I've just spent three hours in the dentist's chair and I'm currently quietly dribbling coffee down the front of my shirt, whilst marveling at the squeaky cleanness of my teeth. I feel as though I've embarked on something of a journey and I've taken the first important, jaw-aching steps.
One thing you can't ignore, is that most Americans have great teeth. Smiles are brilliant white and teeth are either perfectly straight or in the process of being straightened. They're also obsessed with flossing - which to be honest I've never been keen on - there's something about putting bits of string in my mouth that sets my teeth on edge... but maybe there's something in it after all. So, in an attempt to get on board with a new flossing regimen (whatever that is!), we purchased a water pik - basically a high pressure jet wash for teeth. My first attempt was pretty disastrous- I nearly took an eye out before I mastered the art of navigating the jet in the right direction!
Truth be told, us Brits are generally known for our wonky chompers that are more sunset yellow than pearly white, so it's easy to become pretty self conscious when surrounded by so many dazzling smiles. It's not surprising that husband, Son #2 and myself are all a bit reluctant to smile for the camera! (Son#1 already has a perfect Hollywood smile, thanks to braces and genetics).
Now I'm no stranger to the dentist; I've kept up with my regular check-ups over the years, but I'll confess, it's been a bit of a rocky road (and not the nice, ice-cream flavour kind!). As a kid, I managed to avoid fillings, with the exception of one small 'temporary' amalgam in a back molar circa 1987, but I did endure a couple of years of train-track braces to try to coax my teeth into some kind of formation. The end result was acceptable at best, but there was plenty that got overlooked over the years - including gum erosion and uncorrected incisors.
Husband remains tight-lipped about his dental history, but let's just say he's never been on first name terms with his dentist. He subscribes very much to the 'if it ain't broken, don't fix it' school of thought, which is fine... until it is broken! But he's finally ready to tackle a couple of decades of neglect in search of a better smile.
After moving to America, and with a great dental plan in place, it seemed like the perfect time to finally tackle our teeth. Son#2 is well on the way to being ready for his close up. He's currently sporting some rather fabulous invisible braces (no ugly train tracks for him!) to correct an over-bite and over-crowding. Some reluctant back molars are finally able to make an appearance, although it's not much fun to be a teething teenager!
I had a wonderful NHS dentist in the UK. She was caring and gentle and I wondered if I'd be able to find anyone who could make me relax the way she did. Luckily, after doing a lot of research, I found a local dentist with a surgery that looks like it should be featured in an interior design magazine. Sumptuous sofas and chandeliers adorn the waiting room and there's plenty to distract you from the fearful sounds of drilling with headphones, TV and music to relax you whilst you're undergoing treatment.
That said, the biggest shock for me is that having been used to twenty-minute checks and a quick clean every year, I realise that there's been a lot going on under the surface that went unchecked, which is why today's appointment took three hours. The end result: a proper filling porcelain to replace the mercury-laden amalgam that hid a tunnel of decay underneath that looked like something from the Great Escape, two preventative sealants, a deep clean, a treatment plan for two veneers and a referral to a periodontist. Any scepticism I felt was soon allayed by seeing the photographs - the holes, the gaps, the inflammation - all there in glorious technicolour! Yes, I could ignore it and hope for the best, or I could bite the bullet (pun intended) and tackle the issues head on.
There's no doubt that there's a different attitude to teeth here. Whilst in the UK we're far more likely to grin (or not) and bear it, here, any possible problem or imperfection is dealt with early. So whilst I'm playing catch up, it does look as though I'll soon be smiling with some all-American confidence.