There are so many ways to loose a tooth, it seems. It feels like I've dreamt them all.
I've never had a cavity. My teeth came in, not just straight, but almost preternaturally straight, requiring no interventions, no aids. Even my wisdom teeth have never been a problem, erupting slowly through my late teens and early twenties into four roomy spaces seemingly designed to accommodate them (and despite many a dentist telling me I would need them preventatively removed, because "everyone does"/"you won't be able to clean them properly"/"you'll have cavities in just a few years"/"blah blah fear-mongering, blah blah lies, blah blah give me money"). And with very little effort, my teeth have stayed unusually, naturally white. Not Hollywood, white, of course. Not the sort of creepy white you pay for. Just human-tooth-coloured white, which is to say, off-white, and without notable stains.
I inherited these teeth from my mother, who in the family lore never even visited a dentist before she was in her 30s, and had only one cavity in her lifetime, the result of the ravages of pregnancy.
I don't especially like dentists, but not because I am afraid of them. Dental appointments have always been painless, mundane procedures, irritating only in their pointlessness, which is not to say they are pointless for everyone, but only that they always felt that way to me, with my perfect perfect teeth.
It seems silly and vain to take so much pride, even pleasure, in a thing that is the result of dumb luck rather than achievement, but I think when you're a young, woman-identifying person who has experienced the relentless unpleasant sensation of society slamming you over and over and over again in countless ways and on a daily basis for all your supposed "imperfections", it makes sense that one might cling to these things -- these tiny ways in which one might maybe sort of almost measure up, thank god, meaning that we might not be utter pieces of literal fetid garbage on legs that have never been long enough, white enough, thin enough, never ever, never, ever, no matter how hard we may have worked.
It also makes sense that having an eating disorder for twenty odd years would do obvious measurable damage to my teeth, though I did hope, when I allowed myself to think about it at all, that my tooth-related luck might last long enough to protect me from myself. Teeth are, of course, the hardest part of the human body. Harder than bone. But this was perhaps even more silly -- expecting luck to protect me as I abused laxatives, purged even tiny amounts of food by mouth, and restricted calories (and nutrients) to the point where I had muscle wasting, despite obsessive exercise.
Teeth are hard, and mine were especially strong, but I probably expected too much from them.
Still. They remained white. They remained straight. I rarely thought about them. Along with my hair, I counted on them to form a little shield in my mind. If I thought about them at all, it was only to reassure myself that 'these are two ways in which I am objectively okay'.
When I was 12, I ordered a vanity publication from the back of a magazine, sending scrounged and crumpled American dollar bills and even coins (taped to a piece of paper), off in the mail in order to receive something titled The Get Him System. I still have it somewhere. One of the things it said was that you should smile a lot -- with teeth -- in order to make yourself more appealing. This, combined with the fact that I had been told many times that my smile was "perfect" -- not unlike Christie Brinkey's or Julia Roberts' (actual comparisons made by actual adults) -- made such an impact on me, at such an impressionable age, that grinning maniacally at people I liked -- people I wanted to like me -- became so naturalized that I don't think I even realized I was doing it, though it was remarked upon many times over the years. I first pretended I had no idea, and then I didn't.
More recently, I've stopped smiling. Someone will pull out a camera and I may automatically bare my teeth, but the resulting pictures never look like the me that I'm expecting, which is disturbing and upsetting. So more and more frequently, I choose a closed-mouth smile (more of a smirk, really), a quarter smile, a whisper of happiness, as my default, whether consciously or unconsciously. When I think about it, this is a sad thing. It is not only that I want to hide my teeth. I want to erase the way my face looks when they're showing. I don't want anyone to see me.
In 2002, in my first-ever all-by-myself apartment in Vancouver, I was standing on the terrazzo windowsill in my socks, attempting to hang a cheap "cafe" curtain rod, with my mouth full of screws. (It seemed like a convenient place to keep them.) When I lost my balance and wobbled toward the (open, enormous, man-sized, seven-stories-up) window, and then over corrected, tripping into the room itself, I bit down unconsciously, into the metal screws, and broke a piece out of my right-front tooth.
I got used to it quickly. I had wonderful dental coverage at the time, and my dentist attempted to fix the chip with bonding, but it was too small, and the material wouldn't stick. I decided it was charming, linking it in my personal lore to this amusing story of my own stupidity. It reminded me, for years, of being out on my own, of being young, and of a time bursting with possibility. I liked my little chip.
2017 is a long way from 2002, and possibilities have narrowed. On examining my newly shorn left-front tooth, I tried to tell myself that it matched the one beside it. It was just another tiny chip. One of a pair. Nothing to worry about. The roughness would smooth out in time. And then I noticed something else. The front of the same tooth was lined with little trails of true-whiteness that seemed to be growing up from the edge. I ran a nail along them and realized they were cracks. Tiny, incomplete cracks, but cracks just the same.
It is embarrassing to admit, but I felt afraid, truly afraid, of these tiny fissures in my tooth. It felt, and feels, like a nightmare come to life. My teeth are breaking apart in my mouth. The front ones. The nicest ones. Everyone will notice. And when they do, what will I have?
Of course, in such moments, survival instincts tend to kick in and I tell myself it's going to be fine. I can get them fixed, maybe? Or just be more careful. Take more calcium.
Six months later, a second piece has fallen away and the edge of my left-front tooth is a series of tiny, jagged, irregular mountains, not particularly noticeable to anyone else, but I can't stop thinking about it, can't stop running my tongue, or my fingernails, or a pen, along the bumpy, scraping edge.
I believe my recent pregnancy played a part in whatever is happening with my teeth, as perhaps has extended breastfeeding (because what are children but new people designed to drain our life force away, taking it for themselves), though of course I am sure my own long illness and addictions are also to blame. It is possible I am just getting old.
I don't believe anymore in objective physical beauty. It's obviously all made-up nonsense. Our bodies are valuable in regards to what they can do for us, the fact that they carry us, let us live, but they are all objectively equal, no matter what your shitty ableist relatives and the 60 billion dollar weight loss industry may be telling you. There is no such thing as a "bad" body. And there is certainly nothing wrong with a fat body. A fat body may even be better. If we're talking objectively, of course. If we're talking about "health" or, ugh, "longevity". Not might be, actually, but is. That's right - if we're talking about the science of that slippery eel, health, fatter is better. I know these things now. And at the same time, my anxiety about my crumbling teeth has shown me that I perhaps don't know these things as well as I ought to. While I have made good progress in terms of confronting and discarding my own shitty weight-biases over the years, clearly I am not cured. I am shallow. I have more work to do.
I am not, I don't think, a piece of literal fetid garbage. It takes a lot of reminding to hold that in my heart and near-constant reminding to come close to believing it, but it's true. I am fat, my teeth are crumbling, my hair is the hair of a stranger and my face is the face of a person I don't recognize, and I am fairly racing toward 40, and because the world is stupid, these things are hard, not the hardest, but hard. And I am objectively okay.