by Marinka on March 29, 2012

I have bad teeth. Terrible. It feels like a character flaw, like laziness or disruptive jealousy rather than a genetic mishap– a short limb or freckles. Freckles which I also have, incidentally.

In contemporary America, where perfect teeth are a birthright, teeth whitening is practically constitutionally protected, having problem teeth is just this side of treason. People suspect. They suspect you of either having poor hygiene, being British or poverty. Even in dystopian Panem, everyone has perfect teeth. People lose humanity before enamel.

None of that applies to me. And yet.

I think of someone to blame. Mothers are always good for that and I imagine that maybe my teeth chip so much because my mother spent her pregnancy eating peanut brittle. What did she know, after all? She was a teenager, for god’s sakes. A teenager with a sweet tooth, probably.

But even if she had a sweet tooth, it was perfect. A chicklet tooth, white, smooth, her mouth is filled with them. My mother has perfect teeth effortlessly, which probably explains why she married a man with such terrible teeth. Opposites attract, after all.

“Why did you have to marry papa?” I ask her at moments of extreme agitation. Things could have been different for me if she’d married Julia Roberts. I could have been unapologetically American.

She shrugs. Who can remember that far back?

“I’ll take the genetic gamble,” She must have thought, considering my father’s dentition. Or she may have gone the more ridiculous “love conquers all” route.


But love doesn’t conquer year after year of cavities, cracks, discoloration, root canals, extractions, and crowns. Nor does my dental insurance cover it all.

“I have such terrible teeth,” I complain to my husband. He is 53 years old. He had his first cavity two years ago. It was a big deal. I considered dressing up as the Tooth Fairy. I had three root canals before I turned 10. He knows better than to say “oh, no, your teeth are fine.” My teeth may be bad but I’m not a complete moron.

“Then it’s lucky that your mother is a dentist,” he tells me.

I know I must be lucky that my mother is a dentist, but when I’m sitting in her chair, I’m not thinking lucky. I’m thinking damned to hell.
Because you try sitting there with your mouth open while your mom pokes around with pointy instruments, shaking her head disapprovingly.

“I don’t think you brush,” she tells me.
“Ya ba ba,” I respond, mouth hanging on its hinges.
“Oh? You think you can talk?” she shoves some more cotton into my cheeks. “No, you listen. You do bad job brushing and worse job with the floss.”
I sigh.
“No need for dramatic sigh,” she says and continues to work.
On a good day, I have a cavity.
“I will drill just a little,” mama tells me, trying to talk me out of a topical anesthesia, so I don’t get addicted to it.
“Please give me some novocaine,” I ask her. I assume people who are not treated by their parents don’t have to beg to have them nerves numbed.
“I will drill and if you feel pain, you raise hand,” Mama says.
“But I don’t want to feel pain,” I tell her. I feel like a baby. Does anyone want to feel pain?
She ignores me.
“Open,” she says, and I do, reluctantly.

She starts drilling. I feel pain immediately. Not pain exactly, maybe, but I know it’s coming and the anticipation of the pain is almost worse.

I raise my hand.

The drilling stops.

Mama takes off the blue mask covering her mouth.

“I felt pain.”
“You did not.”
“Yes. Pain. Painful pain.”
“Impossible. I was no where near the root.”
“Maybe my root grew. Besides, I don’t like the noise of the drill.”
“I will get drill that sounds like Stradivarious next time. Open.”
“I really want a shot.”
“It’s like a disease with you, begging for needle.”
But finally I get it. My mouth numbs and I settle back.

Mama continues to drill.

I am relaxed. I will feel no pain. Drill away, Mama. Drill away.

But oh.

My jaw hurts. How long are humans supposed to keep their mouths open?
This isn’t natural.

I hate teeth. I hate my own teeth and I hate people who have perfect teeth.

Mama completes the filling.
She polishes and she cleans.
“I hate my teeth,” I tell Mama.
“Your teeth are fine,” she tells me. She removes her mask, hands her instruments to her assistant for cleaning.
“They’re yellow. And I get cavities all the time even though I brush and floss,” I whine. I’ve been whining for years and yet nothing has changed.

“Color doesn’t matter,” Mama said. “It’s genetic. Some people have white and some people have darker colors. It’s not important.”

It’s not important to people who have perfect teeth, like Mama. And yet here I am, forever looking wistfully over the dental fence.

One year ago ...

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

March 29, 2012 at 9:20 am

I see many “I have bad teeth, too! Glad I’m not alone!” emails in your future. Starting with mine…


Suzy Q March 29, 2012 at 9:24 am

Ditto. Without the dentist in the family.


Cranky Old Man
March 29, 2012 at 9:42 am

No Novacaine? I think your mom is getting back at you for childbirth.

My teeth suck. I don’t even remember which are real anymore.

Cranky Old Man


March 29, 2012 at 11:09 am

You are not alone my friend. I have horrible teeth. I’ve never gone in and not needed work. In fact in the past two weeks Ive had one cavity removed and two more crowns put on.


deb March 29, 2012 at 12:23 pm

i’m with you too. in fact, last visit, i suffered the humiliation of discovering I had a cavity in front of both of my children who had just gotten clean bills of health. it wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t harped on them so often for not brushing (with the threat that they would get cavities). apparently, I get cavities when THEY don’t brush.


Megan March 29, 2012 at 12:35 pm

I used to have excellent teeth, and then I got old. Boo.


March 29, 2012 at 12:56 pm

“On a good day, I have cavities” describes me exactly. In fact, I went to the dentist this morning, and he delivered the news that I need four crowns replaced and a filling. Like I just have that kind of money lying around.


Karen in East Texas March 29, 2012 at 1:19 pm

I hate my teetch! There I said it.

They’ve always been slightly crooked and a little discolored. Now with illness and medications they are loosing ground quickly.

BAH! I hate them.


Julie McGuire
March 29, 2012 at 1:36 pm

The money I have spent on dental bills is why I’m sitting at home this spring break rather than laying on a beach somewhere. I just had a gum transplant. Yes. Loads of fun that was. They slice the roof of your mouth and slap it over the receeding part. The only good part was the nice little vicodin they gave me.

I love reading your blog….



Julie McGuire
March 29, 2012 at 1:36 pm

The money I have spent on dental bills is why I’m sitting at home this spring break rather than laying on a beach somewhere. I just had a gum transplant. Yes. Loads of fun that was. They slice the roof of your mouth and slap it over the receeding part. The only good part was the nice little vicodin they gave me.

I love reading your blog….



Sean March 29, 2012 at 8:11 pm

Name one advancement in the field of dentistry over the last forty years….you can’t do it because there haven’t been any. Why? Duh! Any advancements would put all the friggin’ dentists out of business. 3 out of 5 dentists recommend Crest…it’s probably designed to rot your teeth away!


March 29, 2012 at 11:29 pm

I have ucky (I spelled that correctly) teeth. I even got braces as an adult to make them less ucky. They are better, but still not great. I’m also the proud owner of a dental implant (uh, yeah SLIGHTLY more complicated than the radio & TV ads would have you believe) and had to have the crown re-done on that since my dentist didn’t like the way it was sitting. (She did not charge me again or anything. She’s just a perfectionist.) My husband has lovely teeth (although even his are aging) but I really rolled the genetic dice as 2 of his sibs had little, tiny teeth that they had to have capped. My own mom’s uncle was a dentist and she could have had free braces, but he said they were fine.

Cheap ass. They are seriously jacked up.

I hate teeth. And I want whiter ones. I am an American after all.


Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes March 30, 2012 at 7:08 am

The only thing perfect about me are my teeth and yet I hate the dentist with the fierce burning hatred of a thousands suns.


March 30, 2012 at 8:41 am

I hate my teeth as well and have recently adopted a closed mouth smile. Even with braces when I was a teen, my bottom teeth are crooked now. So annoying.


dusty earth mother March 30, 2012 at 9:17 am

Take out the wisecracking dentist mother and you have my story. My mother has awesome teeth, my father had a pile of mush in his mouth. Guess who I take after? Every single tooth in my sad face has been filled, rooted, replaced and wept over. When I was pregnant, I saw my dentist twice a month to make sure I would still have something to chew with when the baby arrived. I floss hourly, rinse with Drano, and eat trees full of apples. Nothing.

This was the long way of saying “I feel your pain”.


elizabeth March 30, 2012 at 12:21 pm

I’m lucky enough to have very straight teeth and never needed braces. But, oh! the cavities and gum disease and yes, they are YELLOW! and always have been YELLOW! It really is embarrassing in these days of blindingly white teeth to even open my mouth. And forget about smiling.
I just finished with some very expensive periodontal cleaning and laser treatments and am going in Monday for a very expensive crown. But at least I’ve never had to undergo a root canal, knock on wood. Dental work scares the crap out of me.
I’m ready to have them all pulled out and get some blindingly white dentures. Except for the part about having them all pulled out, I don’t think I could survive that.


the mama bird diaries
March 30, 2012 at 1:19 pm

I’ve always thought that you had normal teeth. And that you were British.


CSY March 30, 2012 at 2:10 pm

I hate my teeth as well, but its my own fault they’re nasty. Up until I started smoking, they were AWESOME! Now, MANY years later – one of my teeth is cracked and another one just broke in half…needless to say, I do NOT have the $500 to fix ONE – much less TWO! I’m waiting for them to fall out of my head and I can get dentures…


Sleeping Mom March 30, 2012 at 4:14 pm

My teeth could be so much better. I particularly hate one of my canine teeth next to my two upper front teeth. It’s literally like a fang (okay maybe not as long).


March 30, 2012 at 8:24 pm

I am exactly the same as you! No matter what I do and how much love, effort and care I dedicate to my teeth they look British… Only I would rather take the pain and know what is going on in my mouth then have he needle. Might fly out to see mama cause my dentist numbs me without giving me an option.


Alexandra March 30, 2012 at 10:30 pm

You are one of the funniest women I know.

I don’t know how you do it, but you do it.

Mama a dentist? NEVER saw that coming.

And “Begging for a needle, it’s like a disease for you” just made me laugh out loud and then pass gas.

Because I’m all ladylike around your posts, this surprised me.

HILARIOUS. SO GOOD, I need to read it again.


Jonathan March 31, 2012 at 8:07 pm

I just have one bad tooth, number 18 which has been undergoing renovation for 2 years and now everything has been stripped out of it and there is practically nothing left, and now I need an implant, so I can relate to frequent dental trips. But the good news is that it makes my other teeth look perfect in comparison!


The Flying Chalupa
March 31, 2012 at 11:30 pm

At least it’s not a dental dam fence.

I loved this post. So, so funny. And thank god Mama didn’t marry Julia Roberts.


Helen April 2, 2012 at 7:41 pm

As a Brit, I feel the need to defend my people, and their chompers. In my 30 years I have never once had a cavity and my teeth are delightfully white. My American husband however, has a mouth full of cavities and stains. So there.


Lady Jennie April 4, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Oh dear. I got my mom’s genetically perfect teeth and my dad’s genetically perfect eyesight. Yet I would almost trade it all to not struggle with weight.


Mary April 5, 2012 at 6:56 pm

My husband has never had a cavity, I have a mouth full of silver. My sister is immune to plaque and I have lots of it. My beef these days is that people no longer have crooked teeth – or at least our kids’ generation. There’s something kind of charming when people have mildly imperfect teeth. Not that I love my imperfect teeth but it makes me happy to see women my age with a little crookedness.


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