She is sitting in front of me wishing she was elsewhere: like on the front page of a magazine. The photo of her would be of her head and everybody would comment and say how good she looked. How her skin was pure and faultless like Nicole; how her hair was thick, wavy and fulsome like Golden Stephanie; how her smile was perfect like Julia. Her height and weight suggest she chose them. That means they look perfect. Her make-up shouldn’t look this good: it enhances their looks. Her clothes will be replaced when she wants to rebrand herself, not when they wear out.
And she is sitting in front of me looking harassed, worn out and frazzled. A gap between her upper incisors is ruining her life, and I know this because I have already spoken to her mother, but I start off ignorantly and ask her, “What can we do for you today?”
She puts her hand up and covers her mouth and then says, “The gap between my teeth.”
I go with genuine concern and inquire,” Yes?”
“I don’t like it.”
And then I slowly ask her,” Why?” and she searches the room for inspiration hoping someone will answer for her and eventually she mumbles, “I don’t like it.”
“I just don’t like it” and she assumes that that will be the end of it. That her explanation is replete.
I could just do it. Then again I could tell her to see the gap as a positive, an asset and something to be proud of. I could talk about the need for maintenance, talk about a waste of the world’s limited dental resources, talk about a billion people in this world who spend all day hungry while she worries about a variation of normal which when it is changed and when she looks like what she imagines every other sixteen year old looks like, won’t change her life a smidgen or make her one iota happier or improve her school marks or get her a better boyfriend or improve the health of her dentition or fill her full of joie de vivre. I could talk about how she should take charge and control of her own body and sometimes this means accepting yourself as you are and being proud of and celebrating differences. I could say that if you go down this route where your happiness depends on what you think other people are thinking of you, then you’ll never ever be happy and you’ll never ever, ever be satisfied.
I remember an old saying that ‘you deserve the patients you end up with.’ Well if this is true then I’m doing something wrong.
At high school when they came around and asked me, “What do you want to do when you leave school?” I’m sure I didn’t say, “Close midline diastemas that nobody notices and nobody else cares about.”
And at Uni I’m sure such things were not on the curriculum. I’m sure I never sat in a lecture theatre thinking, “One day I will pander to emotionally volatile teenagers. I will pretend to help them. I will be a cross between a nail technician and a hairdresser but I will think myself better than both.”
I know that wasn’t what I was thinking. Deep down past dreams of money, status and libidinous females was the feeling that I might be able to help somebody, to actually do a smidgen of good. It never occurred to me that this would be dentistry. And nobody agrees with me, nobody cares. Nobody. Everybody reassures me, ‘Big deal, if that is what she wants then it’s up to her. It’s her decision. Who cares?’
Then alternatively I could sympathise with her as she battles against the media and its personalities and the marketing of the major brands which is way more sophisticated than she will ever be. She doesn’t stand a chance. Every photo in every magazine she buys will have digitally enhanced teeth with all gaps eliminated and every female news reader will have a wall of perfect porcelain veneers.
And then Jessica kicks me. I realise I am mumbling aloud. Jessica nods towards the patient, indicating that I have finished closing the gap. I raise the seat and go and greet mum who is an old feminist foe of mine. Not the ‘can’t stand you breathing’ type. More the type that corrects you for saying ‘fisherman’, but I like her and we get on well, even so, I don’t think we will be discussing what happened to the revolution and I don’t think I will be asking her if a person enslaved to the media and marketing of large multi-nationals is really liberated?
This blog is the fictional story of a dentist. The dentist works with Jessica and Beryl in a town a lot like Hobart. The blog tells the story of what these people get up to and the work that they do. If you feel that you recognize yourself in one of the stories please remember it is fictional and the characters and stories are all fictional. Though all the stories are based on my time as a dentist in Hobart and are based on things which actually did happen.