Today, I feel the need to reveal one of my many neuroses. A few weeks back, I was talking with some friends and the conversation somehow turned to cavities. I proudly announced that I had never had one. Later, I started to ponder the nature of that pride as well as my almost obsessive attention to oral hygiene, and I came to a few conclusions...
Let me start by saying that I know there is no shame in having cavities. I'm sure (without having done any research) that the majority of people living in countries where there is ready access to modern dentistry have had at least one filling in their lives. I have nothing against these people, nor do I think the development of their cavities was the result of some kind of gross negligence on their parts. Yet when it comes to my own teeth, I am horrified of the idea of them. So I started to wonder where this horror comes from.
I don't fear the dentist. I'm one of those masochists who love having their teeth cleaned. Granted, I have never experienced the dentist's drill, but I'm really not afraid of that either. The majority of my baby teeth were extracted by a trained professional. And I've already said that cavities themselves don't bother me, at least on a philosophical level.
The best way to describe how I feel about my teeth is to use an analogy. For the past 24 years, I have been playing a game with myself. And for every day, week, year that goes by without a cavity, I win. BUT the moment one appears, I lose.
It's not unlike the classic gameshow Press Your Luck. As is the case on Press Your Luck, the game I play with my teeth is a mix of both luck and skill. I do all I can to make my teeth healthy; I brush twice daily, I use mouth wash, and I love to floss (masochistic, remember), but even then, the "Whammy" could show up and I would lose. What's more, each time I win (i.e. my dentist praises my perfect teeth), my jackpot (i.e. my irrational pride) increases, making the prospect of losing all the worse. It would almost have been better to get a cavity as a kid because now I live in constant fear of that Whammy. But that isn't the saddest part. Nor is it my weird, obsessive dental hygiene.
The saddest part is that the only way for me to win this game is to die. Without any cavities.
So that in the end, the prize I'm playing for is to have some mortician, or perhaps some archaeology students in the distant future, look at my remains and think, "Damn. That corpse has some beautiful teeth."