To the teeth.

Just about four years ago, I was in a car with two friends and we were playing a raucous game of "Question and Answer" where no question was too risque' but you were armed with the ability to "pass" if you desired not to answer it.  When the question "what is your most disgusting habit?" came around, I sheepishly replied with what I thought was my most disgusting habit: I pick my nose; probably a lot.  I don't pick my nose in a Nickelodeon kind of way, I don't wipe it on people and I certainly don't partake in its nutritional content like my brother often did as a kid.  But I do pick it because I need to and I always feel better after I do.  If you need to stop reading my blog because I pick my nose, so be it.

Back to the point: I shared this shameful secret with my friends who replied, quite boisterously, "OMG THAT DOESN"T COUNT EVERYONE PICKS THEIR NOSE!"  I had no idea.  My Catholic upbringing had left me with the impression that no one ever deviates from the expected course EXCEPT me, and 'tis shameful indeed when you do.  I felt immediately relieved to know that I was not the only adult nose picker on the planet, but in fact, I was in good company!  Did you know that people fart, too?  Good god, we're a bunch of heathens up in here!

You might be curious how this parlays into a post about dental hygiene, but here's the deal: just like nose picking, no one talks about it.  Last year I cracked a molar on the bottom right side and felt immense shame because I existed years without having dental insurance, missing out on regular cleanings and check ups, but also because for many years I actually had dental insurance I still didn't go.  Because I was ashamed.  When I started talking to friends and family about it, it was like the sun started shining just that brighter.  I was not alone.  When I had to face a complete extraction of the tooth because the crack went below the gumline, people started outing themselves as having implants too.  It is surmised that the tooth cracked because of a combination of things: lack of preventative care for many years, inefficient flossing, braces for five years (where the molar was wrapped in one of those metal sleeves), and smoking. 

As a culture, we've become obsessed with aesthetics of everything and so I figured the most people did to care for their teeth outside of regular check ups was the overuse of whitening strips.  Turns out, people seem to do a whole host of interesting things to their mouths to get by.  I had a cavity the size of Texas on a tooth and nursed it with Anbesol and Tylenol until I saw my dentist.  I was terrified that it would cost me millions of dollars and more pain than humanly manageable to fill...but he looked at it, shot me up with novacaine, filled it in and I feel great.  There is still some lingering hesitation with going to the dentist, but I am one of the fortunate few who does have excellent coverage.  My dentist, Dr. Butts*, and his hygienist are absolutely wonderful, as well.  That definitely helps.  I have an appointment on Friday for another cavity filling, so I've been thinking a lot about my dental compulsions and rituals.  Naturally, I've grown curious about other folks and what they do.

When I stick to my tooth-care routine, it goes something like this:
MORNING: use inhaler (Symbicort, for asthma), rinse mouth with Listerine, brush teeth AND tongue, full-on Listerine swish
THROUGHOUT THE DAY: I floss at my desk after meals, though I am considering bringing in a toothbrush/toothpaste for after meals or sugary snacks
EVENING: floss for about two minutes, brush teeth AND tongue, 30 second swish with ACT mouthwash
TWICE YEARLY: cleanings with the sweetest hygienist ever
I use the following products:
I've heard from people over the years that they hate flossing, and I was very staunchly in that camp for many, many years.  Then, after my tooth cracked, my dentist said that I should look at flossing like this: only floss the teeth you want to keep.  In the past, I would've laughed it off.  TEETH?  I'm not going to lose my teeth!  Joke's on me.  Despite the very excellent dental care I received as a child, I did not floss like I should have and I lost a very lovely molar.  It's probably difficult for me to convey to a bunch of internet readers how very, completely lacking in judgment I am about this, but I genuinely want to know what your routines look like.  I've had dentists laugh off the use of mouthwash in the past, but I feel like my regimen has only made my teeth stronger.  Flossing?  What kind of toothpaste do you use?  Anything you might want to share would be great...and not only for me, but for other people.  I can't promise that anything I've shared already, or anything that might be shared in the comments, might help you feel braver about facing dental procedures or that any of it would encourage you to modify your routines.  It's worth knowing, though, and it's definitely important to pull these sorts of talks out of the shadows and into the light.

* Yes, really.  Dr. Butts!
[Image courtesy: Tooth Brushes by the Curiosity Shoppe - $80]

DISCLAIMER: I am keenly aware of how outrageously expensive dental hygiene and dental procedures are for people with and without insurance.  I have close friends and family who have had to face some pretty profound issues with their teeth and the costs inherent in caring for them.  With or without regular dental visits, I do think it's valuable to share knowledge about what we use to care for our teeth on a day to day basis, and that's what I'm trying to talk about here.


  1. This is what I do:
    Mornings - (pre breakfast) brush with tom's of maine, maybe swish with mouthwash

    Evenings - swish with crest pro health mouthwash, floss if I can bring myself to (3-4x weekly), brush w/ toms of maine with my sonicare, put in mouthgard after soaking in hot water

    I've had a mouthgard to combat TMJ and bruxism for 7 years and I finally need to get a new one, as I've clenched it to the point of cracking. However, it's really, really helpful about reducing the wear and tear on my back teeth. Though it hasn't stopped me from needed 4 crowns so far. I have weak teeth that way.

  2. Damn it Meaghan! I can barely start my day without reading your blog anymore! Love it! And BTW, I had to get two crowns in one year a few years back, so you are in good company there. I will not, however, admit to picking my nose. What would dear sweet grandma have thought about that?


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All content © Meaghan O'Malley, 2009-2012. Header image by Rebekka Seale.