Lying down on a cold, unforgiving chair with a bright light shining down upon me, I remained as still as possible, trying not to choke on my own spit. My skin crawled with goosebumps, my hands were cold and clammy, and I had more nerves than I’ve ever had before. The anticipation in the room was palpable, like I could reach out and grab it. After a couple of suspenseful seconds, my dentist looked up, gave me her disappointed doe eyes, and said,
“Maya has a cavity.”
Even though I should have been mortified because this wasn’t my first soiree with a cavity, or embarrassed because my dentist was a family friend whose children have grown up with me, I was most nervous about what my mother’s and father’s reactions would be. Most parents would probably shrug it off and tell their kids that they need to brush more often, but my parents were not like that.
You see, I’ve had both the blessing and the misfortune of growing up in a family in which both of my parents are specialized dentists- my dad being an orthodontist, and my mom being a maxillofacial prosthodontist.
It’s no fault of my parents that I’ve had a couple cavities. Since birth they’ve preached the glories of floss and the blessings of a clean mouth. They emphasize that the teeth in the back are just as important as the visible ones in the front and the perils of gingivitis and periodontitis.
Around the house, in the car, and at dinner, I try to direct them away from looking at my mouth. They can tell how long it’s been since I’ve last flossed, how much plaque has accumulated on my teeth, and what I ate for lunch hours ago. I can acutely feel my parents’ eyes burning holes into my teeth when I’m talking. Before I go out they make sure to yell out, “I hope you have flossed!” They even made sure to pass out disposable toothbrushes and floss to my friends after a dinner we hosted before Winter Formal (nobody took them).
Although I would never tell my parents, I enjoy the routine of brushing and flossing twice (and often three times) a day. I’ve had nights when I suddenly wake up with a racing heartbeat because I had a nightmare about going to school with food in my teeth. I don’t feel good when I forget to floss, and felt utterly terrible the only time I forgot to brush. When my teeth are clean, I feel clean. In a world that often unfairly judges you for your appearance, my parents just want me to put my best *tooth* forwards. I can never control the stigma I receive from my dark skin or my gender, but I can control my brushing and flossing habits.
When they tell me to brush, I outwardly show exasperation and annoyance, but inwardly, I’m grateful that my parents are teaching me to take pride in my appearance. I’m thankful that my parents instilled in me the importance of dental hygiene, and I’m thankful that I have an amazing dentist. I don’t know if I will ever get a cavity again, but I do know that I will never be a dentist.