My teeth are not like those close-up ads where it can make people fall in love with you. They refuse to be white. They refuse to smell good. They refuse to part with small chicken pieces that get stuck between its gaps.
I have become particular about my teeth because of my mom. She so badly wanted my teeth to shine; she was desperate like those moms who wanted their sons to pass JEE. She would make me undergo the same routine every morning. I would be peeled out of my bed, violently shaken to scare away sleep and then placed before the bathroom mirror. She would say, “Open your mouth”; I would open my mouth wide enough to imitate a yawn. She would point at some molar, at some invisible cavity and ask me to brush until it clears. I would do as directed. After the ritual I would walk to the kitchen, allow my mom to inspect every tooth, and sometimes she would even smell my mouth. Gross memories. Like most days, she would say that the cavity is still there. I would walk back to the mirror to brush again.
Before going to bed, she would brush her teeth along with me. I was supposed to mimic the movement of her toothbrush. Sometimes she would hold the brush still and rotate her head sideways like a table fan. This would make me laugh hard. My mom would talk about those germs hiding between my teeth. She says that only Colgate can kill them. (Yes, Colgate, my family worships this brand. I do not remember any other brand of toothpaste that has touched my teeth or my dad’s or my brother’s) I would tell mom that toothpaste can’t kill germs. I wanted to see them die. I wanted proof. But my mom is clever. She would wait for me to brush and spit in the sink. She would point at the bursting bubbles inside the sink and call them dying germs. I believed her.
Apart from the other stories that my mom told me, cartoons made me aware of the existence of tooth fairies. They would give you one gold coin in exchange of every tooth. Soon I would be rich. I would place my tooth under the pillow like the characters in those cartoons. Every morning I would wake up disappointed. After a few failed attempts, I placed my tooth on the terrace, what if the tooth fairy can’t find my room? I also left a note with my tooth saying, “to tooth fairy, lots of love, Sharon”.
As I grew up, the science subject in school grew up with me and later split into three. My mom failed to make me believe in stories and therefore keep my teeth glowing. But she insisted I meet my dentist every month. My dentist was fat and old like all the other dentists in my town. He would ask me trick questions and riddles to solve while he cleaned my teeth. Once he asked me to count the number of twos that are there from 1 to 100. By the time I had come up with an answer, he had taken one of my shaky teeth out. I think he knew that I hated numbers and math.
In seventh standard, my teeth suffered the tightening pull of braces. I didn’t like them at all. Eating chicken, tearing the end of sugarcane sticks, eating corn and biting green mangoes with salt and chili became a terrible thing to do. Despite all that, I became the weird kid in school. I had braces and spectacles. A combination that everybody laughed at. Either I was called ‘soda glass’ or ‘rabbit teeth’. I still remember the day my braces were taken off. My teeth finally got independence. Since then in every photograph, I would show of my teeth which looked like those soldiers under a commander.
But this was not the end. My dentist gave me retainers. “You must keep them for 24 hours”, he said. Now retainers are more irritating than braces. Every time you get the urge to eat something, maybe a small candy, you had to take them out, cover them in a napkin and hide it from public view. Slowly, my monthly visits to my dentist to tighten my retainers reduced. He would call me when I miss an appointment. Why the hell did my mom leave my number there? Each time I picked up my phone he would say, “Hello, St. Mary’s Dental Clinic, how are your teeth today?” I would reply, “Leave them alone”. As a result, my retainers got loose. I would go to bed with my retainers on, only to wake up in the morning and see them lying under my bed.
College gave my teeth freedom again. I moved to Bangalore, I was released from the clutches of my mom and the dentist. My retainers are sealed and kept away in a tin full of water. It has never seen daylight and probably won’t in near future. I do not use Colgate anymore. So many things have changed. But every day after I brush my teeth, I still look at the bursting bubbles inside the sink and giggle.
Illustrations by Sharon Varghese