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Smile, Paul!
April 14, 2011 1:02 PM   Subscribe

In a heartbreakingly candid blog post, Paul finally explains his deepest, darkest secret to his friends, his family and the world:
That last photo I'm aware of that exists with me smiling with an open mouth is my eighth grade school picture. [...] By the time I was 17, I had cavities in three of my top front teeth and virtually no enamel resembling anything pearly or white when I opened my mouth...so I quit opening it.
His blog now follows his progress as he goes through reconstructive dental care, shares anecdotes from his past, and encourages others to ask for help.
posted by halseyaa (84 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
Holy cow.
posted by Daddy-O at 1:18 PM on April 14, 2011


Thanks for posting this. I promise I am going to read the whole damn thing as I am in the same situation*, except that I can't afford what I need done; it's still almost a year until my Medicare kicks in.

So if we meet and I scowl, that's why.

*I remember the day this one wisdom tooth finished coming in. it had been putting me through excruciating pain, and then one day... it stopped! Went to get food to celebrate and that same tooth shattered in twain on a goddamn curly fry.
posted by jtron at 1:24 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I found out how Johnny Rotten got his name a few weeks ago.

I empathize with Paul. Everyone kept telling me to smile when I was younger, but having an ugly mouth just worsened an already clinical case of shyness. Once I was out of college and had a bit of money in my pocket, I had a bit of work done, which helped a lot with building back some feelings of self-esteem and dignity.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:25 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I feel for this guy also. I have pretty snaggly teeth and for the same reasons tend not to smile much and certainly not with a big grin. I could probably afford caps or veneers or something and maybe I should, but while a jumbly mess my teeth are very strong and cavity free and I hate to think of compromising their basic utility.

But it also doesn't help that North American culture is very judgmental about non-perfect teeth. It's as if everyone in the world had had the same chance for thousands of dollars of orthodontics.
posted by Rumple at 1:31 PM on April 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


I read the whole thing. He just sounds so positive and grateful for this opportunity. I wish I could summon up that feeling for myself sometimes, but my problems are so tiny compared to what he's gone through. WOW is he rising from some depths.

But his "Ask for help" message is pretty powerful stuff for anybody, and a reminder that even the people we look down on have something to offer -- something we might need ourselves. What a strong, hopeful guy.

I donated. I know he'll pass it on.
posted by Madamina at 1:59 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Man, if I had known that all you needed to do was to take a few photos and turn your dental catastrophes into high drama instead of ridiculousness brought on by yourself, then I would've totally written a blog during all my dental work.

You didn't brush your teeth as a child, you're blaming it on your family instead of you, and now you're suffering the consequences. Big deal.

I used to blame the orthodontist for why my front incisors rotted away and had to get removed. "Oh, when he took the braces off, he took off the enamel!" "I shouldn't have had braces anyway, I was only 10!" but you know what?

It was my fault.

I was the one who didn't brush my teeth. I was the one who pretty much just gargled with coke and ate lemons and let all that acid etch away the enamel like those ridiculous eighth-grade science fair projects. It wasn't my family, it wasn't the dentists, it wasn't anyone's fault but my own, and I had to pay for it.

And yeah, I paid. I paid the price in long-ass dental visits, massive credit card debt, a permanent bridge across my top six front teeth and the inability to hear "Rock Me Amadeus" by Falco without thinking about how I lost an incisor against my best friend's head due to some truly klutzy dancing.

So I can't really have sympathy for this guy. I mean, it sucks, but it's what happens, y'know?

I might not be getting my feelings across right. This is my fifth attempt and I'm sure it still doesn't make sense...
posted by Katemonkey at 2:02 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Man did I grow up in another world--if you didn't have orthodonture sometime between the ages of 9 and 16, you were an outlier.
posted by oneironaut at 2:03 PM on April 14, 2011


I was the one who pretty much just gargled with coke and ate lemons

Well, okay, but I ate almost a whole lime at lunch today and I had two cokes yesterday and I have never had a cavity. I have flawless teeth. So there's probably a little more going on with your mouth and his mouth than what you/he can be considered at fault for.
posted by kate blank at 2:06 PM on April 14, 2011 [14 favorites]


You didn't brush your teeth as a child, you're blaming it on your family instead of you, and now you're suffering the consequences. Big deal.

I think hygiene issues are a lot more complex than this (I say this as someone who still struggles with consistent hygiene after years and years of self-help). It's like telling a depressed person, who's taking the first tentative steps towards help, "You're sad all the time, you never exercise, you blame all your problems on others, and now you're suffering the consequences. Big deal!"

Well sure, that's one way to put it. Not a helpful or compassionate way, but why should we express compassion towards others?
posted by muddgirl at 2:08 PM on April 14, 2011 [40 favorites]


Genetics and other non-fault circumstances aside, shouldn't parents instill good dental hygiene and make sure that their children are brushing their teeth?
posted by elsietheeel at 2:09 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


So, what, having done things wrong in the past means that nobody should ever again pay attention to what you do to correct the things you did wrong, get over it, and have a happy life again?

We've all screwed up stuff. It *helps* to see people who've made the same mistakes we did put their lives back together. Especially when the process of doing so is notoriously expensive and painful. A girl I know who earns like four times what I ever will went through a period awhile back of like several *sedated* appointments just to get her teeth cleaned because she'd gone so long without a dentist. And she was somebody who wasn't dealing with family issues, depression problems, and the like complicating the whole thing.

The whole point isn't that nobody should take care of themselves from the beginning, but when the Western world is full of people who have for a whole host of reasons neglected their bodies, their teeth, their finances, etc, it's a good thing to see people take that secret wreckage and put it out where other people can see that it's okay, it's fixable.
posted by gracedissolved at 2:11 PM on April 14, 2011 [20 favorites]


I just got some braces, as an adult, to re-correct some slippage that's happened since my childhood dental work. I've been whining a bit to myself about how uncomfortable and annoying it is.

Then, my friend told me about his dental experience, in college. Apparently his jaw kept growing and the rest of his face didn't, so he was headed for an uncorrectable underbite. So they separated his upper teeth and part of his upper jaw from the rest of his skull, moved it a bit forward, and screwed it back in place. A year or so later, he was OK.

Now, I read this story.

I think I'm just going to take some Advil now and shut right the hell up about my braces.
posted by gurple at 2:11 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have empathy for him. As I do for, oh, a few hundred million others who also face all sorts of challenges, bad luck, misfortune, abuse and so on. That "donate" button - how many other unfortunates have one? More importantly how many would never wish to put one up in the first place? I've had dental problems due to simply crummy enamel. I didn't take penny one, from anyone, not strangers, not family, not friends. I paid many - many - tens of thousands of $ over the years. At one point, I had $25K in cc debt - 100% of it dental bills. I've been paying that off, I still have $9K left.

Dental care, even more than medical care is quite challenging for poor people in the U.S. - I recognize that I'm fortunate to be able to mostly pay for my own care, even if sometimes it's with cc's. So I think it would be great if affordable dental care were available to all - I totally support that. It is also true, that a lot of dental problems are self-inflicted. Regardless, some find it easy to ask for money from strangers, and some wouldn't even consider it. I admit, that donate button is a giant turnoff for me.
posted by VikingSword at 2:14 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


elsietheeel - my parents DID try to instill good dental hygiene, as well as other things like brushing my hair, showering, washing clothes between wearings. Unlike this guy, I don't have the excuse of a bad childhood. I have suspected that there's a genetic relationship between my grandfather's hoarding and my own issues with hygiene, so it doesn't surprise me when the author describes his own parents as hoarders.

Like everything, it's a lot more complex than "your parents were bad so you are bad" or "If you just try harder, you can be perfect like the rest of us."

Thankfully, I inherited my father's strong teeth, so although I didn't floss my teeth for like 10 years (and I only brushed maybe twice a week for 3 or 4 of those), I suffered few serious consequences for it.
posted by muddgirl at 2:14 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Paul examines the probability that to some extent his lack of care was a manifestation of psychological issues from his childhood dynamic. this is quite common and I think the issue of 'fault' implies a level of simple, linear correspondence that doesnt come close to addressing the complexity of issues that exist in any/every family situation.
posted by supermedusa at 2:17 PM on April 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


My mom was losing adult teeth by the time she finished high school. Yes, there is a genetic component. I brushed, flossed, rinsed, gargled, did treatments, etc, and all it did was buy me a few years. Thanks for telling me it was all my fault!
posted by jtron at 2:17 PM on April 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


But it also doesn't help that North American culture is very judgmental about non-perfect teeth. It's as if everyone in the world had had the same chance for thousands of dollars of orthodontics.

I was at a party with a bunch of male engineering academics and that's what struck me most of all, upper middle class grad students with stick straight white teeth like chiclets. My partner's retainer had been bothering him and through small talk on the topic I discovered every single one of them had had corrective dental work.
posted by Phalene at 2:23 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Did anyone else break out the floss while reading this?
posted by hermitosis at 2:23 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


My mom was losing adult teeth by the time she finished high school. Yes, there is a genetic component. I brushed, flossed, rinsed, gargled, did treatments, etc, and all it did was buy me a few years. Thanks for telling me it was all my fault!

Hah! Indeed. There's no greater feeling than being told that you must have extensive gun surgery, a tooth extraction and as a result loose a bridge you've just paid $5K for three years ago. All after you've been fanatically taking care of your teeth with twice daily flossings (I only eat twice a day), brushing both before and after meals, both before and after flossing, water pick, special dental brushes for bridges, special floss, and daily rituals around teeth that consume at least 45 minutes of my life every single day, to the point where you are a laughing stock amongst your friends when it comes to teeth (oh, VS, I guess no cake for you - don't you need to floss or something?). I just got through the surgery and am staring at the prospect of teeth implants - so far $7500 out of pocket (special low rate by my sympathetic periodontist), with unknown thousands still to come... it neatly removed the money I set aside for a project I was going to do this year, so that yet again, my teeth robbed me of opportunities - all this despite doing everything in my power to take care of them. "It's your mouth chemistry and genetics - bad luck". So yeah, I get it.
posted by VikingSword at 2:28 PM on April 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


I found it very powerful to read. Teeth are one of the most visible class markers in the US, not to mention the pain of bad teeth.

I have mixed feelings about the emphasis on donations. Good for him if it works, but ...
posted by Forktine at 2:31 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am in the same situation*, except that I can't afford what I need done; it's still almost a year until my Medicare kicks in.

Then I have some bad news. Medicare doesn't help with (most) dental problems at all.
posted by Obscure Reference at 2:31 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Did anyone else break out the floss while reading this?

Did anyone else hope for some "before and after" shots?
posted by ReeMonster at 2:32 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dental trauma for kids.
posted by maryr at 2:34 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


You didn't brush your teeth as a child, you're blaming it on your family instead of you, and now you're suffering the consequences. Big deal.

I used to blame the orthodontist for why my front incisors rotted away and had to get removed. "Oh, when he took the braces off, he took off the enamel!" "I shouldn't have had braces anyway, I was only 10!" but you know what?

It was my fault.

I was the one who didn't brush my teeth. I was the one who pretty much just gargled with coke and ate lemons and let all that acid etch away the enamel like those ridiculous eighth-grade science fair projects. It wasn't my family, it wasn't the dentists, it wasn't anyone's fault but my own, and I had to pay for it.


OK, it was your fault. But that doesn't rule out the possibility the blogger in question had real problems that were influential in his not taking care of himself and that were, indeed, a big deal to him. What I read seems to be a person trying to figure out what the heck happened in his mind that led him down that road and kept him on it through college. It's the type of personal story that doesn't get told enough by regular people.
posted by zennie at 2:36 PM on April 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Did anyone else break out the floss while reading this?

I am so grateful I started flossing in my late twenties before things got too bad. It's not a cure all and won't overcome genetics, but if you are looking for the place to start to stop the damage and move for ward, start flossing today
posted by Xurando at 2:41 PM on April 14, 2011


Genetics and other non-fault circumstances aside, shouldn't parents instill good dental hygiene and make sure that their children are brushing their teeth?

Sure, parents ought to make a good effort to make sure their kids are taking care of their teeth.

But how closely do parents need to surveil their kids, especially if the feedback at the dentist is that the teeth are looking okay? My parents had every reason to believe I was taking pretty good care of my teeth as a kid, even though I wasn't really, because I was meticulous about going through the motions and, hey, my teeth were fine for my whole childhood so who could say?

I liked my privacy; I was kind of a defensive kid about personal space and autonomy probably at least in part because I had three siblings and we had one bathroom for the whole house; and for whatever kids-heads-are-fucked reasons I had a dysfunctional relationship with dental hygiene. Nobody forced me not to take care of my teeth, I didn't suffer some childhood trauma that made me afraid of toothbrushes, I knew in principle that brushing your teeth was the thing to do, but I was a weird kid about it. I lied to the dentist, I lied to my parents. That scam got me into adulthood before I really had to start dealing with my teeth, and by then (and only really finally clearly at that point) the damage was done.

You're a weird kid about your teeth, though, and it's not a quick feedback sort of thing. You don't cavities the week after you fail to brush, you don't promplty discover that your teeth are going to slowly go bad over several years. The whole thing happens inside your mouth, where even you can't see any but the most obvious stuff, so it's possible to not know for a good long while, and then maybe not know for sure and be in denial for a while longer, and then when something in your mouth is finally going fundamentally, undeniably wrong that can be it's own rude awakening and emotional shock.

And some people may react to that by immediately consulting whoever they know and pursing a positive track of rectification, and that is awesome for them, but a lot of people are likely to sort of feel like shit because they fucked up their teeth. It's not like you need to tell someone whose teeth are fucked that they should feel bad or that it's their fault: they do feel bad. They know its their fault. Being embarrassed about the whole thing is a big impediment to quickly doing the best to mitigate further damage, even setting aside the cost associated with it all.

I'm lucky enough that I don't have a horror show to deal with, but as it is I've spent ten years trying to get my dental hygiene habits up to speed and paying dentists to get rid of the back teeth that were too far gone and do their best to help me keep the rest in some sort of workable shape. I'm frustrated as hell at my younger self for not seeing this coming and brushing and flossing like a motherfucker from day one. I don't have a time machine, being angry at myself for being a stupid kid about my teeth doesn't make my teeth any better.

Teeth aren't the biggest deal in the world in a lot of respects, but you haul them around with you every day, and you can feel it with your tongue or worse with your dental nerves whenever anything is off or wrong or not there anymore. Making a point of going on about how it's someone's fault that their teeth are fucked is, trust me, really, really not necessary. They fucking well know.
posted by cortex at 2:42 PM on April 14, 2011 [36 favorites]


He also calls out his childhood dentist by name at one point, to shame him for not educating mother and son about the differences and meanings of hereditary obstacles and proper dental care. Even with a gnarly set of teeth Paul seems to have a really good head on his shoulders— the blog was a good read.

ReeMonster: There are lots and lots of 'before' and 'during' shots, but the dude is a work-in-progress still and I think he's holding off on the good ol' 'after' pics until he has a bright toothy smile for the camera. Probably sometime next year.
posted by carsonb at 2:42 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


And some people may react to that by immediately consulting whoever they know and pursing a positive track of rectification, and that is awesome for them, but a lot of people are likely to sort of feel like shit because they fucked up their teeth. It's not like you need to tell someone whose teeth are fucked that they should feel bad or that it's their fault: they do feel bad. They know its their fault. Being embarrassed about the whole thing is a big impediment to quickly doing the best to mitigate further damage, even setting aside the cost associated with it all.

And in Paul's case, add to that his fear of the stereotypes of white trash with missing teeth, and it becomes even more daunting, I would think.

I really admire and respect this guy. He's obviously had a rough time, but is trying to confront his issues head-on. I have things about me that have always caused me secret shame, and I can't imagine putting them out there on the internet for the world to see.

I also don't really get the criticisms of the donation request that people are making. If you think your money would do more good elsewhere, then don't donate. I don't see anything wrong with asking the world at large for help when you need it, which is kind of his whole point in writing this blog. He's coming to terms with the idea that asking for help is OK, which is a lesson a lot of people could benefit from, myself included.
posted by dhalgren at 2:50 PM on April 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


Dental problems can be social. I have a friend who is a badass social worker. Her job involves helping formerly homeless people, and people who've just got out of jail, and addicts, and people with serious mental health issues. She helps them maintain housing, and seek medical care, and sometimes, get jobs and lead pretty normal and fulfilling lives. The clerical components of her job involve battling insane bureaucracy, the interpersonal components are daunting, and the physical component involves getting sprayed with blood, and being threatened, and breaking up fights between drunk-ass full-grown pipe-wielding men.

She finally went to the dentist last year after many years of avoiding it. Even though she knew it was irrational, she feared that once she made contact, the dentist would feel obligated to start pulling teeth left and right, and worse, would judge her. Sometimes, fears aren't rational, no matter how smart, or talented, or responsible you are. Everyone has them. Even badasses. For what it's worth, once she finally made it to the appointment, she got a really thorough cleaning, no teeth were pulled, and everything was fine.

Dental problems can also be genetic. My boyfriend and I grew up in vaguely the same area, and had some of the same pediadontists. We live together, and our diets are pretty similar—if anything, he eats less in the way of candy and sugar water than I do. He brushes twice a day, flosses regularly, and goes to the dentist every six months. I brush once or twice a day, floss a couple times a year, and go to the dentist every few years. He gets cavities. I don't. His wisdom tooth was impacted, and had to be removed surgically. Mine just sort of came in. Sometimes, the cards are actually stacked against you.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 2:50 PM on April 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


I think hygiene issues are a lot more complex than this.

Yes, hygiene issues are a lot complex, and I could not disagree with Katemonkey's comment more.

My own dental issues started when I was about 6 years old, and they started as a response to my control freak, abusive dad. I never had a say on anything as a kid - I was never allowed to do the things my friends did - no going to their houses, no TV. I was never allowed to do the things my older siblings were allowed to, either. No lessons for hobbies. My parents were health nuts, and our drawers would routinely be searched for "junk." We were allowed to go trick or treating, but our Halloween candy was always confiscated. My dad was very emotionally abusive, and occasionally physically abusive, hitting us only out of anger, never out of punishment. I won't go into the details, and as I've gotten older I've learn to see my dad as a flawed human and I've learned to forgive him.

So what did I do as a confused 6 year old? I didn't brush my teeth. I would go in the bathroom, and run the water. The bathroom is the one "private" space in our house, so I could get away with it - not brushing my teeth was the only thing I felt that I could control. Self harm is usually about control - think about someone with an eating disorder - it's not really about the food, it's about trying to have some dominion over some aspect of your life. My 6 year old self didn't brush not because I didn't want clean, healthy teeth - although at 6 you're a little too young to really grasp the consequences of such bad habits. But it was something - one thing - that I could chose.

Sure, my mom (who was a lot gentler, a lot kinder than my dad) tried to get me to take better care, but she also had 3 other older kids to take care of. When I was 10, her cancer came back, and she died 2.5 weeks before my 11th birthday. We had no close extended family, and no one really stepped in to take care of us "kids." My dad was barely functioning - delving into traditional mom-territory and taking care of non-fundamental things like doctors and dental appointments were just not happening.

So my bad habits persisted. I'd maybe brush one a day, but usually not. And even when you know you need help, you don't necessarily have the help to get you the help you need. You don't know where to go, or who to ask. There is no support. And then there's the shame. The incredibly deep and painful shame is what stopped me from going to the dentist until I was 29, almost 2 years ago. I don't remember the last time I went. I was probably 9 or 10 years old.

The only reason I went, was because I just couldn't do it any more. I had an abscess on molar, excruciating pain that kept me from sleeping for 3+ days. Not even 5 minutes of sleep. In the middle of finals, of my last year of graduate school. I just could not deal with it like that again, and made an appointment at a local dental school, with the help of kind Mefites answering my anonymous question.

Almost 2 years later, and I'm almost done. 9 extractions (4 wisdom teeth, 4 second molars, 1 first molar), like 6 or 7 fillings, one crown, and I'm midway through my one implant procedure. I just need to complete the implant. I still remember the first day I went in, and I was fucking terrified. Not of pain, but of the enormous shame and embarrassment of opening my mouth for them to see all the damage of 20+ years. I am not one to swallow my pride easily and ask for help, but there was no doubt - I needed help in a big way. This was one thing I could not do on my own.

A major part of the reason that I was able to step in that door and begin (and almost complete) the process, was that I had already dealt with the emotional part. I had really, truly understood how my habits started. I had really, truly forgiven my dad.

The jokes and teasing about people with less than perfect people, particularly in the United States, fucking infuriates me. You have no idea what people have gone through. All of us have been through pains and trauma, and we all deal with them in different ways. It's not ok to make fun of someone doing harm to themselves - it's not ok to make fun of eating disorders, or cutting, or drinking, or drugs, or whatever. But making fun of people's teeth is totally LOLtastic, because hey, they did it to themselves, and they deserve it.

Well fuck that shit. All you're doing is escalating someone's humiliation, preventing them from wanting to ever seek help. Because no one ever talks about it, a lot of people including myself, prolonged seeking help out of shame.

I haven't made it all the way through Paul's blog, but he's a damn badass courageous guy.
posted by raztaj at 2:52 PM on April 14, 2011 [47 favorites]


VikingSword: All after you've been fanatically taking care of your teeth with twice daily flossings (I only eat twice a day), brushing both before and after meals, . . .

Ha, my regimen's not quite that thorough but it's more than anybody else I know IRL, and same with my diet, and still it's not enough to make my dental checkups happy. I know people IRL who floss maybe once a week. Their gums are perfect. I curse genetics. Kind of comforting in a perverse way to discover I'm not alone.

Every few years, one of the teeth in my spouse's mouth shatters out of the blue. He gets it from his mom's side of the family.

/inspired to get out the curaprox brush right now, for my once daily 20-minute gum-workout. Gum workout + metafilter makes reading metafilter practically productive!
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:52 PM on April 14, 2011


I meant "jokes and teasing about people with less than perfect teeth, not "people," although maybe that was a subconscious slip about the obsession with perfection in general. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go floss.
posted by raztaj at 2:57 PM on April 14, 2011


It was my fault.

It may have been your fault. It wasn't mine. I committed the unpardonable crime of being born into and growing up in a household that couldn't afford orthodontics, and I've been paying for it ever since, with a lousy mouth of teeth that get worse every year and a perennial fear of condescending dentists who heap silent contempt on me for not properly taking care of my teeth, thus reinforcing the already-present fear of being anywhere near a dental office.

I have always been self-conscious about my mouth and probably always will be, because unless I win the lottery, there's no way I'll ever afford all the work that would be necessary to get my mouth merely to a level that most Americans who grew up in the suburbs would consider normal. I at least have gotten to the point where I can smile without contorting my mouth into ridiculous shapes to avoid showing my teeth, but even now, I cringe when I look at photos in which I'm full-on spontaneously grinning.
posted by blucevalo at 3:02 PM on April 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm explicitly blaming parents here, but I think maybe Paul needs to be cut a little slack. It's obviously not totally his fault, nor should he be pilloried for pointing the finger at people other than himself.

I've got horrible teeth. One of my earliest memories is of getting a cavity filled at the ripe old age of five. My mother took me to a succession of horrific "children's" dentists - one had coffin shaped tables with straps instead of chairs, another had a collection of antique dental instruments hung on the walls. Eventually she threw up her hands and took me to her own dentist and convinced him to take me on as a patient even though he didn't work with children. He was a great person, but very much an old school dentist who wasn't big on pain and anxiety management.

Which led to me being an adult with a crippling fear of the dentist and, unfortunately, genetically weak teeth. There isn't a tooth in my mouth that hasn't had some sort of work done to it. I had my first crown done at the age of 12. Now there are three more in there and I need another (but I can't afford it this year). And I didn't see a dentist for about six years because 1. I was too scared to go, and 2. I had no dental insurance.

Thankfully, my old school dentist retired and his practice was taken over by a wonderful man who, upon seeing me burst into tears the first time he started to clean my teeth, prescribes me enough Ativan to sedate a horse for EVERY visit. Yes, even for cleanings.

And being judged and/or shamed on the basis of your teeth really sucks.
posted by elsietheeel at 3:05 PM on April 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


If you feel your dentist is being condescending or not listening to your history, symptoms, concerns, or preferences (especially pain!) - go find another dentist. People put up with things in a dentist that they would never tolerate from a hairdresser and hair grows back.
posted by maryr at 3:07 PM on April 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


I also don't really get the criticisms of the donation request that people are making. If you think your money would do more good elsewhere, then don't donate. I don't see anything wrong with asking the world at large for help when you need it, which is kind of his whole point in writing this blog.

I'd suggest the guy should get a job as a waiter, but it sounds as though it's only the cute waiters who get decent tips so he probably should wait until after he's had the reconstructive work done.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:08 PM on April 14, 2011


Even though she knew it was irrational, she feared that once she made contact, the dentist would feel obligated to start pulling teeth left and right, and worse, would judge her

That doesn't seem irrational to me; the judging I mean. Most medical doctors I have been to in my life will say, quite calmly, "You know you have X problem. If you want to fix it, you should probably consider doing Y." Just like that, no judgment, even if the problem in question could be life-threatening.

But I have been lectured by SO many dentists. I didn't go to the dentist for a long time because I absolutely hated (hate) being judged and lectured. When i finally made myself go back, it was because I asked a question on AskMeFi specifically looking for a non-judgmental dentist.

Of course the responsibility for my behavior is ultimately my own, but I don't know why so many dentists do this to their patients. It's amazingly counterproductive- a patient who isn't taking care of himself, but at least is still coming to appointments, is in much better shape than one who has been shamed into staying home and ignoring the problems. Medical doctors seem to have gotten this memo, why can't dentists?
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:08 PM on April 14, 2011 [12 favorites]


I at least have gotten to the point where I can smile without contorting my mouth into ridiculous shapes to avoid showing my teeth, but even now, I cringe when I look at photos in which I'm full-on spontaneously grinning.

Hush your mouth. Don't you know that crooked teeth are uber-charming?! Do I really need to provide proof? Here's a name you may be familiar with: David Bowie. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Although in the end he transpired to be a traitor to the great crooked teeth community as this video shows: Bowie's Teeth.

But seriously, I sympathize. I have had a full complement of teeth treatment - if it's out there, I've had it. Wisdom teeth removed - all 4 (in the process they damaged a nerve so that half my tongue has no feeling - I can operate it fine, but can't feel it should I prick it). Countless root canals, crowns, bridges, restorations etc. I've paid top dollar and went to top people - and I mean top, like in folks who teach at the university, do research and practice. The funny thing in all this, is that if I smiled, you wouldn't know of the gehennah in my mouth - it looks fine and innocuous, all the teeth are there, nice and shiny... except half of them are fake.
posted by VikingSword at 3:12 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


All after you've been fanatically taking care of your teeth with twice daily flossings (I only eat twice a day), brushing both before and after meals, both before and after flossing, water pick, special dental brushes for bridges, special floss, and daily rituals around teeth that consume at least 45 minutes of my life every single day

VikingSword, I'm sure you've gotten a lifetime's worth of dental advice, but have you ever considered the possibility that you're over-brushing? Your regimen sounds a lot like what I spent my teens doing, and what I'll probably always be inclined to do. But about ten months ago, when I was 20, I was having a lot of sensitivity and went to see a new dentist, who told me I was wearing away my enamel and that I needed to stop immediately. She made me switch to a soft toothbrush, cut down to less than a minute of brushing, and avoid brushing right after meals. It was hard to get used to that (and I still brush twice, once without toothpaste and again with toothpaste), but I think the dentist was right, and my sensitivity has completely gone away.

I'm basically sure my over-brushing is just the other side of the never-brushing I'm also inclined to do in periods of depression. I'm sorry but also kind of relieved to learn that other people have similar issues; I really thought I was alone.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 3:17 PM on April 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


I didn't go to the dentist for six years between 20 and 26. When I went back in, I needed 13 cavities filled, my wisdom teeth pulled, and a root canal. I've been going religiously since (fifteen years now) and since then I've had three or four more cavities filled and three crowns (getting permanently cap in a week on the latest one).

I have mediocre dental hygiene, I admit that (good brushing, rare flossing). When I hit puberty my teeth started to dissolve--I didn't have a cavity until I was 13.

My father had ALL of his teeth pulled except two upper incisors, before I was born, he was tired of dealing with them.

My younger (adopted) brother is 40 and has never had a cavity.

(If you're in the Seattle/Eastside area, I can give you a recommendation for the world's most awesome dentist, assuming she's taking on new patients. We two hours each way to use her services.)
posted by maxwelton at 3:20 PM on April 14, 2011


The other reason my teeth are somewhat forgiving: When I was a kid, my family had god-tier medical insurance that covered dental, and orthodontic, and optical. Because we had it through a union. So yeah, Scott Walker can suck it hard.

drjimmy11- True! In her case, though, she was going to a dentist that's sort of a family-friend-of-friend. His whole office is super nice and understanding, and knew in advance to tread lightly.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:24 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


VikingSword, I'm sure you've gotten a lifetime's worth of dental advice, but have you ever considered the possibility that you're over-brushing?

Well, yes, that's one of those things that you are cautioned against - and you know, I've made a science of this, so I'm always on the lookout for the new and better. The trick with brushing after meals is to first do a thorough water treatment - that way you flush out the acids. All brushing damages the enamel, so you must be careful. I start with brushing before the meal, because that's when you don't have acid on your teeth yet, and more importantly, you are disrupting the bacterial colonies so that they're disorganized when you eat - and so do less damage... if you had to choose, it's better to brush before meals than after. Keep the brushing part relatively brief, do a lot of gum massaging, and allow for remineralization, which your saliva takes care of. But then, you may be unfortunate, as I am apparently, and my saliva does a poor job (btw. don't keep your mouth open, because dry teeth are rotting teeth - methmouth is the result of a dry mouth). So yeah, there's a lot to the technique - don't get me started, I can go on like this for hours and cite medical papers to boot.
posted by VikingSword at 3:29 PM on April 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I admit, that donate button is a giant turnoff for me.

But it's not like you would give him any money if he didn't have one ...

My mom was losing adult teeth by the time she finished high school.

My grandmother had all of her teeth pulled at age 14. Thank god for modern dentistry.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:35 PM on April 14, 2011


If you feel your dentist is being condescending or not listening to your history, symptoms, concerns, or preferences (especially pain!) - go find another dentist. People put up with things in a dentist that they would never tolerate from a hairdresser and hair grows back.

I've had dentists that ranged from somewhat insensitive to full-on insulting. I've often wondered why, as a profession, they tend to act that way and get away with it, but I am starting to see that people will go back to the same dentist no matter what their bedside manner is. And I think at the heart of it is this feeling that people have that it's their own damn fault that they're having dental problems. Even if you just have crappy dental genetics, people tend to internalize blame (because rarely do people floss enough, so right there you give yourself a reason to accept full blame).

Even if it is my fault, the attitude is unacceptable. I've had dentists ranging from insensitive to insulting, and I've dropped every single one because who the hell needs that shit? I stuck with my current one because at my first visit I told her that the constant hounding about flossing I've had from other dentists was turning out to make visits unnecessarily stressful (my favorite is when the hygienist helpfully *teaches you* how to floss - as if you're not flossing enough because you don't know how to slip a string in between your teeth.) She wrote that down in my chart and no one has given me grief, at all. They do my cleanings, fill the occasional cavity, tell me if there's something I need to know, and it's lessened my anxiety measurably.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 3:39 PM on April 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


But it's not like you would give him any money if he didn't have one ...

In his case, probably true - but your supposition is quite mistaken. In fact, I am far more likely to volunteer help in such situations, than give when asked - and I've done so. I've funded an airline ticket to a complete stranger at an airport, when I witnessed his personal calamity - but I approached him (well, I was standing in line behind him). But 99% of the time, when I'm approached on the street, I don't give.
posted by VikingSword at 3:40 PM on April 14, 2011


Sorry for the double up on the "insensitive to insulting" thing. I apparently feel very strongly that they're all a bunch of assholes!
posted by DrGirlfriend at 3:41 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Agreed: finding a non-judgmental dentist is a godsend.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:44 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I probably spent close to ten grand on dentistry in my twenties. In my thirties, I chose to have two teeth pulled instead of doing the root canals. Haven't seen a dentist in about 10 years. Next problem tooth will also come out. Eventually I will get them all pulled and get dentures. Much cheaper in the end. My one sister did the denture route a few years ago for less than $1000. The other sister routinely spends that much every year.

I don't smile much. I will after I get dentures.
posted by yesster at 3:49 PM on April 14, 2011


The first time I went to a dentist was when I was 17: because a rotten tooth had cracked while eating a chicken sandwich. I was living with a friend and her family. My mom never took me to a dentist because a) she never went to a dentist and b) we didn't have any money.

Her own teeth were a disaster (so much worse than Paul's, you can't even imagine) and she never smiled. She finally had them all pulled maybe 7-8 years ago and got dentures (although she doesn't like those, either).

It took a very long time for me to get on board the 'going to the dentist' train but I did it. Regular cleanings and fillings and a root canal and very, very expensive deep cleanings because I couldn't manage to pull my head out of my ass and floss, until last year. As of this month, I have been flossing at least every other day for 6 months. At my last appointment in October (with 1 month under my belt), my dentist said that there was a huge improvement.

This is what you do when you're a grownup: you face your bullshit and get over it.

Just because people have issues doesn't mean they automatically deserve coddling, sympathy or--Christ almighty--donations, particularly when there have long been solutions to their problems and that they are perpetually in their own way.
posted by gsh at 3:54 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


yesster - you realize that dentures are never as good as really teeth (for chewing and such), right? And that not seeing a dentist isn't helping you keep the teeth you have? Even if a dentist recommends a procedure, you don't have to do it, and yearly visits would at least give you a professional cleaning? A visit and a cleaning does not cost $1000.
posted by maryr at 3:54 PM on April 14, 2011


This is what you do when you're a grownup: you face your bullshit and get over it.

It seems like this guy is indeed facing his bullshit, so what's the problem? People can't be supportive of someone facing his bullshit? Must we all face our bullshit alone?
posted by DrGirlfriend at 4:11 PM on April 14, 2011 [22 favorites]


This is what you do when you're a grownup: you face your bullshit and get over it.

Who's not facing their bullshit? It's great that you're facing yours, evidently, but where are you seeing that anyone else isn't facing theirs?
posted by blucevalo at 4:23 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why we keep the same dentist: Pain leads to loyalty. Well heck, it's a theory.
This interview also discusses an amazing lack of certainty in the diagnosis of 'cavities.'
posted by SLC Mom at 4:38 PM on April 14, 2011


So how exactly did the Dental Profession get cleaved off of being included as part of health care, anyways?
Its clear Dental Work is priced no cheaper than surgery, why does health insurance treat fixing teeth like it was mental care or accupuncture?
posted by Fupped Duck at 4:43 PM on April 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm quite interested in tooth remineralisation since reading up on it a while back.

Apparently tooth powder is far superior to tooth paste, as the crap they put in the paste to make it pastey actually ends up coating your enamel and preventing any mineral absorption. Baking soda-based tooth powders do taste a little strange at first, but you get used to it and it's just as refreshing as the mintiest pastes.

Recaldent is promising stuff that can heal up early stage caries. You can get it in gum or mousse forms. I've been applying the mousse every night before bed for a few months now and, well, all I can testify to is that it tastes good. I guess I won't really know of the benefits until my next dentist visit.

I do know it's having some positive effect due to it containing xylitol, which is a sugar alcohol that spoofs plaque bacteria into eating it, then conveniently kills them. There are a few studies linking xylitol to tooth and bone remineralisation.

It seem though that the absolute best thing you can do for your long term dental health is to completely ditch all refined sugars and phytic acid-containing grains and supplement with high levels of vitamin D3. Among the most effusive health reports of long term low carb/paleo adherents are those of frankly amazing dental recoveries...

Whole Health Source: Dental Health
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 4:50 PM on April 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


I despise going to the dentist - there may be exceptions, but in my experience, it's a massive guilt trip and hard-sell from the second you sit in the chair. You open your mouth, and you can see the dollar signs lighting up in their eyes, all the while shaming you for bad diet/flossing habits you may not even have.

Let's sell you a $200 electronic toothbrush! Let's schedule $15000 in veneer work and clinical whitening! We can get you credit... besides, it's your fault you're such a filthy, worthless slob. All of your teeth will fall out before you're 40 if you don't get 30k in work done! Then it's dentures, and dentures rot your jaw, so you'll be toothless and eating steak through a straw! Low interest rates, common, and we'll even throw in some invisible braces for another 10k!

My teeth aren't great, but I'll put up with a broken molar because no-one can see it and it beats the hell out of going to the dentist.

If it were like going to the doctor, or even the optometrist, I'd go as often as I go to the doctor. Instead it's more like dealing with a shady car dealer, only he's putting his hands in your mouth.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:08 PM on April 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Weird. I'm going to the dentist tomorrow. Dreading it, as usual. I've asked on here before about my dental problems. I've never gone longer than a year and a half without a cleaning (and that was just once--otherwise, it's six months, like clockwork) but I've still gotten probably a total of a dozen fillings done in the past five years, plus two root canals when two of those fillings failed (that was a blast). I floss lots and brush religiously, though when I was a teenager I didn't take such great care of my teeth when I had braces (mostly because it hurt). I wonder how much I'm still paying for that behavior today--and frankly, I don't feel too guilty about that. Had I been forewarned about the degree of pain I'd be in from braces at twelve, or how much work they were (I played the trumpet, so I had to wrap my braces with wax every single day in band class or risk cutting my mouth to shreds, for instance) I never would have done it. But they don't give twelve year olds a choice about that.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:18 PM on April 14, 2011


I have excellent teeth. I grew up in a naturally fluoridated area, and my teeth have always been solid. I never brushed a lot until I was an adult, and I didn't seriously get into flossing until I got braces for a year (well, yes, I'm a little vain, but I also know that if I'm not going to retire soon, I'd better keep looking good) a couple of years back. At 59 I have the teeth of a much younger person, and the hygienist always compliments me on how I take care of them. I do have one bad tooth, for which I eventually got an implant.

My husband has had bad teeth all his life, and developed a severe phobia of dentists as a result of frequent dental intervention. As an adult, another dentist's attempt to do some work on his gums chased him away from dentists permanently. A few years back he had all his teeth pulled, and got dentures. He's very happy about it.

In neither case is our dental health related to virtue in any way. But I can tell you that my husband definitely suffered a lot more than I did. Suffering sucks.
posted by Peach at 5:21 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Instead it's more like dealing with a shady car dealer, only he's putting his hands in your mouth.

I've been to that dentist. But there are as many or more good dentists, who do decent work and don't try and upsell you at every moment. Not going when you have a damaged tooth is something that you'll probably regret over the long term.

I've done ok at finding good dentists by getting a recommendation from someone with serious dental problems and anxiety -- if they like a dentist, I probably will, too.
posted by Forktine at 5:22 PM on April 14, 2011


two or three cars parked under the stars: switch to a soft toothbrush

If I were to make a list of things I (now 40-ish) wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self, this right here is -- no lie -- numero monkeyfightin' uno.

I had a good relationship with the parents and regular dental care, but they were absolutely the high priest and priestess of the First Church of Hard Toothbrushes Are the One True Way.

Of course I got nasty tartar buildup, and of course that meant that more brushing with a stiffer brush must be the solution. Much discussion of whether Brand X "hard" was or wasn't stiffer than Brand Y "hard".

I carried on the hard toothbrush habit until my mid-twenties and was well on the way to having teeth fall out of my head from so much gum tissue loss. I moved, got a new dentist who asked "So what kind of brush do you use?", replied "This one, it's the hardest I can find!" and much face-palming ensued.

So, for the benefit of anyone reading who might have the same blind spots as my younger self:

There is no brush hard enough to remove tartar. Why do you think the dental hygienist has to scrape at it with a metal pick?

A hard brush has bristles that don't bend enough to get crud out from underneath the gumline. A soft brush does.

A hard brush has bristles that don't bend enough to get crud out from between your teeth.

A hard brush will abrade your gums every time you brush. On a scale from good to bad, this is bad. If you are spitting blood in the sink every time you brush, you are seriously doing it wrong. Brushing more frequently and/or vigorously turns out to not be a good solution to this kind of problem.

Dentists aren't recommending and handing out soft brushes as some kind of sinister plot to drum up more business, nor are they doing it because they're secretly in the pay of toothbrush companies who somehow make more money if you buy the soft kind.

If you have trouble finding a hard brush in the grocery store or pharmacy, where there's an entire aisle of toothbrushes on offer, there just maybe might be a reason for that.

Don't take dental hygiene advice from two people who've had partial plates most of their lives, and who have a billion fillings, and who have myriad other ongoing dental problems. This applies even if you love and trust them, and even if most of the other advice they've given you has been solid gold.

Gum tissue can, to a limited extent, actually recover and grow back after decades of abuse. Quitting hard toothbrushes now will significantly reduce serious risks to your health.

The More You Know!
posted by sourcequench at 5:33 PM on April 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


I just bought the paste stuff that Kandarp Von Bontee linked to. I'll try anything to have less fillings. The D3 thing is interesting - I had no cavities at my most recent dental visit and I've been taking megadoses of D3 for the past nine months.

My dentist has never suggested an unnecessary procedure - in fact he'll patch things on the cheap (and sometimes not even charge me) just to get me through until my insurance deductible resets in January. Of course, this could also be why he's looking into jobs as a prison dentist - apparently they make a lot more than he does.
posted by elsietheeel at 5:34 PM on April 14, 2011


The best thing I did was get full dentures. After years of going to dentists and getting teeth fixed that would just magically disolve on their own or fall out while eating a piece of cheese (!) I gave in. The dentist quoted me 22 thousand to save what I had or my province would pay for the dentures (1500). I chose the dentures and as soon as my gums healed (2 weeks) I was happiest I had been in years. I can smile again. I no longer have picture after picture of dour faced me lurking in the back. It gave me a boost up with my depression.

And contrary to what was said above I've never had any eating issues. Sure the odd poppy seed gets stuck under them and that might irritate. Flush them out. I can eat steak, sandwiches, tear through most foods. Oh I may not be able to use my teeth as package ripper openers but hey, shouldn't be doing that either.

It was a little blow to the self-esteem to be in dentures at 32 but of everything I did it was the best and I sing dentures praises to all my friends who are struggling under thousands upon thousands of dental debt.

Plus my denturist treats me with respect and kindness and goes out of his way to perform his service.
posted by kanata at 5:39 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's important to remember that even if a dentist is crappy to you, well, fuck 'em. Feel empowered. First, stop guilting yourself. That way, the scathing words of others will ring less true. Second, you're paying that dentist to do something. And hell, that something is basically wiping your teeth's asses. Who cares what they think? They are a tooth ass-wiper.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 5:53 PM on April 14, 2011 [9 favorites]


there may be exceptions, but in my experience, it's a massive guilt trip and hard-sell from the second you sit in the chair.

Slap*Happy, I've been to four different dentists in my lifetime. Only one of them has ever guilted me or tried to badger me into expensive and unnecessary treatments and accessories. That dentist, coincidentally, had several complaints lodged against them by the WA State dental board. None of the other ones did. My suggestion, if you're encountering really bad dentists, is to check them out with your state's dental review board (or whatever gov't agency oversees dentists in your area). If there are no complaints, then lodge one! If there are complaints, well, then stop going to that dentist!

Have you ever tried asking a friend or coworker to recommend a dentist to you?

(I won't get into my own dental horror stories here because frankly the taste of Lidocaine is still a little too fresh. But if anyone in the Seattle area needs a good dentist who is not judgmental at all, explains everything he's going to do before he does it ["I'm going to inject Lidocaine here and here, and you'll feel a sharp pinch for about 5 seconds," etc.], will work with you on a payment plan if you're not rolling in dough, will happily prescribe anxiety meds and is generous with the nitrous and numbing agents, and is overall a really sweet and gentle guy who made his kid a Bender the Robot costume for Halloween last year, holler at me. Extra bonus: He shares a name with an Edgar Allen Poe character. Also he has never made me feel bad about having jacked-up teeth and dentist-anxiety issues. In fact, he has given me his cell phone number in case of dental emergency and has called me in the evening after a particularly painful procedure to check in and make sure I was feeling okay and asked if I needed any pain meds prescribed. Serious dental mensch right there.)
posted by palomar at 6:01 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


My situation is the opposite of Blazecock Pileon’s. I had braces and dental work as a kid. Have always brushed and flossed twice daily. In my 30’s I had health insurance that did not cover dental and then no insurance for about 5 years. I was on a SSRI that caused dry-mouth and contributed to the yellowing of my teeth. Went a little more than 7 years without seeing a dentist.

My once sparkling white straight teeth are now yellowed and shifted. When I do smile I smile with my mouth closed. What someone said about your teeth being a class marker is so true and I feel like my life has gone the way of my teeth.

Seeing Medicaid Dentists is slightly better than prison dentists, I guess. Medicaid Dentists seem to come in 2 varieties: (1) Dental Mills where you are rushed in and out. A lot of young dentists. No time to answer questions. (2) Dentists whose practice is not booming and they need the referrals that Medicaid brings. A lot of 1-person shops with the Dentist answering the phone and making appointments and doing everything.

The first Medicaid Dentist I saw last year botched a filling and I have been to two others to try and correct it. Just about given up. When I qualified for Medicaid I brought the provider list to my old dentist and asked if he could recommend anyone on it. He said he could not. Another dentist I showed the list to looked at it and then shook his head

Of course the Medicaid Dentists don’t try to upsell you anything because they realize you have no money to spend, so there is that.
posted by Francophone at 6:02 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, weird timing for me too- just saw a dentist today. Probably the 4th time in the last, oh, 20 years... and it was only because the state of my teeth is not only embarrassing, but undeniably affecting my overall health. And why the neglect? Oh it's all my fault, I'm sure. But if it wasn't for getting guilt-tripped and talked down to by just about every dentist (and all their minions) that I've ever seen, maybe I wouldn't have waited so long.

Glad to hear I'm not the only one. Also glad to hear that I'm not the only one who's contemplated getting dentures, like 20 or so years before a person might reasonably be expected to, just so I wouldn't have to deal with any more dentists taking *personal offense* at the state of my mouth. Seriously, like I was insulting them and all they hold dear, by having cavities or infections or whatever.

So yeah, bravo to this kid. Talking about this stuff does, obviously, take some balls. At least if being judged by not only dentists, but a bunch of internet gawkers as well, might bother one...
posted by hap_hazard at 6:19 PM on April 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Did anyone else break out the floss while reading this?

I used to do stuff like that, but even having bought the finest and thinnest flosses on the market, I find that my teeth are too tightly packed (I apparently have a "large mouth", so my wisdom teeth came through without causing any agony, but left no room to spare) and no matter what kind of floss I use, it breaks off, and in some cases actually gets stuck. It's profoundly annoying.
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:26 PM on April 14, 2011


If it's any comfort to Americans forced by their bizarre culture to forever smile with lips tightly sealed in shame, draw comfort from the fact that dazzling white Gary Busey chiclet teeth that are the result of common US dental practices are a source of shock and amusement everywhere else in the world.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 7:04 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm another person who had shitty dentists growing up. I have genetically bad (cavity-prone, but thank god they aren't the automatically-rotting sort of bad like some folks) teeth AND I had a gag reflex from hell and I'd be gagging about 5-6 seconds into starting to brush. And flossing? Winding my two fingers around floss and shoving my fingers into the back of my throat? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! And every damn dentist I ever had was all, "Just get over it, it's all in your mind." Wouldn't you think that dentists must deal with gaggers every single day of their career? Wouldn't you think that some might have worked out some way to deal with it other than telling the patients to suck it up? But I didn't find a dentist who'd actually came up with hacks to get around gagging until I was 30. And that was because I needed a root canal finally and my dentist gave up and fired me for gagging, and i had to find a new guy. I put up with it because I thought every single dentist on the planet had no idea what to do with a gagger, and the guy I was seeing at least wasn't mean to me about it.

So, to everyone out there: keep looking until you find a dentist who isn't an ass. Seriously, mine has worked miracles on me (if you're in Davis, CA, PM me for the guy) and I went through two checkups without a single cavity, and I can count on one hand the number of times I've done that. I can handle a brush in my head for two minutes, I can floss, I can not puke during the X-rays. It's a bloody miracle.

The More You Know!
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:26 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Poor genetics plus a childhood dentist who was almost beyond belief certainly did their share to help to ruin my teeth. And you bet I know I about condescension and judgements from subsequent dentists. But take heart. If you make it to a certain level, that attitude just vanishes. Every "tooth" in my head is cap a veneer, or an implant, or a bit of bridgework. Once you get to that point, they positively beam at you. You're money walking through the door. It's the same reaction I get from the guy at the appliance store. An eagerness to talk about upgrading.
posted by tyllwin at 7:53 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Boy this has been a cathartic experience. Y'all have inspired me to make an appointment to see a dentist.
posted by Danila at 8:09 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


tumid dahlia - Glide brand floss/tape. Seriously. It's really cathartic to see how much gunk you can pull out from between your molars. It will make you enjoy flossing.
posted by maryr at 9:39 PM on April 14, 2011


I've always had sort of moderately bad teeth. Nothing too terribly off, really, but just prone to rotting.

I'm also a very good girl. My dental hygiene issues mostly revolve around trying not to brush too hard or too often. Disgustingly, I floss a little compulsively. There's a roll of floss right here, next to my computer, and I sit here, in my office, flossing on and off pretty much all day. I know. Gross.

But my teeth still rot. I don't think I have one that hasn't had something done, and so far, in my mid forties, I've lost four of them, and I expect to lose more.

Now to the useful portion of my post. I have been poor and I have been comfortably middle class, and I am here to tell you that poor people dentists (and doctors) are better than the middle class suburban types you go to when you have insurance and disposable income. They're almost to a one more sympathetic, less judgmental, and more helpful, even if they're sometimes a little more awkward or unsure of themselves.

I had a dentist once in an urban clinic who, when I preemptively told him not to lecture me about hygiene, pulled down his mask and grinned at me with a mouth just this side of Shane MacGowan's and assured me he would not. I had a nervous, young, fresh out of school dentist build me a crown out of some brand new amalgam he'd gotten from a rep and only charge me for a filling. Probably because it took him a couple of tries to get the Novacain shot in the right place, but still. (I felt bad about not being charged enough, and donated the difference to the clinic's fund for the indigent. Win-win.)

The poor people dentists never shamed me or lectured me or treated me like I was morally deficient just because I needed them. They didn't try to sell me things I didn't need or couldn't afford. I don't feel as though I have to tell them my sad stories about my compulsive flossing and my long family history of hillbilly teeth. They've seen worse, and for the most part, they're there because they really do want to help.

So if you can, particularly if you're tight financially, look into dentists who serve the underserved. Dental schools, sliding scale clinics, or just smaller clinics in lower income neighborhoods.

There is a huge gap between the point where you qualify for social assistance programs and where you can afford to pay for medical services, so even if you're a little above the cutoff point to qualify for sliding scale services, you can often pay full price and it'll still be significantly less than at some private practice in the suburbs. And if you're on the edge, or have been in the past and have put off having necessary work done, you can often still get the help you need to make up for lost time and maintenance, and you're far less likely to be judged and shamed in the process.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:42 PM on April 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


I am here to tell you that poor people dentists (and doctors) are better than the middle class suburban types

This has been my experience as well. When I lived in Seattle I used to go to the 45th St Clinic back when that was what I could afford and my dentist there was still the one I think of in my head when I think "awesome dentist" She was kind and friendly and got that i was a little jumpy and did a root canal for me with very little hassle and almost no pain. I still rue the day she retired.

When I moved to VT I hopped around between a few dentists and had a hard time finding a good fit until I went to one of the dentists in my town when I had some tooth pain. He wasn't one of the "better" dentists, he was the one who could see me on short notice. He was laid back and friendly and also cleaned the heck out of my teeth [and the problem was mostly wrapped up in stress over a soon-to-be-ex and fixed itself]. I go back to him when I can motivate myself to do it. I was mentioning how much I like him to someone in another town who turned out to be his brother-in-law (because that's how stuff works out here) who said that my dentist was an army dentist and that's why he's got a no-bullshit approach to teeth and none of that stupid "let's replace all your fillings" upselling. When he retires, and he's going to fairly soon, I'll have to find another army dentist.
posted by jessamyn at 10:16 PM on April 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh, I wish i'd looked after my teeth by Pam Ayres (cick the play button to hear her recite it).
A wonderful memory from my youth :)
posted by nielm at 5:08 AM on April 15, 2011


I can kind of understand the thinking that allows those kinds of problems to just grow and grow and grow. I didn't see a dentist from about when I was 21 or 22 until somewhere in my 30s. First I had no insurance, and I didn't know that a) a good dentist will work with you (payment plans, discounts, adjusting what is needed to meet your budget, etc) and b) there are low-cost alternatives. And then I had insurance and a better income, but I was embarrassed that it had been so long, and I was expecting there to be big problems found and they would lecture me about staying away so long.

But when I finally sucked it up and made an appointment, it wasn't such a big deal. The dentist thought it was funny how long I had gone without a cleaning, rather than making it a huge deal. And I got lucky -- because of genetics or brushing or fluoride or whatever, I managed to go about a decade with no dental care, without developing anything more serious than one or two small cavities and some impressive tartar deposits.

That first appointment was really, really hard to make, though. And that dentist (who had great references from friends) turned out to be an upseller, which sucked, so I "fired" him (meaning, just never went back), got more recommendations, and now have a great dentist who is gentle and hires great hygienists who make the routine visits easy and, if not fun, at least not awful. And her staff never upsell at all, which makes going there so much more relaxing.

One side of my family all have serious dental issues, with crowns and root canals and implants all over the place, and the other side have great teeth. So I know that there is a chance I may be looking at much more serious issues later in my life, depending on which side I got my teeth genetics from.

I do think that the guy in the FPP is making a mistake by not being willing to consider a dental vacation. I've seen dentists and doctors in several countries in Latin America, and they were as good or better than any I've seen in the US, plus you get more doctor contact than here (where you mostly see PAs, nurses, hygienists, etc), and the cost difference is huge. In a situation where he is so short on cash, I have to wonder if he couldn't get to his final result years sooner by being willing to drive down into Mexico or fly to Costa Rica. But again, I can see how he has made toughing it through the hard way (including writing publicly and honestly about the process) part of his overall healing and therapy, which is probably as or more important than the actual dental care involved.
posted by Forktine at 6:06 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would just like to say that this thread prompted me to make an appointment for teeth cleaning. I do not particularly fear dentists, but I'm a grad student without dental insurance and so the idea of forking over $100+ for a cleaning (or spending 3+ hours dealing with the delays at the student clinic nearby) has made me put off scheduling something. Thanks for the kick in the butt, Metafilter!
posted by Bebo at 6:40 AM on April 15, 2011


My dad is a dentist and an instructor at a dental clinic, and reading some of your stories is just breaking my heart. I'm constantly amazed at how many people fear/dread the dentist. I was lucky, I guess--my teeth are genetically pretty well off (I've only had one cavity ever, though I do brush/floss the recommended amounts) and of course I always loved visiting my dad to get a cleaning! Of course then I got hit by a car, a bunch of my perfect teeth got knocked out, and I had to have about 8 painful oral surgeries, so I feel your pain (literally).

Anyway, yeah, I am so sorry that so many of you have had such awful dental experiences. Dentists can and should be awesome.
posted by leesh at 7:06 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tumid dahlia - A waterpik is great for those hard-to-floss places.
posted by 8dot3 at 11:38 AM on April 15, 2011


I hate shame. Shame is my most hated thing. If I had an arch-enemy, it would be shame.

Where did the rule come from that people have to deserve help or compassion? Help and compassion are something people need, not something they earn. If you see someone in need and you want to shame them for not earning your help or compassion, I would love it if you could shut the fuck up and get lost. How the fuck does it happen that human beings can take pride in kicking someone who is down? "Why hello there, motherfucker who is in misery, I see that you're crying out for a human heart to respond to you. Let me tell you that you are a piece of shit and your whining annoys me."

I'm adding this to the list of rules I will enforce when I am finally put in charge of everything.
Rule 1 is the nobody dies alone rule. Rule 2 is no shaming people who haven't done something immoral and hurt others thereby (and maybe not even them).
posted by prefpara at 7:54 PM on April 15, 2011 [11 favorites]


Greetings Everyone. Wow, this is amazing. Think whatever you wish about me, but it is nonetheless very moving to see so many others sharing their stories and advice and opening up to strangers about what I feel is one of the most repressed and shameful issues in this country so, so many feel powerless to overcome, and scared to talk about, even with close friends or family. None of us are ever really alone. It has taken me years to learn that, and despite always being a blunt, honest person to the world, always trying to communicate as effectively and elaborately as possible my feelings and ideas to my communities, I have nonetheless always felt "silenced" for nearly two decades while trying to connect with others about teeth.

I have come a tremendous way mentally and physically in the past 6 months, and feel incredibly blessed and moved to tears daily by strangers' responses to my writing and the courage of others to reach out to me, to tell me how they made their first dentist appointment in years thanks to my story. I am tremendously lucky. I have never denied that. Nor do I in any way mean to trivialize the pain and suffering of others anywhere or treat my blog as some sort of elaborately creative entry in a "my life sucks" competition with the world. It really, really doesn't. Frankly, I feel slightly disappointed that the context in which my blog was just ushered so quickly out into the world by Ebert's tweet in a way presented it as a sob story, a charity case. "The saddest story ever." That is absolutely crazy. I am thankful for sympathy and support and connection, but...I wholeheartedly recognize how privileged I have been in so many ways. I was the first person in my family to go to college. I have traveled extensively throughout the US, during which I survived for two years off of the sales of my own art. Now I actually work full time at a day resource center for homeless and at-risk youth ages 18-25 in downtown Phoenix. Before that, I created a a tshirt screenprinting business I was the coordinator of for 2 1/2 years as a day labor and vocational training program for youth as part of the same non-profit. http://tumbleweed.org/tumble_tees.php

It frankly, makes me a little uncomfortable to be perceived as "charity." I bare witness to poverty and misfortune and shame every single day in the stories of youth whose lives are far more incredible than mine. I am humbled and honored every day to be able to serve as a mentor to them, offering my own struggles as an example of how I was on welfare, homeless, abandoned by my parents, in poor health for most of my life. It took me 33 years to finally figure out how to flip the switch in my brain and truly begin to change my mentality and body image and self-esteem. My wonderful student dentist I lucked out with, the first one I saw in 20 years, was the first person who ever made me feel like a "whole" person. Every day is part of my healing process, every word I write, everything I do. It feels great for the first time in my life to focus my every action and all the spare time I have into this greater cause of healing myself, and being a positive inspiration to others. I have spent the majority of my life taking care of everyone else I loved, and always putting my own issues on the back burner. It's not about karma or balance or feeling like the world "owes" me anything as my mother has spent her entire life doing.

So you're right, whoever posted above. It is "my" fault, as much as it is my parents and childhood dentists fault.As much as it is all of our faults for turning a blind eye to others in pain around us each day, rarely ever reaching out a friendly hand to those who are suffering, be it friends, family or strangers. It is a cruel fucking world sometimes, and I for one try to change that on a daily basis with the way I have lived my live for years helping others, even if I never knew how to help myself. Honestly, when I created this blog, I really mostly thought of it as a way for me to finally communicate with my large community of friends in the Phoenix Arts community who have known me for years, but never known this ONE thing about me that has affected EVERY ASPECT of who I am. It was my way, as a writer, artist, organizer and well-known community member in the public eye, of "coming out" to those around me, of sharing my perspective I have my whole life been unable to get out. My blog I at first almost thought of as a mutual aid experiment to unite a community to be able to discuss their issues while also organizing events, highlighting all our skills while also helping me to raise money. The "donations" I earned first began as cookies and food I made myself and offered on a sliding scale. The "charity" that was offered, began as compassion and freely-offered talents from friends who know me as more than a series of blog posts who wished to help me in any way that they could. But as my story got out, and more strangers began to read it, people began to offer me money in solidarity and support of me trying to change my life, not out of sympathy for my crappy childhood or whatever, inspired by the very vulnerable public way I chose to share and face my darkest secret and biggest fear after all these years, and the incredibly positive changes in me that continue to develop. A doctor just the other day at the dental school I have been going to for ten appointments, where a dozen students and faculty know me by name and are grateful for my feedback and honesty with the experience in a way they rarely ever receive, last Friday handed my dentist a blank check for that day's treatment. I am certain that "pity" for my mouth and upbringing, was the LAST think on their mind when they signed their name. If that is "charity," or if it turns some of you off, so be it.

SO.

You don't have to donate. There are a dozen causes I could list that are doing amazing work all over the world that affects the lives of children without clean water, survivors of sex-trafficking, to the recent earthquake survivors of Japan, which I recently donated artwork to a local auction to raise money for. The point is, we are a global village. As long as people anywhere are suffering, we all suffer. As another of you said above, suffering sucks. Pain and infection and not being able to eat and isolation and shame and fear and having people look at you like you are subhuman if you open your mouth fucking sucks. "billy bob teeth" sold in Walmarts and the fact that there is a stereotypical impoverished "hillbilly" character on a show I have loved practically since my problems started, The Simpsons, sucks. "White Trash" is a classist, derogatory term meaning "less than" that should be forbidden in the same ways that other sexist, racist, hateful and discriminatory words are but to this day it stands as a popular joke and description of anyone poor, impoverished, uneducated or generally less fortunate than the middle class.

Suffering sucks. I am absolutely through with suffering. I am determined to finally fix this issue, so that I will be a stronger and much more capable person, to continue to help others and fight all the other struggles of the world. If people happen to be more monetarily fortunate than others, I wholeheartedly hold the no doubt unpopular belief that we as people have a dire responsibility to live in compassionate ways and to help others with whatever skills and resources we have to do so. I believe that most humans, really really are good people, deep down inside, capable of caring for one another. I believe that maybe even, the more that they do, they might just be amazed at how good it feels to give, in whatever ways they can. None of us can do everything, but together we really can make the world be whatever we want it to be. One person, one community at a time, never doubt that change is possible.

Thanks to a post I put on Roger Ebert's facebook page, inspired by his own story of perseverance through cancer and overcoming the loss of his voice to continue to be a positive and productive creative force in the world, and him happening to be moved by my first un-edited attempt at an autobiographical childhood narrative, my blog got 30,000 views in the past 2 days. I can't help but joke to myself, "Wow, if everyone who had the privilege of viewing my perspective and labor and time I put into the creation of this blog online, whether they like it or not, donated a dollar like buying a song on Itunes they can listen to at any time, I would have just payed for a mouthful of implants." But ultimately, I will think no less of any of you if you donate or not. I am going to raise all the money I need, even if I pay for it all myself with the $600-$800 a month I can currently afford while buying absolutely nothing extra. Above all, I am writing my story, to give people hope. To show people that change is possible. To show them that there are in fact amazing, compassionate dentists out there in the world that care. To show them, that it is okay to be afraid. That there is absolutely NOTHING shameful about asking for help. To show them that if a bitter, negative, cynical prick like me can learn to, after 20 lonely, painful, alienating years, finally learn to smile, and be a positive inspiration for change, that ANYTHING is possible, if you truly want it bad enough, and allow yourselves to be open to the possibilities, of you actually getting exactly what you want.

Health, happiness and love, is worth the risk. It can get better. I promise. I am living proof, and I wholeheartedly believe in you all to overcome any obstacle in front of you, though maybe with a little help from friends.

Thank you sincerely for listening, and sharing so much of yourselves, regardless of what you might think of me. I am humbled and grateful to have overnight had the chance to have my voice become so much more than a monotone mumble, capable of being heard around the world.

Love,
Paul Jones Jr.
posted by themightyhumanrace at 2:39 PM on April 17, 2011 [29 favorites]


Welcome, Paul! Your compassion and openness and bravery are awe-inspiring. So glad you are a part of this community. There are many of us on your side and are looking forward to sharing your transformation every step of the way.
posted by scody at 9:44 PM on April 17, 2011


if a bitter, negative, cynical prick like me can learn to, after 20 lonely, painful, alienating years, finally learn to smile, and be a positive inspiration for change, that ANYTHING is possible

Amen, brother. If there is one thing I've learned in my life, it's that the human brain (and spirit, if you believe in such a thing) is infinitely flexible.

It can get better

I'm down with the It Gets Better thing (because it usually does), but the It Can Get Better thing is much more honest.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:20 AM on April 18, 2011


Hey, it's Paul again. I made a sort of introductory video about the blog I just posted if anyone would like to see and/or share. Thank you! Next appointment on Friday getting my last 4 out of 17 teeth out! Wish me luck!
posted by themightyhumanrace at 3:15 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


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