To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone ~ Reba McEntire
My tooth fell out. Perhaps I should be more specific, half of my right front tooth fell off. It was February and I was on vacation in the Bahamas, not ideal timing. I was sitting on a tall bar stool at the center island in my girlfriend’s kitchen, drinking wine and eating veggies and dip. I bit into a celery stick and the front half of my tooth fell off. To be fair, what fell off wasn’t actually real tooth, at least not anymore, but rather the fake “cap” that was applied several years ago after an unfortunate softball incident.
We were warming up for another intense, beer league, softball game. No beers had actually been consumed (nor were any harmed) at that stage. I was in the middle of teasing another player about his unfortunate ball to the head the previous game, when I raised my glove to catch a pop fly, but instead of catching it with my glove I caught it squarely with my face. Instant karma. My lip required 8 stitches to put it back together, my nose wouldn’t stop bleeding and I lost the front half of both of my front teeth. Arriving in the ER with a maxi-pad attached to my face, I was a bloody mess, quite literally. It was made even better by the fact that I worked at that particular ER department, so the “catching balls with my face” jokes were never ending. As an aside, this trend continues with by current beer league Dodgeball team.
I sat at my girlfriend’s counter, with half my tooth in my hand, attempting unsuccessfully to simply stick the broken bit back on, my first thought was how could I smile or talk with this “snaggletooth”? My return flight was the following day and everyone will notice my missing tooth. My next thought was relief that I was heading home and could see my dentist ASAP! The following late afternoon I was on the flight home, complete with two airline mini wine bottles ordered immediately upon boarding. And with my missing piece of tooth precariously perched back from where it came.
A mere 36 hours later I was sitting in my dentist’s chair and clenching my teeth. As a life long clencher, this action was nothing new, however, with my newly snaggled tooth, every time I clenched, the jaggedness of the tooth would startle me. After explaining my latest tooth tragedy to my dentist, he was around for the softball incident, he launched into an explanation. I heard something about the “mechanics of my bite”, my unending clenching and “structural compromise due to being hit in the face”. All the words flew by me. What I wanted to hear was, this is how we are going to fix it. I returned to clenching and unclenching my teeth and started to stare off into space when I heard the words, “this would be by ultimate plan to fix this…” Braces. What in the actual fuck? Braces?! I started to laugh and I recall saying, “are you kidding me? I’m 41 years old!?”
Here’s the thing, I have never been one to choose the easy way. I’ve never believed in the “quick fix”. That goes for everything from diets to home repairs. If it needs to be fixed, it needs to be fixed. My preference would be for that fix to occur one time. One time only. Doing it well and correctly the first time, even if that means it’s initially more expensive. I have also been known to throw money at a problem to make it go away. And by that I’m referring to fixing my car, or my garburator or my teeth. I am now 16 weeks into having adult braces. I have learned many things during the last few months of them being on my teeth. I opted for the new and fancy Invisalign braces. These are made from alien technology, I’m positive. These hard plastic, 3D printed trays, can be taken out at will and are changed to a new set every week. And they are actually moving my teeth! *Mind blown* They are also mostly invisible. When I first got them, I tried to be very discreet when taking them out to eat. Now I just reach in and yank them out. I have also stopped apologizing for that to my friends. You want to eat with me? This is how I roll, for now.
I have learned that moving the alignment of your teeth around in your mouth hurts. A lot. To all the teenage friends I had 25 years ago, I’m sorry I made fun. I had no idea of the constant ache and headache that resulted from forcing your teeth into a new alignment. And back then there was no temporary relief from the metal prison your teeth were in. That was that, they were sentenced to two years, no parole. I have also learned that when I take them out of my mouth and my teeth roam free, they are wiggly. I mean really wiggly. Like when I lost my baby teeth wiggly. And that is highly disconcerting. The relief of removing the hard plastic torture devices is quickly replaced with an overwhelming need to put the bandages back in. And I have nightmares of my teeth wiggling their way out of my mouth.
The biggest realization I had over the last few months is how much of our culture and our daily connection process is tied to food and drink. Prior to putting my teeth in a permanent cast, I had no reason to not “break bread” with my friends, colleagues, partner and family. I never thought twice about having a snack or sharing a meal or partaking in the consumption of food or drink in some format. I have been fortunate enough to be able to eat and drink at will with limited thought behind it. I have no food allergies or digestive issues or weight concerns. I do, now, however, have to remove my braces each and every time I want to consume something that I have to chew or that could potentially stain my clear braces. And I have realized how much we use food and drink as a social connection, a ritual and as a celebration of all things we have to celebrate: birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, milestones, the end of the work day (also known as happy hour). When I sat in the orthodontist office and he explained about the elastic needed to align my jaw, yes an elastic. The elastic part was not mentioned to me in the consultation, trust me. And I have even managed to shoot myself with said elastic inside my own mouth as an aside. He also said that I should avoid staining fluids, such as coffee and red wine. Right then and there the ground fell out beneath me. I had no idea there even were any other fluids!?! It is amazing, when faced with such adversity, my ability to compromise. Red wine switched to prosecco and coffee, well, there is NO substitute, but I can and do consume it with a straw. A reusable straw so as not to harm any sea life.
Research has been done on food as a ritual, routine and convention. In many cultures, eating together represents a connection and a reflection of the wider community. I think of our family dinner, every night, when I was a child. The family would gather around the dinner table and eat together. It was often the only time we were all together in one place. It’s also common for my friends and colleagues to go out for lunch or go out for dinner, or have a potluck party at the office. These everyday occurrences have become mindful activities that require planning and thought now that my teeth are on the move. Having a crunchy salad is not that appealing when my teeth are sore and more on the wiggly side. At the end of the day, these small sacrifices will be worth peace of mind that my teeth are less likely to break. And also serve to remind me how I have taken so many “little things” for granted. The ability to sit and break bread with my friends will never again be lost on me, as soon as my teeth are set free.