Last week I visited my dentist of 12 years for a 6-monthly checkup. It seems innocuous, but I am embarrassed to say this is the first time in my life I actually turned up for a dental checkup on time.
As a child the adults around me all had dentures, so I naively believed that was the rite of passage for everybody. I thought since I was going to get dentures sooner or later, why waste time taking care of my teeth?
By the time I grew up to know that was not the case it was too late. I was traumatised by all the pain I had endured at my school’s free dental service, so I developed an intense phobia of dentists. Obviously it became a vicious cycle: I avoided dentists so my teeth got worse, and so by the time I had to visit one – usually only because of a really bad toothache – the pain would be excruciating, so it made me fear dentists even more.
Until one day in 2006 I broke a front tooth while eating. It was unsightly, so I had to visit a dentist as an emergency. I picked one near my office then, mostly because I like its name and decor.
The dentist fixed my front tooth, along with countless other decaying teeth. She was grouchy and frustrated with my dental hygiene, sighing and scolding me repeatedly. But there was one thing which left a deep positive impression on me. Apart from fixing the teeth, she was obsessed with making them look good. She not only fixed my front tooth, she replaced the discoloured parts with tooth-colour matching dental fill.
For the first time in my life, I wasn’t afraid to smile and I stopped being so self-conscious of my teeth. She told me to visit her again in 6 months. I didn’t turn up.
Until years later. I was going to move to SF, so I wanted to make sure my teeth was in good order. This time around I told her I was afraid of her, because she was so scary during my last visit. She was surprised, but she became a lot more gentler with me. Along with fixing a few decaying teeth here and there, she suggested she sculpt my front teeth and put on veneers. It was not only for cosmetic reasons but my front teeth was crowding the rest of my teeth, so it was causing problems.
It was very expensive, and I didn’t have a lot of money back then, it wiped out most of my savings but I trusted her with my teeth.
Hours later, for the first time (again) I have a smile with perfectly straight front teeth. I didn’t have to put on braces, it was like a combination of art and magic.
I moved to SF with a kind of confidence to smile like never before.
A few years passed again and this time I moved back in Singapore. I went to a branch office of hers near my place and the dentist there told me I had a couple of decaying teeth. Without hesitation I knew I had to go back to my original dentist to fix it.
Suddenly, it was clear to me how important is trust even in service provider relationships. The only other long-term service relationship I have is with my hairdresser (also 12 years). We have a plethora of options these days and we usually hop around for the best offers. But I would rather pay top dollar to go back to her (and I had become jobless so I was taxing my savings).
She had moved to a new location, and we greeted each other like old friends who have not seen each other for a long time. I was just so full of joy to see her, to visit her new beautiful office and to discover a sense of lightness of her I have never experienced before. She has aged, and so have I. There was a lot less weight felt in both of our presences.
She fixed my teeth again, and she told me to visit her in 6 months.
That was my visit last week, and for the first time there was no teeth to fix.
I had grown up, and I now know myself as a person with healthy teeth.
I wrote this post because it made me happy to see my dentist and I feel privileged to have had witnessed her work. She operates like a craftswoman. It is rare for me to have such deep admiration for someone’s work, and it is just so amusing that the subject is a dentist.
How many people can claim to change people’s lives when they provide a service? I feel like my dentist has changed my life, she has given me the gift of my wide smile, which I flash unabashedly these days. It has made a whole world of difference to my self-image and esteem.
Also I was embarrassed about my teeth for the longest time and I was fearful that people would find out I have veneers on my front teeth. But I am now in a different place in my life. I think it is important to know that some chronic damage can be reversed, and also that I would heartily recommend people to go for cosmetic procedures if it truly makes them feel better about themselves and allows them to express themselves more freely.
I know I did.
I am no longer afraid for people to know I have veneers. I am glad I did something for myself that was life-changing. I also enjoy airing the skeletons in my closet.
It is so freeing.