Ever since I was a little kid, the tooth to the right of my central incisor (dental lingo for front tooth) has been kind of crooked. It never bothered me much. Then, a decade ago when I moved to Los Angeles, a dentist warned me this was a terrible thing! He said all my teeth would continue to shift forward as I ‘aged’ and eventually require braces. The guy wouldn’t let up. He went on and on describing horrendous scenarios of what my teeth would look like if I didn’t cave to his $7500 Invisalign quote.

Coming from Washington state where people are, or at least were, very earthy, friendly and warm, the entire experience had me sweating in the chair. Why hadn’t my dentist back home warned me about this when I’d seen him only six months ago? What did this guy mean the roots could protrude through my gum line? Where in the hell was I going to come up with $7500?

At some point I blocked out what he was saying and his voice became Charlie Brown’s teacher, ‘wa wa, wa wa wa, wa wa wa wa wa’. Plastered on the walls all around the dental chair I noticed framed glossies of this guy and Mick Jagger. How had I ended up here? Eff you 1-800-Dentist.

Photo on 4-22-15 at 4.55 PM #3

Somehow I made it out of the chair and out the door that day without an Invisalign commitment, never to return.

Since then I have habitually, sometimes obsessively, examined my teeth to make sure I wasn’t turning into snaggletooth. I am 80% convinced the lines around my mouth come from flossing and standing in front of the mirror taking inventory of my teeth (see: first photograph). Are they in place? Are they hanging out of my mouth? Is anything that dentist guy said happening? Good grief.

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A couple weeks ago I decided to stop the insanity and see my dentist for an Invisalign consult. She runs a great practice filled with awesome teeth, and never pressures you into anything. After hearing the ins and outs and seeing some before and after shots (including molds wtf!), I decided to go to the next phase and get impressions done so Invisalign can come up with a program that, ahem, will be nowhere near $7500.

Cut to scene and there I am in the chair this afternoon, mouth full of gummy foam and trays, jaw clamped shut, leaned forward with drool spilling out of my mouth onto the towel in my lap. For four minutes, two times, one each for top and bottom, I fought the gags while the dental assistant cheered me on. At some point I recall the insides of my mouth being wiped down with cotton balls. How’s that for a visual? Thank God the entire thing is a blur, but at the time I couldn’t help thinking it was a preview to the nursing home years. Me and my drip cloth. Pride is dead.

I’d be lying if I said my life was a breeze right now. There’s a lot of uncertainty and I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. Every day I remind myself to just focus on today and let tomorrow take care of itself.

If hard times are supposed to make you strong and wise, I think it’s safe to say that only happens once you’ve passed through them. While you’re in the midst of trouble, trying to hold onto some semblance of dignity – and maybe gather a lesson or two along the way – is enough. As tough as it is to be put in a humbling position, in and out of the dentist’s chair, it’s teaching me a level of compassion I don’t think I understood or possessed before. Less judgment, more grace. Some floss and a retainer on the side.