Right now, this minute, I am very concerned about my teeth and gums. I guess this isn’t true for me enough of the time, because I just haven’t been able to reliably maintain any kind of regular dental hygiene. I’ll get to feeling like I do now, that I can see that I’m getting to be in bad shape and that I don’t want to lose my teeth. Desperately don’t want to lose my teeth. It becomes very easy for me to maintain good dental hygiene from that moment forward; it is out of fright or desperation. It only lasts a few days. Usually less than a week before I’m back to my regular tooth-decaying apathy.
They always told me that sugar would rot my teeth. Soda would rot my teeth. What they never told me was that apathy is what really gets to your teeth, what really coaxes them out of your head. Right now I feel like there is no amount of brushing and flossing and antiseptic mouthwashes and dental gums and water piks that is too much. A few minutes ago I was talking to myself in the mirror and noticed that without any prompting, without me biting into an apple or flossing or getting punched in the face, my gums were bleeding. Blood was just spontaneously leaking out of me.
As a general rule, I try to avoid losing blood. I do my best to avoid activities that involve blood coming out of my body in anything but a controlled, clinical environment for the common good. I especially try to avoid doing anything that will cause or allow blood to start coming out of me without any obvious cause. When i go to give blood, they stick a metal pipe into my arm, breaking the surface and leaving a hole through which blood can escape. At least I know what happened. I can go give blood without worrying about blood coming out of my other arm the next day on its own. Right now, any part of my mouth that is “gums” could start leaking blood through no visible break, and when and if it stops or another part starts is a seemingly unknowable thing to me.
Sure, I understand that if I had been properly maintaining my teeth the whole time, I would have healthy teeth and gums and this spontaneous bleeding would not be occurring. I understand that only through a regular plan of dental maintenance and probably several visits to trained professionals will the bleeding stop for good. I understand that “I don’t have to floss all my teeth, just the ones I want to keep.” (I learned that one from Steven Soderburgh, two-time Academy Award Winner for Best Picture, in my favorite of his films, Schizopolis.) It is from a more immediate and fearful place that I find my lack of understanding: Why is there blood in my mouth? What is the source of the damage? Why can’t I see the damage itself? What does rubbing plastic bristles against my teeth have to do with stopping this incessant bleeding? Why can’t I seem o maintain a schedule of regular dental maintenance for more than a few days? What is wrong with me?
These questions, of course, lead to few answers and no new solutions. Clearly I must do something about this, and not tomorrow, but immediately. So, I brushed and flossed and rinsed. Tomorrow after breakfast I will brush and floss and rinse. Tomorrow after lunch I will brush and perhaps floss. Tomorrow night before bed I will brush and floss and rinse. What happens the day after that … based on my past results is in the air. I hope to be able to continue with the brushing and flossing routine, even on my upcoming trip to San Diego. (That is the sort of thing that always seems to come up to side-track my plans for proper dental hygiene. I start brushing my teeth after every meal and then a couple of days later I go out of town for a few days, staying in a strange place and eating at odd hours and taking a while to get back into my groove afterwards. Since the good dental hygiene was not yet ground into my “groove” it is misplaced by apathy on the way back from wherever and perhaps never seen again.)
In the past I have tried to get people outside of myself to remind me to brush my teeth. If there was someone I spoke to every night before going to bed, or even every other night, who said “Goodnight, and brush your teeth” at the end of the call instead of just “Goodnight,” I am certain that my sense of personal responsibility to do what I have said I will do (for I would most certainly reply with something like “Goodnight, and I will”) would spur me to brush my teeth every night (or every other night) before bed. Brushing once a day is better than not brushing at all. For a while I brushed every morning and every evening with no toothpaste. Brushing without toothpaste is better than not brushing at all. I started brushing every morning without toothpaste because I would wake up every morning with dried blood caked on my front teeth, and the first thing I want to do every day I wake up with blood in my mouth is get it out. No problem. Still do that most of the time. It was pretty easy to give myself a reminder every morning as I brushed my teeth that I should be brushing my teeth at night to help prevent the sort of thing that had caused this brushing every morning. I had a pretty good thing going there for a while, what with the brushing twice a day every day for something like weeks and weeks in a row.
Of course, I haven’t been doing that in a while now, so … I guess it didn’t work out too well in the end. I stopped doing it. Probably I started waking up without blood caked on my teeth because the brushing really was helping, so I stopped giving myself reminders to brush every day. It is easy to not brush my teeth first thing in the morning, because I should really be brushing right after breakfast instead. Except that I seem to find it easy to sleep so late that I don’t have time to eat AND brush my teeth AND get to work on time. (Which really shouldn’t be any kind of excuse, since I now have an extra toothbrush and tube of toothpaste in my drawer at work. I need to make it more visible so that it offers a constant nagging to use it. Perhaps I’ll hang them from my cubicle wall.) So, I didn’t need to brush my teeth as I rolled out of bed because there wasn’t any blood caked on them and I didn’t find the time to brush my teeth after breakfast either because I had to leave for work or because I had to take a call instead, and I then lost my daily reminder to brush my teeth at night and it became easier and easier to just go without brushing at all. Until I of course get to that point again where I look in the mirror and am convinced that my teeth are going to fall out because why else would they be bleeding like that? And it starts all over again … for a while … and who knows what havoc this is playing on my teeth and gums? What tiny, hidden cavities, probably between my teeth where my cyclical dental hygiene usually doesn’t go are growing slowly and in between fits of cleanliness?
I don’t really want to know. Because it means a lot of dental work. Because it means a lot of dental expense that I have not planned for. Because it means time off work and it means pain and it could mean losing teeth or having parts of my teeth replaced with things that are not altogether natural. Because it means trying to find a new dentist that will accept new customers and is thorough and has up to date equipment and knowledgable staff and will work within my existing dental coverage. Because it means so many things may have to happen in my mouth that are not eating and drinking and kissing and talking and everything else I enjoy doing with my mouth. Because then I’ll know exactly the toll my apathy has taken on one part of my body and I’ll start to think about (and most certainly find) what else my apathy has damaged along the way. (On that note, I want to point out that as I was setting in front of the mirror talking to myself in horror about my teeth, trying to look myself in the eye and convince me to take up proper dental hygiene, that every once in a while between “brush your teeth” and “floss your teeth” and “you don’t have to floss all your teeth, just the ones you want to keep” and whatever else I was spewing out at myself, I kept tossing in little “and lose some weight” comments.) Because finding out that I have caused irreversible damage to my teeth will certainly NOT motivate me to try to maintain my teeth; they are already lost, it is too late to try to maintain them, and THAT is a sure way to get me to properly ignore my teeth until they are as lost to the world as I will immediately believe them to be. Because I want to be able to believe that taking up proper dental hygiene a little too late is not really too late at all, and my teeth are not lost, and I will be eating solid foods long into my life with the teeth that God grew right into my skull.