The Whole Tooth
I’ve talked previously about my teeth obsession but since it’s something that’s constantly on my mind I wanted to expand on some of it.
Those of you that read the post about my dental history will already know about the traumatic dental procedures, the ineptitude of NHS dentists and the shame that I’ve suffered in the past. Since being diagnosed with teeth-specific body dysmorphia though, I wanted to revisit the topic in more detail.
My teeth aren’t good. I have deep fillings in all my remaining molars, small fillings in a few front teeth, yellow tetracycline staining, crooked teeth from overcrowding, receding gums from smoking and more chips in the front teeth than you can count on both hands thanks to multiple lip piercings and nail-biting. All of it is my fault to some degree, but some of the blame does rest with the negligent, incompetent dentists that allowed me to continue down this path and performed botched procedures, and some of the blame surely rests on poor genetics. Now, you might well think I’m mad for listing all that’s wrong with my teeth on the internet, for anyone to see, but taking full ownership of my faults somehow makes it a little easier to deal with and makes the shame of it easier to bear.
All of the things I’ve listed above are facts. To me, my teeth make me disgusting, despite the fact that I have a rigorous dental hygiene regime and am often praised by my dentist (who is wonderful and entertains my anxiety, and whom I see every fortnight for a check). It’s something I think about all the time and despite how much time I dedicate to keeping them clean, to me they’re never clean enough.
I’m angry about many things concerning my teeth. I’m angry that I was so half-hearted about their maintenance when I was younger, I’m angry that I smoked for so long and had such a sugary diet, I’m angry that I left it so late to educate myself about proper dental care and the repercussions of not adhering to strict rules. I’m so angry at myself that it makes me physically sick and tired. But ultimately, it’s pointless. I have to forgive myself but it’s something I haven’t yet worked out how to do.
It’s odd to me, that I could be diagnosed with body dysmorphia given everything I’ve listed above. There are many things wrong with the appearance of my teeth, so how can my perception be so wrong? I can only assume that somewhere along the way, my obsession became so great and I became so focused on the things that are wrong that I stopped seeing that there might be anything right.
I’ve finally got my referral for the orthodontist and go for x-rays and impressions on the 7th of May but all that’s done is fuel more worry. What if my enamel is so eroded that the brackets ruin what’s left? What if the roots are significantly shortened by the movement and the teeth become loose? What if having braces on discolours them even more? What if something goes wrong with an existing filling and having work done around the braces is nigh on impossible? What if my root-filled tooth disintegrates before it’s moved into a good enough position to be crowned? What if I take out a loan and spend £4000 on straightening only for it to lead to more work that I then can’t afford?
It’s never-ending, and my brain feels crowded and foggy.
I must find a way to get through this. The constant worry about something going wrong and the never-ending fear of being judged for having ‘bad teeth’ is preventing me from living fully.
I am literally doing everything I can. I’ve given up sweets and sugary drinks, I’ve given up caffeine, my alcohol intake is super limited and I take care of my teeth as though it’s a religious discipline. I take magnesium supplements and wear a mouthguard to try to stem the night-time clenching and I’ve educated myself to the point that I could give most dental nurses a run for their money. I need to cut myself some slack.
At the moment I’m 5 weeks away from starting my new course of body dysmorphia-focused CBT and rapidly running out of money to keep seeing the psychiatrist. For now I need to keep remembering what’s important. In the past week alone, I’ve had friends pop over and give me presents, flowers and send me a card in the post, just to say they’re thinking of me. If I had NO teeth, I’d still have amazing people in my life and that’s much more important than anything else.
At the end of the day, I need to try to remember that the only people who are pre-occupied with the way my teeth look are other people who are deeply insecure about their own. It’s what people like me do.
For now, I’m trying to set myself challenges. Last week I left the house wearing a white t-shirt, something I’d never have done because of the unfavourable colour comparison. I wore lipstick out of the house instead of putting it on and immediately wiping it off because I was afraid it would draw unwanted attention to my mouth. I’ve been making a conscious effort to look at people’s eye when they talk to me, rather than staring at their teeth. I’ve posted two pictures on Instagram showing my teeth, albeit flattering, well lit ones, in the past week. Not one bad thing happened as a result. People even complemented my teeth in one photo! Rather than telling myself that it was merely fortuitous lighting and a good angle and the compliments are based only on a carefully chosen static image, I need to start listening to the people who matter. Disregarding compliments makes no sense. The people saying nice things have nothing to gain, and are only doing so because they’re nice people, and might actually mean what they say.
I’m going to continue with the personal challenges to try and desensitise myself to the constant self-criticism and unending worry. I don’t think there’ll ever be a time when I like the way my teeth look, short of pulling them all out and replacing them with someone elses, but I’m hopeful that there might be a time when I don’t care.