I know my dentist’s phone number by heart.
I recognize that it’s weird to know your dentist’s phone number. I’m talking about his office number, not his home number, though I do have his cell phone number saved into my computer somewhere. Not normal. But this is the kind of thing that has to happen when you have Hypodontia.
I was about 5 years old when the dentist first told my mom that I was going to be missing permanent teeth. They didn’t know how many at that time–my permanent teeth buds were just starting to form. But he did know that I was missing my front two bottom teeth at the very least. Mom immediately took action and started to convey two very important things to me. First, she taught me how to smile without exposing my bottom teeth. It didn’t matter much at the time, my baby teeth were all still fully in tact and normally sized, relative to the other teeth in my mouth. Luckily, she had the foresight to know that if I learned to smile with all my teeth hanging out of my mouth, the habit would be hard to break later in life. Secondly, she taught me that it was REALLY FREAKING IMPORTANT for me to take good care of my teeth. Brushing and flossing have always been a part of my life because, honestly, she freaked me the hell out. I was convinced that if I missed a single night of brushing my teeth, I was going to wake up the next morning with giant cavities and all my teeth would fall out and WHAMMO. WHO’S LOOKING REAL HOMELESS? ME.
I took both of the lessons to heart. To this day, I still smile without showing my bottom teeth, and I still brush my teeth for an asinine amount of time every morning, counting the seconds I spend on each tooth group, just like my mom and Dr. Lutz taught me.
I still have the baby teeth, by the way. Years ago, Dr. Lutz cemented them together so they would have some extra stability. It has worked like a charm, but I keep dental insurance at all times. I’m convinced that the very first second that I don’t have dental insurance, both of these bad boys (and probably my 3rd* baby tooth, a molar I still have) are going to go flying out of my mouth with both of their calcified middle fingers pointed up at me. I was supposed to have lost them sometime around high school graduation, but they’re still hanging in there. But that’s neither here nor there. Because believe it or not, this post isn’t really about my teeth.
It’s about my gums. Good teeth health goes hand-in-hand with good gum health. And hypodontia, along with my obsessive need to please everyone, go hand-in-hand with DESPERATELY NEEDING MY DENTIST’S APPROVAL.
It always seemed like every time I went to the dentist when I was young (which was A LOT), my gums would swell up like a float on Thanksgiving morning. I couldn’t figure it out. I was brushing, flossing, taking care of my teeth, not eating hard candy, not drinking cokes. And yet, I’d go in for a cleaning or an orthodontic adjustment and POOF. Massively swollen gums. It pissed me right the hell off.
In my massive embarrassment, I finally asked my dentist what was going on. He always said, “your gums look fine, a little swollen, but totally healthy.” After several visits in a row of having huge puffy gums the 2 or 3 days before a dentist visit, I finally made him talk to me about the problem, like, FOR REAL. He started asking me a line of questions. What other times do you notice this happening? Is it only when you come here, or does it happen when you’re not coming to the dentist, too?
It was pretty easy for me to recall all the instances in which my gums had ballooned up. When they get all puffy like that, it’s really hard to eat because chewing becomes incredibly painful. And I like to eat. So I notice.
I started telling him about all the times. During finals and midterms, both. When I flew to Arizona to meet my then-boyfriend’s parents. Every time I’m sick.
Dr. Lutz’s eyes lit up. “Oh,” he exclaimed, “you have stress sensitive gums! Do you worry about coming to see me? Does coming to the dentist make you nervous?” I said that yeah, it made me anxious because I was always afraid they were going to tell me I had cavities or that it was time to do surgery on my mouth. He then confirmed that yes. My gums were highly sensitive to the stress hormones in my blood, and that whenever I got stressed out, my gums were going to be the first thing to tell me.
Awesome. Just awesome. I would have preferred to have to floss more often. But whatever.
So on Wednesday morning when I rolled out of bed at 5:00 to meet Jennifer and do homework, only to find that the backs of my gums felt like an over-inflated inner-tube, I knew there was no denying it anymore. I was stressed out. I’d been playing it cool all week. Low sleep, lots of homework, surprise papers, tests, skills check-offs, poor nutrition and being sick on top of all of that. That sounds stressful, doesn’t it? But I had convinced myself otherwise. I had convinced myself that I was handling it. No sweat. I got this.
Sometimes I need my gums to swell up, I guess. If for nothing else, they force me into a long-hard reality check.
After I finished the skills check-offs and the tests and the homework that I had to do on Wednesday, the swelling went down and my mouth function returned to normal. And I’m no longer trying to fool myself into thinking that I can survive on little sleep, little food and no fun. Zack and I are packing up the car and heading south to Camp Eagle for the holiday weekend. I’m going to run and swim and bike and most importantly, I am going to SLEEP. I can’t wait. Expect short picture updates all weekend. I’m going to be having way too much fun to bother with words.
*I am missing 8 permanent teeth total: all 4 wisdom teeth, 2 bottom central incisors, bottom left 2nd pre-molar and top right 1st pre-molar. Since wisdom teeth don’t have “baby versions” and I lost the top-right pre-molar’s baby tooth somewhere along the way, I only have the three baby teeth left.