Side Effects May Include: Depressed Dental Hygiene

I’m going to the dentist tomorrow. This, for a normal person, is a triviality. In case you have not yet noticed, I do not fall into the “normal” category. 

It’s been roughly five years since I’ve seen a dentist. I’ve never seen the same dentist twice. And I’ve only ever seen a handful of dentists in my entire life. Part of this is due to my parents’ trust issues with dentists and doctors. The other part is entirely my own neoruses. 

Poor dental hygiene is one of those random side effects of depression that you just never think about when you’re lying on your bed, staring up a blank, white ceiling, hoping, wishing and praying for a swift, painless and unexpected death. Thoughts like Hey. It’s morning. I should get out of bed and brush my teeth, just don’t occur to you. They are instead replaced by thoughts like Sleep. Yes, I will sleep. Sleep is good. Death is good, too. Unlimited sleep with free refills. That is a very white ceiling. I should sleep now. 

Actually though, I did think about brushing my teeth while I was depressed. More specifically, about how much I didn’t want to, wouldn’t hope to, couldn’t bear to brush my teeth. All of my blankets and sheets, once so soft and so inviting, were now iron shackles enforcing temporarily permanent bedrest. I succumbed. Getting out of bed was too hard. Brushing my teeth was too hard. Eating another bowl of cereal was way too hard. 

There were so many mornings and nights– times, really, because I lost my ability to distinguish between the two–  that it was just me and my four white walls and my white ceiling, just me and my battle of wills, which boiled down to this: I should brush my teeth. No. No, toothbrushes are bad. They are terrible. Teeth, in fact, are evil. I should stay and I should sleep forever. Then I won’t need these evil teeth, anyway. They were my thing, you know, my thing, my symbol of choosing to live, or rather, choosing not to. Veena – 1, Teeth – 0. Depending on how you look at it, I guess. I got my first two cavities after I got out of the psych ward for the first time. 

So I like living now. I like brushing my teeth now, and flossing and rinsing and spitting. But let enough time go by, and making that dental appointment becomes scary by its own right. Think of all the problems I could have. Think of the sad, slight shake of the dentist’s head after I answer the question: “It’s been HOW long?” I will have ten cavities, peronditis, and will need a full set of dentures before I turn thirty. I am sure of it. I know it. 

And then my brother came by yesterday, the brother raised by the same parents with the same phobia of dentists trying to scam you for all your pocket money, and this brother had also not been to the dentist in many years. He came over and he regaled me with his stories of gingivitis and and cavaties and wisdom teeth removal. I trembled with fear enough to finally, finally press the “Book this appointment!” button on ZocDoc. Without ZocDoc, I’m sure I’d be taking the dentures options– presuming I ever worked up the nerve to call and make my dentures appointment. Otherwise I’d probably just go by “Toothless Wonder” for the rest of my days.” 

So my brother came over and I brushed my teeth like five times after he left, as if you could somehow undo a cavity (something I believed possible until I finally learned the definition of the word ‘cavity’). And I flossed until my gums bled and I bought mouth was and I rinsed and spat until my mouth became a Listerine ad. Except, of course, for the ten cavaties and peronditis and looming need for a full set of dentures. 

Did you know that the very first time I tried to kill myself, I washed down a bunch of pills with Listerine? True story. I’d heard mouthwash had alcohol and that pills and alcohol don’t mix. And years later, in some freak coincidence, I name my blog Listerine. What are the odds? Other brands of mouthwash exist. 

When I was pregnant, I didn’t think about how much preparation and forethought a simple trip to the grocery store would necessitate. I didn’t think about the best way to get snot out of a tiny nostril. Those things simply didn’t occur to me. They were too far outside the realm of my reality at the time. 

And when I was suicidal, I just didn’t think about the cavaties I would rack up in the future. I didn’t think about the scars on my thighs, the ugly pink slugs, that I would have to explain every time I donned a swimsuit. I didn’t think about that when I was cutting. The concsequences of our choices ripple through the rest of our lives in ways we cannot fathom, no matter if those choices were made under considerable duress, or young and immature, or the result of pain. Ultimately, we pay the price. 

I don’t mind. For me, these things are a reminder how hope can insist its way into the darkest times. It makes me appreciate how happy I am. 

My maternal grandmother actually has a full set of dentures. I saw them once, sitting there in a glass of water on her nightstand and like any ordinary kid, was horrified. It wasn’t the dentures themselves that terrified me, though; it was the fact that they were hideously dirty. Unclean. Hadn’t been brushed. But the thing that really freaked me out was the stubbornness of it all. I mean, someone can lose an entire set of teeth, pay a price that high, and still be unwilling to learn how to move a plastic brush with bristles back and forth twice a day. 

Can’t we just decide to learn?

And so, 10AM tomorrow, I am going to the dentist. Whatever happens, happens. Someone will likely judge me. I’ll meet my dental deductible in no time. But hey, I’m alive. 

I haven’t lost all my teeth yet. 


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