You just don’t know when dental plaque is going to bring you closer to someone you’ve only just met

Midlife Sentence | Menopause and dental problems

First, you need to know I have a thing about teeth. My teeth, specifically. I’m not crazy about how they look and a little insecure about the big spaces in between them and their coloring and the overbite thing.

Oh, and you could land a Cessna on my gums, they’re so big. I’ve never been the kind of person to smile wide at someone and ask if I have anything in my teeth. I’m not insecure about much except the possibility I could scar someone for life with a stray spinach leaf lodged in my incisor.

You know, it could happen. Probably not, but maybe.

Anyway, although I have a ton of insecurities about my teeth, I’m still irrationally proud of the high marks they get at the dentist. These are things I don’t have a lot to do with, I guess, but am going to take all the credit for.

It just occurs to me that teeth are like teenagers that way. If you’re a parent maybe you’re familiar with this phenomenon: Subject A presents himself as a reasonable almost-person when he’s out in public, which lets Parent of said Subject beam and thrill over what a good job she’s done, all the while knowing Subject A’s got half a dozen dirty cereal bowls stashed in his room and can’t manage to get up in time for school without someone blowing an air horn right in his face and threatening to take away all the things that are good in his life, replacing each and every one of them with dog doo duty.

It is with this attitude I enter my dentist office last week and meet my new hygienist, whose name I forget immediately, but who is very pleasant even when I’m lying back in the chair and she’s telling me I have pockets in my gum line and they’re very dirty.

And then she asks me how much I floss.

“Um, daily?” I say this as a question because sometimes it’s more than once a day, and also because she might not believe me and think I’m sucking up because she’s new and doesn’t know I don’t suck up, even to people I’m paying to stick sharp objects in my mouth.

But seriously, I floss a lot. I had a crown put on a back tooth about a decade ago, and ever since it feels like stuff gets caught pretty easily back there, and THAT WILL NOT STAND. I have to take care of it immediately. And when I do, I figure I might as well do my whole mouth. I have floss in the car and in my backpack and stashed in weird places all over because this is my life now.

So, gum pockets are a thing that I didn’t even realize were a thing because I’ve never had them before, and mine are apparently dirty and I don’t know why because I haven’t done anything differently since the last time I came in without dirty gum pockets.

My former hygienist comes in at this point to check on things and I’m relieved because she’ll vouch for me.

“How’s it going?” She asks.

“Not well,” I tell her. “I have dirty gum pockets.”

“What? You? That’s crazy.”

“I know,” I say. “I don’t know what’s going on.” I’m so happy to have her there to stick up for me as a good and decent person who doesn’t have dirty gum pockets normally. “Do you think it could be, like … a hormonal thing?”

Hygienist #1 and I have broached this subject before. We’re close to the same age and she’s hilarious. My appointments with her usually last longer than they should owing to the fact that it’s hard to have a productive conversation when someone has her hands in your mouth, and we cover a lot of conversational ground during my cleaning sessions.

Last time I was in she was telling me about how she occasionally just snaps at people these days and surprises herself. She’s normally really bubbly, not temperamental or angry, and our Dentist is this super nice guy who’s really good to work for and supportive of his staff. We’ve been his patients since he started his practice more than 20 years ago.

The hormonal thing could be going on for both Hygienist #1 and me right now, which is what I’m talking about. “The Big Change” is what my husband likes to call it right before he moves out of arm’s reach.

So, when Hygienist #1 says “I snapped at Dr. Stillings today. I do it all the time, and then I feel so bad – he’s so nice – and I apologize later, and he’s always totally understanding.” I nod. That sounds just like him. He’d probably give her time off to lead a menopause support group if she asked.

The last hormonal thing to have an impact on my near perfect dental track record was pregnancy, which somehow changed my chemistry in such a way that my gums bled like a stuck pig while I was in the dentist chair, and kind of freaked me out, except Hygienist #1 knew it had something to do with the fact that I was growing another human and all systems that normally keep me from bleeding out in such situations were otherwise preoccupied.

So, I could be experiencing dirty gum pockets because of menopause, which makes sense only because I have no other explanation for it. Hygienist #2 recommends I use a water pick in addition to my relentless flossing regimen, which I have a hard time making a habit of, I’ll be honest. I just can’t get the mechanics of the thing down. First, I aim the stream at my gum line, while hanging my head over the sink and opening my mouth just enough to let the water drain. But I keep aiming wrong or opening my mouth too wide and shooting water all over my bathroom, and it just doesn’t feel like any of this is productive.

Bottom line: if this is menopause, it’s annoying. And possibly life threatening. I feel like I didn’t have a lot to be proud of with my teeth anyway, and now I’ve been robbed of even that. There’s nothing to do about it except practice with the water pick and try to avoid electrocuting myself or burning my house down (seriously, I shot a stream of water directly into an electrical outlet the other morning. I didn’t die, obviously, so maybe my aim wasn’t as good as I thought, but I feel like it’s a sign from the universe that my days are numbered).

The good news is I’m now pals with Hygienist #2 now by virtue of our little parlay about menopause with all of us laughing about hair trigger tempers while only one of us had actual instruments of mayhem in her hot, little hands (and is nowhere near the age she’s going to have to face the menopausal music, so to speak). I feel like we have a bond, even though I can’t remember her name and she hurt me both physically and emotionally the last time I saw her.

And PS: I know I’m probably going to get a lot of women folk on here telling me I have it easy if I’m not getting all the hot flashes and snappiness and weight gain and whatever all kinds of other stuff that I’m supposed to be experiencing, and I want to say that I hear you all, and you can share whatever you want with me in the comments and I’ll listen without a single sharp object in either hand.

You’re welcome.

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