Friday, February 03, 2006

The Desire for Perfect Teeth

Fourteen years ago one of my front teeth was injured in a fight. Eventually the tooth died and I had to have a veneer placed over it to hide the discoloration. Last Tuesday, during a basketball game, a large piece of the veneer chipped off. The result was a rather unattractive smile.

My description: I looked like a hillbilly. I was so disturbed by the jagged tooth that I avoided going out in public as much as possible.

Of course, in many parts of the world, and even here in America, people walk around all the time with broken, missing, discolored and/or misshapen teeth. Dental care is expensive and cosmetic dental work is even worse. The only people with nice teeth are the young and the adults who can afford it.

We may say dental care is about health (and it is in many ways) but it’s also about class distinctions. Our smiles let people know to what social strata we belong. My reaction to my damaged tooth was not just vanity but also social embarrassment. I wasn’t worried about people thinking I was unattractive, I was worried that people would think I was poor or uneducated or uncleanly.

I would like to pretend I am above such feelings—that I don’t care what other people think. But I’m no more or less petty than any other human and so a broken tooth bothered me greatly. Which is why I got in to see the dentist as fast as I could and now sport a smile much more befitting my desired societal status.

It doesn’t seem to matter how civilized we become. We still seek adornments and physical modifications to distinguish class.

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