Dentists promote smiles but are never happy

Six months ago, my dentist said I had a cavity that needed drilling. He warned me to change my brushing habits immediately or else.

My first thought: My brushing habits have kept me cavity-free for 20 years. What’s he talking about?

My second thought: We’re in tough financial times—I have no cavity. This guy just needs money.

I told the dentist I was going to get a second opinion. I left his office and went online.

According to the Internet, I didn’t have a cavity at all. Various sites and forums let me know that brushing my teeth twice a day with tartar control anti-cavity toothpaste would help prevent cavities. Well, I brushed my teeth twice a day with tartar control anti-cavity toothpaste. I couldn’t have a cavity.

I called my dentist and told him he made a mistake, that my teeth were fine and that I didn’t need any filling. He told me I not only needed a filling, but that my gums were receding. Don’t you love how he just tacks that on after the fact?

By the way, not only do you need that True Coat Super Seal on your car so you don’t get oxidation, but you’re also going to need our Shine-E-Gloss on top of that to protect the True Coat.

This guy was a car salesman. What the heck does receding gums even mean?

I went to the professionals to find out—I went online. Have you seen what receding gums look like? Yikes! Receding gums cause uncontrolled growth of plaque and tartar, which causes cavities and later inflammation of the gums—gingivitis. Gingivitis, I read, is a sign of even worse things to come.

Let me paint the picture: swollen gums (my gums seemed to be swelling the more I looked at them), discolored teeth (mine weren’t all that white), bone loss (maybe that tiny piece of bone I swallowed with my steak wasn’t from the steak), abscesses (I wasn’t sure what that was, but I knew I had it anyway) and bad breath (I needed breath mints all the time).

I called my dentist back, made an appointment to get my cavity removed, then I bought three kinds of toothpaste—one for the morning, one for the afternoon and one for the evening. I also bought a range of mouthwashes, two types of dental floss and a motorized toothbrush that cost 80 bucks.

Next, I amped up my brushing habits. After eating, I’d rinse with mouthwash, floss my teeth, brush my teeth for no less than 10 minutes, floss again, and then rinse with a different mouthwash. I altered my diet as well—no fruit snacks or hard candies, very little sugar at all and plenty of dentist-approved chewing gum. Chewing gum after meals, I read, stimulates the production of saliva, which helps wash away and neutralize the acid produced by bacteria in plaque.

Within a week, my teeth felt great. My wife and 8-year-old son even upgraded their teeth-cleaning programs. They started using my supplies, so I had to start hiding my stuff. I told them to get their own.

One day I couldn’t find one of my tubes of toothpaste. I thought I hid it too well. Later I thought my wife or kid used it up.

But how could they go through a whole tube in a few days? I thought.

Then my father-in-law stayed over and used the shower in our guest bathroom. He came out smelling like my son’s watermelon-scented 3-in-1 body wash/shampoo/conditioner.

“What happened to the liquid Dove?” he asked. “All I could find was that watermelon stuff.”

My son got defensive. “Girls want their men to smell like fruit. How do you think I got Tess to be my future wife?”

I’m not sidetracking here with the shampoo story. This “shampoo incident” brought me to the empty tubes of my toothpaste in the trash. You see, my son is an amateur scientist—he empties bottles of shampoo, tubes of face wash and now the guest bathroom liquid soap and my super-duper toothpaste into empty water bottles to make “potions.” When I found the empty liquid Dove bottle in the trash, I also found my tube of toothpaste—emptied.

It got worse. When I went to get my cavity drilled and filled the following day, the dentist said my teeth looked worse than before and that I really needed to change my brushing habits. What the heck?

I came to the conclusion that my dentist, who deals with smiles, would never be happy. He was a perfectionist and my teeth would never be perfect, not if I was going to use them, so I went back to my old, not-so-great brushing and eating routines. Six months later when I had another check-up, I didn’t even do the whole brush-really-good-for-the-dentist-appointment-like-I-brush-this-way-all-year-long routine like I normally do. I didn’t care what the guy had to say about my teeth.

“Wow,” he said. “Your teeth look great! Didn’t I say you just needed to change your habits?”

This story appeared in The Acorn Newspapers of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, CA, in May of 2012, and should not influence the way anyone with any reasonable understanding of the world approaches his or her dental hygiene. Picarella is not a dental professional. Nevertheless, the above incident really happened. You can find this story and others like it from Michael Picarella in his book, “Everything Ever After (Confessions of a Family Man),” and at

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One thought on “Dentists promote smiles but are never happy”

  1. Funny stuff. But I hate to tell you this. I’m religious with brushing AND floss and my head is so full of cavities that the cavities outweigh the dental material I started out with. Old Mercury Mouth, they call me.

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