First, let's set a ground rule about this post. This post will not be about gory, drill-y, difficult to relate specific tooth procedures. I lack the narrative skills to set them forth, or else I would either own a dental floss magazine or be Stephen King.
But today, after yet another session at my kind, tolerant dentist, I have come to an amazing revelation. I always thought my sanity resided in my mind, or in some complex endocrinous mass best know to alternative healers on distant mountaintops. But I see the light now. I know that my madness is in my teeth.
Dental health resembles therapy in one crucial respect. Essentially before one is mature enough to know right from wrong, one has already totally ruined one's teeth. I should have gotten the hint that my life was over when, at age six, large leaded pencil debris was found among my blossoming baby teeth. I suppose it's the oral equivalent of an idee fixee, except that we might call it instead an Idee Lead Number 3.
Dental matters resemble psychotherapy in another essential respect--cause and effect seems to relate in part to genetic things nobody understands, and complex chemical reactions nobody can define.
As with counseling, a dental visit seems to involve a relatively comfortable chair, unfortunate personal inward gyrations, and rather cryptic instructions about seemingly mundane matters, told with an assurance simultaneously unsettling and over-familiar.
Today I had a moment of courage, when I calmly announced, after being told I was in for a sermon on one dental dysfunction or another, that I had established a sermon quota, which meant that I would hear out any wisdom, but would in fact be limited as to the quantity I would actually take in. My dentist came in, gave me the briefest version, assured me that he importuned on the topic only because we were friends. Then my charming dental hygienist did those unmentionable things they do, with nary a word other than "turn this way" and "open wider". This, I say, is therapy. Don't cure my mind. Clean my teeth.
I used to believe that, as a complex organism, I had a world of fascinating geegaws within me that could take literally years to unravel. Now that I have accepted that my mind is in my molars, I realize that fading bits of organic matter, a collection of metallic fillings, and some charming veneers which replaced my fluoride-rich metallic deposits, are as close to a coherent psyche was I really come. In this construct, my gums are less toothholders than essential brain functionaries. But then gingivitis becomes less a nuisance than a life-oppressor. Maybe I need to rethink this post.
Let's talk about some essential advantages of dental health over mental health:
a. dental health does not involve group therapy;
b. dental therapy tends to happen in reasonably spaced bursts;
c. the "meds" in dental therapy are largely nitrous oxide or numbing agents; and
d. you never really suspect that your dentist needs more tooth help than you do.
I tend to see life in terms of what I call "spiritual lack"--of worlds of people who need a bit more meaning in their day to day. But I see I had it all wrong. The lack, I posit, is all tied up in the teeth.
This is a comforting philosophy, after all. If one loses all one's teeth, it's not an irremediable problem--it just takes a little extra hassle to get the various artificial substances implanted. Android teeth dream electric dreams every day.
This may also explain the high suicide rate among dentists. This may explain why mental health professionals often speak in such hushed tones--who would want to speak at high volume,when the real area of focus is not in the mind--but in the teeth?
Most of all, this may be why so many years of mental health therapy can sometimes generate so few answers. The secret, after all, is in the teeth and gums. But who will refer one to a professional in a different discipline? It's a simple licensure problem.
The more I think about it, the more I believe that my revolutionary discovery applies only to me. Perhaps this is my uniqueness. I use my mental powers to slice into raisin bran each day. The rest of the world turns on a mind/body axis. I turn on two canines, numerous molars, and all sorts of incisor-y things.
I'm sure I've written of my now-lost supernumerary teeth. This hereditary condition caused me to have two extra little fangs appear between my baby teeth and my permanent teeth, as had each of my siblings. I do not, based on this revelation, claim my place in an Anne Rice novel, but perhaps my one chance at Extra Sensory Perception was removed with dental anesthetic. I just remember when I asked the specialist dentist when he was going to begin the procedure, he said he had just finished. It was just like I imagine would have happened in the X-Files.
Now that I have been through the latest round of the Icelandic Saga I call my 2003 Dental Calendar, I feel, somehow, a bit redeemed. My teeth have something to tell me, and it resonates, and it is positive, and it all lines up when I bite down. I have no idea what it is, but I feel it is a semaphore signal from my soul.
I do not know what it is my dentist does, but I am sure it is mysterious, and I am sure it works. Now if I can only floss my way back to normalcy.