You Have Short Teeth

25 Jun


Constructive criticism is the worst thing to have ever been invented.

Seriously. There are so many rude, insulting things that you can say to a person, so long as you categorize them under the umbrella of “constructive criticism.”

“Rhonda, I think you’d run faster if your legs weren’t covered in so much grotesque, mammoth-like hair.”

“Deb, if you put effort into your appearance, you might look like a young Tim Allen.”

“Stu, the way you play the trombone has me wishing I’d been born with artichokes for ears…may I suggest some more practice?”

Leg hair insults, B level celebrity-inspired facial insults, and musical insults…all “perfectly acceptable” if packaged as constructive criticism.

If you can’t tell, I HATE criticism. Of any kind.

You think I laugh too loudly?? How about a foghorn to your ear?

You don’t like the way I chew? Well I don’t like the way you don’t chew.

You think I have poor taste in music? WELL…yes. Broadway show tunes and deep track Alanis Morrisette songs are not for everyone.

If I could choose between unlimited praise and one golden nugget of constructive criticism, which do you think I’d choose? Exactly. I’d flush that little nugget right down the toilet and put on sunglasses to shield myself from the blinding praise.

The source of the criticism doesn’t really matter. The Queen of England could tell me that I’d benefit exponentially from eating more English crumpets, and – instead of being amazed that the Queen deigned to talk to me, or interested in picking her brain for a crumpet recipe – I’d be irrevocably hurt and damaged by the fact that she took issue with my eating habits.

Yesterday, I learned that my distaste for criticism even extends to the medical fields.

Yes. The dentist hurt my feelings.

I’ve written before about my long-term relationship with my pediatric dentist. Ew, you pervs, not the dentist himself. I meant the establishment. Although I’m not going to not say that my pediatric dentist didn’t have a little sumpin’ sumpin’. (Cavities. Those are what he didn’t have.)

Anyway, going to my pediatric dentist started to get weird. I would walk in, all twenty years of me, and moms would stare at me like I was the office harlot. My dentist would ask me how high school was going and sometimes I’d stoop so low as to tell him I was “really loving biology.” It was bad.

So, this week, I decided it was time to make the shift. I got the number of a big girl dentist, and I made an appointment.

Let me preface this story by saying that I was unaware I had booked an appointment for a full scale cleaning. When I called last week about a tooth that was giving me trouble, I’d somehow also managed to arrange a full appointment. (How you could mess up a simple scheduling task like that is very unclear.)

At the pediatric dentist, they make you brush your teeth before the cleaning. Probably because kids are gross and will lie to you about having brushed their teeth, when really they just stuck a dry toothbrush in there and then proceeded to “accidentally” swallow a frog and wash it down with Kool-Aid. You never know what kind of amphibian activity you’ll find in a kid’s mouth…

Having just come from work, I expected the secretary would point me in the direction of the “brush up station.” When she didn’t, I asked her if I could brush up, since I hadn’t had time to do so, beforehand. She looked at me like I’d just told her I hadn’t brushed my teeth that day, and had actually been using mayonnaise as toothpaste for the last twenty-one years.

“I think you’ll be fine,” she said, confusedly.


My new dental practice is run by a South Korean family. The two dentists are married, and the hygienist is their daughter. She wears braces and is very nice. (She’s not 14. She’s 25. I see how that could be confusing.) We bonded over the little things, like how we both love the color purple and were worried it would rain that day. Things were off to a good start.

But then came the X-rays. I never knew myself to be particularly afraid of radioactivity, but it turns out, I am not a fan.

Every time she shoved the thing in my mouth that is responsible for the image capturing (a technical description of the process), I would wince and accidentally knock it out of position. At first, this was amusing to her.

Ha, look at this adult woman wincing like she’s taking tiny cream pies to her eyeballs, she was (probably) thinking.

But then, I could sense her growing dissatisfaction.

“You need to stay still,” she said, in a harsher tone.

I felt nervous, and wished there was someone there to offer me a copy of Highlights magazine and a sugar-free lollipop.

When we finished the X-rays, the hygienist took a long, hard look at them.

“You have short teeth,” she said.

Huh. I wondered if she meant they were short, relative to a vampire’s? Or if she meant “short” as in grumpy…like, “your teeth are being short with me, tell them to cut it out!”

“Is that bad?” I asked.

She explained to me that if I were a big, tall man, the roots of my teeth would be very long, and my teeth would be very stable. But, since neither of those things is the case, my teeth are not long, nor stable.

Huh. She hadn’t really answered my question.

“So…is something bad going to happen to my teeth? Do I need to do anything?”

“I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do. It’s nature.”

Wonderful. So here I am, with all thirty-two of my “short teeth,” thinking that these little shits are going to be the end of me. Death by short teeth. Unique, but not at all compelling.

“You never had braces, right?” she asked.

Actually, my short teeth and I had engaged in FOUR YEARS of brace-wearing. FOUR YEARS. And, even after I’d had my braces removed, I continued to wear my retainer ALL DAY, EVERY DAY, well into my junior year of high school:


(This is a photo of me, with my friend Alison, and my retainer, in France. Can you imagine someone sitting at a café in France, poised to eat a crepe, but first having to remove her retainer and put it in its case…at a café table…in France…)

I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t immediately obvious that I’d had extensive dental work. Although I suppose these are the results you get when your orthodontist was a toupee-wearing Star Wars enthusiast that only communicated via Star Wars metaphors…

After questioning my orthodontic history, it came time for the hygienist to find the source of my discomfort.

“Does it hurt here?” she asked.





“Ow, ow, yes that’s it!”

“Oh, so it hurts when I do this?” she asked, as she vigorously tapped against the sore spot with a metal tool, like she was communicating via Morse code.

“Yes, yes it does.”

“So, let me be clear, this spot, this one right here, where I’m tapping, the one right here, is painful?”

No, actually! You cured it! Thanks SO much for that vigorous tooth massage.

“Yes. That is the spot.”

“Ah ha!” she exclaimed. “I solved it!”

“What? What is the problem?” I asked.

“You have receding gums.”

I was reminded of the poster of “Dental Anomalies” I’d seen in the office’s lobby, upon which “receding gums” was listed as number four.

The hygienist explained to me that I’d been brushing my teeth too “vigorously” and had damaged my gums to the point of no return.

“Wait, so even if I fix my brushing technique, my gums won’t ever go back to normal and I’ll always be in discomfort?”

“Yes,” she said. “It’s like a bad restaurant – once it’s bad, you never go back!”

My damaged gums are the Chili’s of teeth.

I knew that brushing with a chainsaw was probably a bad idea, but it was such a time effective technique! This is what I get for trying to save a minute or two.

“You’ll just have to avoid hot and cold foods and beverages,” she said.

Good to know. So now, when I go shopping at Whole Foods, I’ll head straight to the “lukewarm food” aisle. I think it’s between the Chia seeds section and the hemp nightgown section.

“Okay,” I said.

Like a fool, I thought that my short, damaged teeth had received all the criticism they were going to receive that day.

But then, it came to the hygienist’s attention that, in addition to being fun size, my teeth are also very thin.

I can’t say I hate the idea of having thin, petite teeth. It’s probably the only time I’ll ever be warned about having something that’s “too thin” on my body. It’s very French of me, isn’t it? Waif-like teeth are all the rage in Europe.

“You’re going to need to stop using whitening toothpaste,” she said. “It’s like rubbing sand on your teeth.”

For the last four years, I’d been spending hundreds of dollars on a certain brand of whitening toothpaste, when I could have been using bottled sand from the reservoir near my house. These are the little things that a pediatric dentist will just neglect to tell you. (That, and also that the tooth-cleaning wand isn’t actually called a “Winnie the Poo Stick.”)

By the time the dentist finally arrived, I was fully aware of my shortcomings.

To re-cap, my teeth are:

  1. Short
  2. Weak
  3. Short and weak
  4. Crooked
  5. Thin

She took one look at my X-rays, and then said, “You never had braces, right?”

When you leave the plush confines of pediatrics, you lose the major perks, like temporary tattoos and cookie dough flavored fluoride.

But, you gain the gifts of perspective and constructive criticism. And those are the gifts that keep on giving.

Just kidding. I still hate criticism.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go invest in a nice set of wooden dentures – functional, and great as a Halloween accessory!

Good luck criticizing those!

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