentist, however, didn’t prescribe braces either.
The hygienist asked if they could X-ray my teeth.
Me: “How much will that cost?”
“It should be covered by your insurance,” she replied.
“Oh, goodie. Suck me dry while I still have the coverage,” I reasoned.
I waited for the X-rays to confirm the unblemished status of my pearly whites. Indeed, the hygienist expressed awe that I had never had a cavity or capping - but she attributed it to genetics, not just my deification.
“Your brother has good teeth too,” she reminded me.
But aren’t mine beautiful? I thought.
Then we moved into cleaning. The compliments faded.
“What type of toothbrush do you use?” she asked. “Handheld or electric?”
I’ve always prided myself on not being one of those people with an electric toothbrush. I mean, no offense to you all, but why pay $100 when you can buy three for $5?
“Does your brush have soft or hard bristles?”
Is that a thing? Is that listed on the box? Am I supposed to check? I mean, they give.
“Whatever’s on sale,” I tried. “Store brand.”
“You’re going to want to use soft brushes,” she said. “Hard bristles can rub away your gums, and I can see some recession.”
Recession? My gums are...receding? I’m only 26.
“Let me show you.” She thrust a mirror in my face and pointed at my incisors. “Do you see that? See the whiter color? That used to be covered.”
Yes, yes I do; it’s hard to miss with a scalpel stabbed at my gum.
“It doesn’t grow back,” my hygienist added helpfully.
“Is it really bad?” I asked.
“Not that bad. How often do you brush and floss?” She continued excavating my mouth.
“I brush at least twice a day. And I floss less frequently.” That was a lie. I hadn’t flossed since Bush was president.
“Flossing once a day is just adequate. You don’t want to brush more than twice - because of your gums - but you should consider flossing more. There’s a lot of buildup here. More than I was expecting.”
“Is floss cheap?” I found myself asking.
“Do you grind your teeth?” she launched a third assault on my dentata.
“I mean...sometimes. But it’s not like a habit, I don’t think...”
“Do you think you could be grinding at night?”
“I have no idea. I’m single and sleep alone.” No, what I really said is, “My dad used to grind his teeth. Now he has a mouth guard.”
“Grinding’s genetic, so you probably do. I see some valleys in your teeth.”
Valleys? How deep? As deep as the recession? 2008 deep?
She flashed a picture on the screen. “See that?”
I did, indeed, see that.
“You might want to consider a mouth guard,” she concluded.
“But I don’t play soccer,” I did not say that joke. “How much is a mouth guard?” I factually said.
“They’re pretty cheap at a drug store, or we can fit you with one here, but that’s more expensive.”
I would think so.
“Did you ever have braces growing up?” she said a few minutes later.
“No,” I whispered, terrified.
“You seem to have a cross bite.”
What had happened to my beautiful teeth? My self-image shattered with each scrub of her brush on my enamel. Receding gums? Flossing? Braces???
“They make those invisibles nowadays, right?” I said.
“Some of them.”
“How much are they? My insurance runs out Friday.”
I realized this ball was entirely in my court. While I had scheduled a last minute dentist appointment, I had neglected the possibility I may need follow-up work. Where was my old dentist to assure me I am beautiful and perfect and nothing is wrong?!
“Well, I’m all done now,” the hygienist finished up. “The dentist will be in soon to confirm all these horrifying findings.”
Please don’t send her in, I thought.
The dentist shook my hand on her arrival. “I just want to check on some things your hygienist noticed,” she smiled. She needed to wipe her silly smile off her face. I was not smiling. I had a cross bite.
“There are some dark spots here,” she observed.
I’ve been told. Thankfully, I couldn’t say that because her hands were in my mouth. I considered chomping down on her fingers.
“They could be a cavity,” she elaborated.
“This one’s not.”
Me: (phew, the first good news today, maybe I won’t bite your knuckles off)
“This is a cavity.”
Me: (BUT I’VE NEVER HAD A CAVITY)
“And did you all talk about a mouth guard? You seem to have a cross bite.”
Me: (you all can die)
“But you do have beautiful teeth,” she added.
“How big is the cavity?” I said as she removed her hands from my mouth.
“It’s a small cavity so we can fill it up at the next appointment.”
“But I won’t have insurance then,” I replied.
“We’ll give you a quote then.”
She was obviously not concerned about my financial standing.
“Now let’s do your head and neck massage.”
At first I thought she was kidding, but she started stroking my jawline. “Swallow,” she instructed. Okay, so it wasn’t an actual massage.
“Here is a coupon for an electric toothbrush,” the hygienist said as the dentist wrapped up. “And some free floss.”
That free floss was the only free thing they gave me.
The receptionist asked if I wanted to schedule my next appointment. “No, I’ll call when I have insurance.”
And on the way home, I dropped by CVS for an electric toothbrush. Maybe this would get rid of my cavity. Maybe even my cross bite.
(But do I really have a cross bite?)