“Azuka you’re no longer taking care of your teeth,” my Mom told me one day when I said a smiley good morning to her and my Dad.
I was six. I had the whitest teeth you ever saw. I had the most winning smile. I loved to smile…
It therefore came as a surprise to me when my Mom told me I hadn’t been taking care of my most prized assets — my teeth. I loved to show them off like the man in the Flourish Toothpaste advert who got stuck somewhere and signaled an airplane by ‘shining’ his teeth.
What was wrong? I found out when I looked in the mirror. I’d just started to replace my milk teeth. The two new incisors at the bottom of my mouth weren’t white — they were a shocking yellow and the whiteness of the surrounding teeth made them look horribly dirty.
That was when I stopped smiling. That was when I stopped talking.
I got singled out every day in school during the morning assembly inspections for having ‘brown teeth.’ I had a teacher tell me to shut my ‘dirty mouth’ when we were reciting in class. Some of my friends and classmates made rude remarks.
I smiled less. I talked less.
When I’m asked today why I don’t talk much I say it’s because I grew up around books and didn’t mix much. That’s only half true. I read a lot, but I also made a lot of trouble and could be found on every ‘names of noisemakers’ list in school. When people ask why I hardly smile I dodge the question.
I used all the ‘remedies’ under the sun. I brushed with salt. I tried various toothpaste brands from Close-Up to Crest. I used ‘special’ toothbrushes — straight, curved, hard bristles, soft bristles, combinations… I chewed chewing stick until my jaw hurt. I used charcoal. I used white sand. I tried sandpaper once. The yellow remained, and all of my white milk teeth got replaced with yellow. I vowed to myself that someday when I grew up I’d go to America, get all my teeth knocked out, and replace them with shiny white porcelain teeth.
I smiled even less. I talked even less.
I began to watch the way I talked. I talk very softly because that keeps my lips close to each other. My social life was affected. I started to get attracted to girls. I knew I wasn’t bad-looking — heck, some of the girls even told me. My teeth held me back.
The good side of things was that I became a good listener and that helped me focus more on observing people and writing. I once wooed someone in high school by having her read my work. I never got into arguments because they involved a lot of talking. I focused on my reading and kept to myself because it ensured I didn’t have to talk. The bad side remains my uncommunicativeness and the perpetual frown on my face that scares everyone off.
When I was 14 my Mom took me to the Oxford Dental Care to see a dentist. I was filled with trepidation. I expected to get a reprimand for caring so little for my teeth. My Mom as usual made no bones about what she wanted.
“Doctor,” she said, “Could you take a look at my son’s teeth. He doesn’t brush well and he…”
Talk about being mortified. I decided to at least have a redeeming factor.
“I’ve got dental calculus,” I blurted out, interrupting her. That’s dentists’ lingo for tartar.
“Where did you hear that term?” the dentist was impressed.
“Oh,” I said nonchalantly. “I read my Dad’s medical encyclopedia.”
“He reads a lot,” my Mom said, ever the proud mom.
“Wonderful,” the dentist said and we went in for my examination.
When he was done he sat with me to discuss privately.
“You don’t have dental calculus,” he informed me.
Could it be far worse? Had I been deceiving myself that I had deposits on my teeth when I had some even worse condition?
“Relax young man,” the dentist told me. “There’s nothing wrong with your teeth. They just happen to be that color naturally — that’s why they’re even and no white shows through. There’s one problem though…”
“I’d say you take too much care of your mouth.”
Now that was new. When did it become too much?
“You’re damaging your gums by brushing too hard. Nothing’s wrong with your teeth. Just be careful not to hurt your gum and palate — there’re a lot of abrasions on them,” he explained.
So that was it. The years of suffering an inferiority complex, the taunts, the insults, the canings from the teachers. They’d all been for nothing.
It’s been four years since then. I’m here but don’t think of knocking out and replacing all my teeth. I don’t use any particularly special toothpaste although I love Crest. I still don’t smile, as in grin, and I still am very much the recluse.
If you look at my pictures, you’ll discover there’s no dental display there. Guess the words that still strike fear into me till today?