I didn’t have braces as a child. I probably should have but as I recall, only the kids with extreme cases of sticky-out buck teeth got train tracks. Minor aesthetics like a gap between your two front teeth or having one tooth higher than the other didn’t seem to alarm the parents. They were confident that by giving me zymafluor fluoride tablets – the 80s family dentist’s equivalent of Gummiberry Juice – they had done their duty. My mom confessed years later that she had stopped the zymafluor prematurely and had also smoked while pregnant with me and was thus wracked with guilt that my teeth had not turned out pearly white. To right this wrong, she wanted to pay for me to have the light-activated bleaching procedure called BriteSmile advocated by our local dentist. After the procedure we asked the dentist if her neglectful behavior had in fact made my teeth yellow. As I suspected, there was zero correlation. The colour of your teeth is mainly genetic.
Fast forward seven years and here I am in the United States of America, where everyone has a brighter than bright, whiter than white smile. When I lived in London I would plan dental visits to coincide with visits home to South Africa. I didn’t trust NHS dentists, where they still give you the ancient silver fillings. But in the US, I pay a fortune every month in medical and dental insurance so I make sure I go for a professional teeth cleaning every three months. We all know that dentists don’t make their money flossing for you so I wasn’t surprised when at my last clean, the dentist informed me that I needed some enamel re-enforcement. Apparently over brushing can destroy your enamel. She also noticed I had a small cavity and explained that cavities could be prevented in the long term if all my teeth were neatly aligned. Had I had braces as a child? No. Well, I would be a perfect candidate for Invisalign (clear braces), which would conveniently be covered(ish) by my insurance, costing me only a few thousand $$$. I would have to wear these ‘invisible’ adult braces for as little as 18 months and I’d be ready for Hollywood. Oh and bonus, she informs me with a million dollar smile that my teeth will respond much better to a whitening treatment post Invisalign. I took a brochure.
A week later I developed mild jaw pain. When I went back to the dentist she said I absolutely had Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ). The solution was Ibuprofen, a $400 night guard to prevent teeth clenching…and Invisalign. When your teeth are aligned properly, no more pesky jaw problems! I took the Ibuprofen and to buy some time so I didn’t have to commit to the $400 night guard I told her I’d consider the Invisalign. She handed me another brochure.
I immediately went to another dentist for a second opinion and he found that the filling she’d given me was raised and agitating my jaw. When he took X Rays, he also found that my wisdom teeth were impacted. I expected him to suggest Invisalign but instead I was referred to an oral surgeon.
This experience really drove home for me that in this country (and many others I’m sure) where the incentives are skewed in favour of more expensive cosmetic procedures, you really need to second guess the advice of Health Care Professionals, especially as a new patient. I now apply a healthy dose of skepticism and google verification anytime someone tries to prescribe me anything.
Luckily, it was with this attitude that I walked into the OB/GYN’s office with what I thought was a standard infection. Had I been doing anything that could have agitated the area he wanted to know. Yes, I told him that the day before I had cycled 100 miles and because I hadn’t trained properly, my nether region had been in the saddle for way longer than it should’ve been. Yes, he agreed that that certainly could have agitated the region but thought we should inspect all the same. So I hopped on the table and spread my legs. Hmmm he said and then Aha… the problem appeared to be that my Lilly (my mom was a florist so the vajayjay got a flower name) had had the tissue in its petals exposed due to this strenuous physical activity. The best solution for me (given that I am a cyclist and likely to expose my petals again) would be LABIAPLASTY. And because my Lilly is impeding my quality of life he could possible help me make a case to my insurance to cover the operation. He considered the lazering of my loins only minimally invasive and was pleased to tell me I would be up and about after only TWO DAYS of excruciating discomfort! He then whipped out some pics on his phone of the various vaginal lips he’d scalpelled over the course of his prestigious aesthetic surgical labial reduction & beautification career and went on to say how pleased these womens’ husbands had been once he’d transformed them into porn stars. He literally told me that men wanted their wives to look like porn stars these days. I was shocked by the course my routine visit had taken and after hearing out all the gories I said to him: ‘Great, so I came to you with an infection and I’m leaving with a vagina complex’. ‘No, he says, you have a very beautiful vagina’. I thought, f*ck you, then why are you trying to mutilate it! I walked out with a brochure and gave him a stinking review on ZocDoc.
It’s a good thing I have a have a healthy sense of how the world works ‘these days’ and a shred of self confidence. Dr Nip Tuck and his friends are waiting to prey on vulnerable women who happen to find themselves in their stirrups, ready to conform them to the porn standard. Susan Hayden sums up my feelings on the matter in a great post called Five Things I’ve Learned About Fannies (for the Americans, fanny is the British Empire’s term for Lilly):
Please can we stop this insane trend towards standardising our fannies? There is no ‘right’ look. And, by the way, men don’t give a crap, they’re just happy to be allowed in.
So why am I sharing this very personal account of the ‘professional’ medical advice I’ve received on my body this year? Mainly because I think that it’s not normal to go to the Doctor with a common cold and be told you need a nose job. That might sound like an exaggeration but if we don’t remain vigilant, it could be the future of our health consultations. I recognize that our bodies are in constant decay and I believe in keeping mine fit and healthy but if we are pushed into a cycle of reconstructing everything to perfection, we will lose the realness and individuality that comes with being human.
I like my teeth, and my fanny, thank you. They’re a part of me and they work just fine.