I didn’t know at first that it was a hole; I was scraping off some potato-chip detritus when my fingernail dipped unexpectedly. I must have something stuck there, I thought. Let’s take a look in the mirror.
So I did. And my stomach knotted when I saw the black furrow surrounding the base of the tooth at the gum line.
With a feeling of dread, I examined my other teeth — the ones not broken over the years — and found similar lines of decay around a significant number of them. I’ve got to do something about this, I thought. But how can I, without cash or insurance?
The situation began many years ago, when I suffered a profound and prolonged bout of depression and ceased to take an interest in anything but my own misery. Self-care was one of the first things to go, followed by writer’s block, and — almost — my most treasured relationship. Eventually, I found relief through heavy and effective medication; but not before incurring several permanent scars, the most obvious-to-others being my crooked and cracked teeth. Although I was treating them better, I found I resented anyone with a full set of choppers; I smiled with my mouth closed; I avoided crunchy food, or anything nibbled off bone or cob.
Thus, my mental ears pricked up when I received a notice from the State of California that my disability status now made me eligible for extensive dental benefits: fillings, extractions, dentures, everything. I duly printed out the list of Sonoma County providers from the departmental website (none of whom, however, were in the town of Sonoma). And sat on it, ashamed and embarrassed to let anyone see the state of my teeth.
One month went by, then two and three. Finally, and through my Beloved’s prodding, I swallowed what was left of my dental pride and did some Yelp research. Imagine my crushing disappointment when I saw that each provider’s listing — EVERY ONE — was attended by reviews that read something like, “Don’t ever let this guy inside your mouth.” There were tales of pain. Of incompetency. Of six months between extraction and denture. My poor stomach knotted again.
And then, out of the blue! one of my close relatives, knowing my plight, agreed to help me out. (You know who you are, and how deeply, deeply grateful I am for you and your generosity.) Earlier this month, I finally saw an in-town dentist for evaluation (I shyly told him, “What you are about to see may shock you.” He replied, “I have been a dentist for a long time. I have seen everything”). I am scheduled to see a dental surgeon October 1st to proceed with the first step of a plan of attack: six extractions, mostly the roots of broken teeth. Then a cleaning. Then ten fillings, or what they today call “restorations.” Lastly, a partial upper denture. Projected time in the trenches: two months. And for far less cost than I had been dreading to imagine all these years.
I already feel as though a heavy burden of self-loathing has been lifted from me. I am also a bit scared, but I’m also eagerly looking forward to once again eating hard-crusted bread, fried chicken and beef jerky — and to smiling with my mouth open.