My mouth is like a neighborhood you have lived in all your life that has been slated for redevelopment. It is zoned as an historic district, so new structures will have to be made in keeping with the character of the place, less than white, not perfectly straight, angled a little bit away from the ancient architecture of its orthodonture. In fact, the bite has shifted just enough to cause some structural damage.
My mouth, after the first visit, is like a house under renovation, when you feel for the light switch there are tendrils of wires, studs, distal cracks.
Tell me, says the dentist, do you grind your teeth?
He drills for what seems to be an eternity. The drill drowns out the praise songs from the Christian radio station. On the walls are inspirational posters, the ones that define desirable qualities, like teamwork, with airbrushed photographs of a sailboat or a cedar forest. There is a sampler about serenity. After the drilling is the temporary spackle that precedes the crown, something rough and easily levered off with floss.
What would stop me from grinding this down, too?
Don’t worry, he says, I built it out a little so that it is real stable.
When I look in the mirror, the temporary crown looks like the hillbilly teeth you can buy from the gumball machine at the mall.
I worry that the actual crown will be like this.
Maybe I could learn to give up smiling, an affectation of the young, or give up vanity instead and show the world my newly-made and horrifying tooth.
Our contours change with age or childbirth or surgery. It is something we accept. That’s a bunion, the doctor explained, kindly.
The real crown does not jut out to the side. Protection will take the form of something much uglier, but more discreet. They polish everything so that it looks restored.
The mouth guard imposes a new internal kind of claustrophobia. Where do you put the rest of the parts of your mouth? I prepare for the combat of sleep, the upper half attacked from below or vice versa. The idea of guarding one’s mouth from itself or what one might say. It is like tripping repeatedly over the couch in your new house. I am still learning my way around it. In the morning, I prise it away from my upper teeth and put it in its brightly colored case, the kind my daughter has for her retainers.
This morning at the farmers market there is an old lady with a big kerchief tied up around her head and a baggy white T-shirt with a copperplate script slogan that reads “This is what aging gracefully looks like.” Grin and bear it.