The last time I went to my dentist, I received three fillings. The time before that, I had my teeth cleaned. I talked (well, mostly listened) little league baseball with the hygienist. The time before that I have no memory of, because it was just about a decade ago. I assume the hygienist told me to floss.

***

You can justify anything, if you really set you mind to it. Before my recent trips, I had not visited a dentist’s office since I was 20, but if you had asked me to rank my overall dental health, I would have said it was “fair.”

I would have said this, despite the fact that I had broken a molar in the back-right side of my mouth while eating a piece of chicken in the last week of 2010, a molar that eventually numbed to all sensation and turned black in my mouth, a molar that continued to shed enamel and tooth shards every couple of months until all that remains is a glorified fang.

I would have said this, despite chewing food on only one side of my mouth for five years, that I never had any of my three incoming wisdom teeth removed, that I did not floss. At all. For nine years.

I would have said this, despite the fact that the hard-and-fast rule of brushing one’s teeth twice a week was more of a casual guideline in my view, something to be treated the way one treats advice about a golf swing or which conditioner to purchase; this has worked for me, but do whatever feels good.

Because, cosmetically? My smile was all good. It wasn’t like the teeth never got brushed.  I still (technically) had all my teeth. Any issues could be explained away. The chip in the front teeth? A charming holdover from childhood. The brown? The mark of a serious, coffee-swilling journalist. The aches when eating ice cream? A reminder from my own body to eat better. Can you tell that my mouth is falling apart by looking at it? Do you smell the decay wafting off me in stink lines like Pepe le Pew? No? Then I’m good.

***

There’s precedent for this kind of thing in my family. My dad broke a tooth on a Frito chip. My mom’s cousin had all his teeth pulled when he was in his 30s. He’s had dentures ever since. Everyone loves Ronnie.

You can justify anything, if you really set your mind to it.

***

I’m trying to stop dicking around so much. I still do, but less so. I don’t know if it’s a product of getting engaged, natural maturation or some combination of the two, but I’m really making an effort to not let things just fall apart. I’m trying to get more proactive.

I started a new job this year. It affords me excellent dental insurance. I want to fix the holes in the hole in my head.

I went for the first time about a month ago. After a cleaning and some x-rays, it is estimated that I will need 13 fillings, and to have that one broken crag removed entirely. The dentist literally said to me, before walking me through the treatment outline, “I hope you’ve been saving your money.”

The first two trips didn’t hurt, not right away. There were the usual aches and pains that come with a deep, strong teeth cleaning after a decade of neglect. Honestly, it felt good, like the ache in my gums was a reward for actually taking control of something in my life.

***

The grand irony of this whole enterprise is that now my teeth hurt more than ever. I‘ve had three fillings, and one of them causes me nothing but headaches. I can feel the tooth in my nose. I know this isn’t how its supposed to feel. I’m going back for my third trip next week, where I am scheduled to have a tooth extracted and to get another three fillings. I plan to have the dentist check out last week’s handiwork, and see what’s what. I’m hopeful he’ll tell me he made a mistake and it can be fixed. I’m fearful that he’ll tell me I need a root canal, less because of the pain and more because of the bill.

Had I done nothing, my mouth would have kept on feeling fine, even if it was rotting from the inside out. Now that I’m on the straight and narrow, it’s a bigger concern for me than it ever was, in ways both expected and otherwise.

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