I don’t know how to brush my teeth.
I know what you’re thinking: “You’re 24 years old. What do you mean you don’t know how to brush your teeth?”
Nobody ever taught me. My memories involving toothbrushes aren’t of the little girl me standing on a stool at the sink with my Momma. She isn’t showing me what to do. She isn’t praising me for doing a good job. There is no cute song. There is no tiny princess toothbrush.
My memories with a toothbrush don’t involve my mom at all. Instead, my step-dad is there. He isn’t teaching me how to hold the toothbrush. He isn’t laughing when I get way too much toothpaste. It’s just a little girl, with a dry toothbrush, being coached by my step-dad on how to override my gag reflex.
“But, haven’t you ever gone to a dentist?”
Yep. And they tell me to brush my teeth twice a day. They harp on flossing. They shame me for the state of my teeth and never once stop to think the grown woman in their chair doesn’t have a clue how to do what they’re asking me to do. They ignore when my breathing rate skyrockets. They don’t pause when the shaking gets so bad I can’t hide it.
They don’t know that the first time I sat in a chair like theirs I was 10 years old and my step-dad was taking me in for an illegal abortion and had told me I was going to the dentist.
As I lay here writing this, my mouth aches. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t know which tooth hurts anymore. It’s gotten to the point where I have to ask myself if there’s something else going on or if the pain is just my teeth again. It’s gotten to the point where I am relieved when something else begins to hurt because maybe it isn’t my teeth today. Maybe I can do something about the pain. Maybe I will find some relief today.
I try to get them fixed. I do. I’ve been to more dentists in the last year than I have in my entire life.
One dentist pulls a bad tooth. He’s rough, big hand on my cheek, ignoring the tears streaming down my face. The other dentist in his office tells me I’m going to lose all my teeth. Tells me I need to brush my teeth like an adult. When I try to explain my anxiety, she tells me to get over it. Says to him where I can hear her that my mouth is “disgusting.” Sends me a bill that I pay from my food money for the month and skip eating for a few days.
Another office is gentle and kind. The dentist patches the most painful of the teeth and tells me to come back when they start to hurt again. I do. He pulls the worst tooth. Gives me extra numbing medication and keeps his female hygienist close to make me feel a little less anxious. Sends me a bill that I pay from my food money for the month and skip eating for a few days. Works out a plan to fix my teeth that are fixable and remove the ones that aren’t. Quotes me $15,000. After insurance. Not including the dental surgeon for the teeth he can’t safely pull. Not including the implants he suggests to keep my gums from deteriorating. I make it to my car before I burst into tears.
A third office promises to fix my teeth for only the cost of what insurance will pay. Takes one look at my teeth and never returns my calls. Sends me a bill in the mail.
I’ve tried going to the dentist. I’ve tried teaching myself how to brush my teeth. I can’t help but feel like if I could just brush them well, maybe the pain would subside. But last time I tried, little bits of my teeth chipped off around my cavities and I’m scared to death of doing something to make the pain worse. I can’t take any more pain.
There are a lot of things that embarrass me that I never learned how to do. But nothing comes with the same level of shame and embarrassment as being too stupid to even know how to brush my teeth.