When you were a kid, did you ever have that day in school when someone (who was it–a dentist? the school nurse? I can’t remember) would demonstrate proper brushing techniques? Afterwards, you would get a toothbrush, a small tube of toothpaste, maybe some floss, and the most important thing–the thing you really wanted!–those red beads which you were supposed to swish around in your mouth and they would show you by staining your teeth pink or not whether you were doing a good job brushing.

Well, apparently on these days my mind was never on observing proper brushing techniques. It was all about getting my hands on those beads and seeing whether my teeth would be pink or not. I can even remember how they tasted–sort of chalky, sort of sweet, sort of like candy cigarettes.

Those were carefree days, weren’t they? Back when all you had to worry about was whether your loose tooth would fall out on its own or have to be yanked out by a string (heaven-for-fucking-bid!).

Not so today, my friends.

If you have stopped by to visit me before, you may already know what I am about to reveal: My name is Myfanwy Collins and I am an aggressive brusher–meaning I brush my teeth often and I brush them hard.

So what, right? I mean, we all want clean teeth–so what’s so bad about being an aggressive brusher?

What’s so bad is that you can wear away the enamel on your teeth and you can put yourself at risk for gum recession. And the latter is exactly what I did.

For the past four years, I’ve had dentists tell me that I need to go to a periodontist to take a look at the eensy gum recession. If I didn’t get it taken care of, eventually I might be in danger of losing my teeth and–this was left unsaid, but I went there anyway–become a toothless old crone. Or worse, I might not only lose the teeth but lose bone and then not even be able to get fake teeth put in.

Okay. So I was terrified and put off seeing the periodontist until I could put it off no more. In December I went for my first visit, at which I was told that I was in “excellent periodontal shape” (but for the recession) and the procedure was explained to me.

What they would do: clean away excess skin around my recession, clean the teeth in the same area, scrape at some of the surrounding skin to get a blood supply (grafts need to be fed by blood or they will not take), then they would move to the roof of my mouth–my palette–and cut away a piece of flesh for the graft. With the graft in place, they would then make several stitches and then cover up both wounds with a putty-like dressing. All of this would be done in the office with novacaine. In one week the stitches would come out.

I was told that the pain would be minor, that I would be able to eat what I wanted, and that I would have to lay off exercise for a few days.

I queried about what would happen if the graft didn’t take. I queried about flesh eating bacteria. (He answered the first question, ignored the second).

I found out how much it would cost (a lot!) and how much insurance would cover (enough!).

I made my appointment.


So, two days ago, Monday, I went in for my procedure. I felt relatively calm. It had been built up in my mind for so long as something I didn’t want to do that now that the time was at hand, I was already sort of relieved.

My periodontists are a father/son team. The father is semi-retired and does the initial visit and the son does the surgery and follow-up. They are nice, which is good because I sort of insist that you be kind if you are going to have your hands in my mouth for any period of time.

The son, as I said, was performing my surgery. He and his assistant got me prepped with some numbing gel and several (probably 10+ when all was said and done) of novacaine. In the background, the radio played a mixture of oldies and pop. This music pleased the son as he prepared me for the surgery. He did a combination whisper-sing/whistle as he worked.

Just as he was ready to make his first incision, Aretha Franklin came on the radio. Respect. Yeah. Son liked this! The whisper-sing/whistle intensified.

Then he had my lower lip in his hands. He was pinching the lip for nearly a minute as he prepared for the incision (not quite sure why) and as the song heated up, so did the singing, the whistling. And then he started unconsciously dancing my lip along with the music.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T (my lip going up on one side and then the other. Whistle-whisper-singing). Find out what it means to me (lip. lip. whistle. lip. lip. sing.)

And did I mention that this is perhaps the whitest man on the planet? Well, he is.

So this goes on and I am fighting to contain myself because laughing at this juncture as the man is about to cut me, would not be good.

Okay. So the moment passes and on with the surgery. It takes less than an hour and I feel no pain. When he is done he asks me if I want to see, a question second in absurdity to the nurse practioner (after I told her I sometimes faint during pap smears) who asked me at my yearly if I wanted to insert the speculum myself because I might find it “empowering.”

Hell no! You do not let someone like me (neurotic, prone to hypochondria) see something like flesh newly stitched onto her gums. You just don’t. Did I mention that I’m a big baby?

Afterwards, the putty-dressing is placed on my wounds and I am sent on my way with instructions.

Did I mention that I have never had stitches before? This is only my second surgery ever. The first one was when I was 2 1/2 to correct a lazy eye (Jesus, I sound like a fucking mess, don’t I?). No stitches required there. Only a patch that I had to wear afterwards and then Voila! No more crossed eye.

Okay. So I have five stitches and this in and of itself is not a bother but that a few of them are looped around the back of my teeth and I can’t stop fiddling with them with my tongue. That’s me. I’m a fiddler.

The other option for fiddling was the dressing on top and in front. As the day wore on (and before Allen went and got my codeine prescription filled), I honed in on the top dressing and pressed and played with it. It was driving me crazy because it felt like a piece of gum stuck to the roof of my mouth and it tasted like a bandaid (thought the doctor assured me it was not toxic).

It will come as no surprise that the top dressing came off before I went to sleep that night and it was sweet relief when it did. And now this morning, the front dressing has come off and my mouth (other than the stitches and the graft) is starting to feel normal again.

So let this be a lesson to you, aggressive brushing is not a good way to go! Get yourself a Braun Oral-B (I got mine at Target for $20) and use that instead of your hard bristle toothbrush, lest you find yourself with a piece of flesh stitched onto your gums.

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