Fissures, deep cracks or narrow crevices, are the root of all my dentist phobias. Well, fissures and my mother. Or, rather, fissures and my mother and being born a decade too early. Or maybe it should be fissures and my mother and being born a decade too early and my first dentist.
I had cavities when I was a little kid, lots of cavities. My molars were plagued by them, and their appearance seemed to have no correlation with the amount or quality of brushing I did.
After the first cavity, my mother lectured me harshly about brushing my teeth regularly and properly. I did it because I did not want to have to deal with that needle and drill combo again, at all.
I got another cavity, another filling and another lecture, harsher this time. I doubled my efforts, but still, I got another cavity, etc., etc., and this time, the woman (aka my mother) was really angry. You did not want to see my mother angry.
Nevertheless, I was tired of brushing and still getting cavities and scoldings about not brushing, so I only brushed half-heartedly or sometimes not at all.
No cavities were found at my next checkup.
I was, of course, praised for taking such good care of my teeth, and I learned that there is no real logic or justice in this world.
This tale of dental woe does not end there, though, because eventually I got more cavities and more lectures and more dentist phobias: the drills, the numb face, the suffocating and claustrophobia-inducing rubber dams, the smell of burning enamel and chemicals, the drowning in saliva, the wrestling and wrangling for the best line of sight and metal-tool position in my mouth, the pain, and the crowding of people over my face while I’m stretched out like a lamb for butchering on a naugahyde chair that makes sounds embarrassingly similar to fart noises when you squirm in fear of the next insult to your mouth.
And none of it had anything to do with whether or not I was brushing regularly.
I experimented with that over the years, even after I got too old to get the little toy surprise from the secret bin at the dental receptionist’s desk.
It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that a dentist — who was working to repair areas of my teeth weakened by having such big fillings — offered an explanation.
Looking at my x-rays, he pointed out that all my fillings were only in the molars and only down to a certain level, and then he said, “You probably had fissures.”
He said it so casually, like he wasn’t making clear the secret to the universe.
Molars, he explained, have mountains and valleys, and sometimes the valleys have these hairline fissures that trap bacteria that cause cavities. Because of the decay pattern, he speculated that the fissures weren’t from cracks, but rather from naturally occurring growth patterns in my teeth.
I was genetically defective, and since my mother (aka the lecturer) is my only parental genetic donor with cavities. I’m sure you can to the math — or the first-generation genetic drift simulation, if you will — to figure out who’s to blame for the cavities.
In part, I don’t begrudge my childhood dentist not wanting to explain to my mother who was to blame for my cavities (truly, the woman was frightening when she was on a tear), but it would’ve been good for my psychological development to know these things.
Of course, it would’ve also been good for my physical development had I been born a decade later because, as the second dentist explained to me, after all the damage had been done to my fissure-riddled teeth, scientists discover a plastic tooth-sealant could save teeth from cavities — especially cavities in fissures. Curse my luck.
But I’m getting over it. As an adult I have discovered things like a paycheck and a dental savings account, and I am in the process of replacing all my silver-filling-riddled teeth with things called caps. They’re expensive, but tooth colored and fissure-free.
(Smile like a Hollywood star at firstname.lastname@example.org.)