Twenty-three may not be a groundbreaking age in most people's terms--I could already legally threaten my life and health in almost any way I wanted--but it means a lot to me. Twenty-three marks six years since seventeen, and, therefore, disproves my dentist's prophecy that I would lose all my teeth within five years.
This dentist was neither the first nor the last to foretell the doom of my teeth. Once, a dental hygienist simply refused to believe that I was biting down. When I informed her, through clenched teeth, that I was, her eyes widened slightly and she said, in a voice halfway between nervousness and disbelief, “I think the dentist should see this.” When the dentist saw this, he simply burst out laughing, and called for an audience. With the entire office staff gathered around me, he declared to my mother, loudly and with wide gestures that almost knocked over the receptionist, “Mrs. [P], your daughter’s bite would make a rabbi go cross-eyed!”
Maybe if you look at my teeth cross-eyed, they'd look normal; with 20-20 vision, they're certainly not. Dental schools should hire me as a case study; I have a malocclusion that is simultaneously Class I, II, and III, and no one knows why. At various times in the past three years, while trying to explain my teeth’s post-orthodontia game of musical chairs, dentists have told me that I am a mouth-breather, a tongue-thruster, and that I swallow like an infant. Plus, I have a square face with no chin, and excess vertical height, although whether the surgeon meant in my face or just in general was ambiguous. Fixing the problem is as hard as diagnosing it: the four or five oral surgeons I've visited have each had a different suggestion (braces, surgery, braces and surgery) and a different prediction of success (guaranteed, doubtful, 50%). I once watched a jaw surgeon—a licensed professional, mind you--spend twenty minutes trying to figure out how my teeth work. He had plastic molds, and he moved them up and down, left and right, the look of perplexity on his face growing every minute. At last, he looked up, deeply serious, and simply shook his head at me, making soft, “tsk, tsk” tongue clicks. He looked so disappointed that I felt guilty, as if it were my fault.
It's not my fault, though: I wore braces for three years in middle school, including an agonizing two weeks during which my jaw was rubber-banded shut, and I wore my retainer every single night for another four, until, finally, a dentist told me to just throw it away, already. I am mildly, slightly, okay, fine, totally and utterly obsessed with my teeth. I brush and floss and rinse with mouthwash at least daily. I see a dentist regularly. And, most obsessive of all, since that day six years ago, I count down the time until all my teeth fall out. I wake up every morning and run my tongue over my teeth, checking for loose or absent ones (currently: all present, three loose) and verifying their current position (currently: contact between 9 and 24, 14 and 19; not bad--but weren't 3 and 30 touching yesterday?). Yes, most people got over that in fifth grade. Other people have stress dreams in which their teeth move and crumble; this is my stress reality. Nearly everyone close to me has, at some point, received a stressed-out, weepy late-night phone call about how embarrassed I'd be to get dentures in college.
But now, with my last birthday, it's been more than five years, and I have still all my teeth, down even to my stubborn baby molar. Their underlying form may be crooked, but they look straight, and, what's more, they work perfectly fine. (I mean, I rarely chew on my right side, because the teeth don't make contact, but, really, that's not so bad. I don't really like to chew food anyway.) Plus, I've relaxed somewhat about the possibility of losing them. If they go, they go, and at least I won't have to suffer through thirty seconds of Listerine every morning. And besides, though I dreaded dentures in college, "dentures in grad school" would be a great title for my autobiography.