Last week I went to the dentist to find out that a tooth, which chipped about two months ago, had indeed become abscessed. We can’t afford the root canal, but losing this molar would not be a good option because the adjacent premolar is already missing (since about 1986). I’d lose too much chewing capacity on the right side. A root canal it must be.
I don’t especially hate dentists. Though I must say, I’m skeptical about conventional hygiene, oral and otherwise, with its phobia about dirt and bacteria. Except for the previous emergency 10 years ago, when one of my wisdom teeth split in two and had to be extracted, I hadn’t attended a dentist in about 12 years because I couldn’t afford it.
As an experiment, I stopped brushing about eight years ago, and my previously very sensitive teeth stopped hurting. No one reported bad breath when asked. My gums stopped receding and nothing fell out. I still floss sometimes. I have two previously chipped teeth that were sensitive for a while, then stopped. I’d fix them if I could afford to, but the roots weren’t affected and they haven’t given me any problems in five years.
But until last week I hadn’t owned a toothbrush for years. At the moment I’m enjoying the sensation of having them clean, but aren’t we all trained this way ever since those regimental fluoride applications in grade school? How much is necessary and how much are we supporting an industry that has us all convinced we need to spend many thousands of dollars on our mouths over the course of a lifetime? This is so ingrained that I’m embarrassed to admit this rebellion in print.
I have come to believe that my mouth is healthier with a natural population of microbes. Probably most of our dental problems come from inappropriate diets. I’ve minimized my consumption of refined sugars and I’m working on reducing those starchy carbohydrates, the two main offenders against healthy enamel. This seems to me a more effective, economical approach.
It’s not only the teeth. I’ve reduced my use of other personal products as well. Some years ago, I stopped using any soap above the neck. This was not a private experiment, because I knew others who had done it. Soap goes only on those body parts that actually need it: armpits, genitals, crotch and feet. I have sensitive skin, too. Without soap, my face stopped getting adult acne.
I wash my hair with water alone. This adjustment was hard. At first it felt so greasy, it drove me nuts. But my scalp chemistry changed over the next six months. My fine hair became softer, glossier and healthier than before. Unfortunately I’m naturally oily (I’m one of those people who stains his pillow, though it was even worse when I used soap on my head), so my hair won’t take to growing long.
I even tried dropping my lifetime dependency on antiperspirant, but that experiment flopped. A yeast infection plagued me all last winter. Even corn starch and health store alternatives failed to do the trick. Apparently my pampered body was not ready to make the adjustment. Okay, I’m inclined to sweat, so I retreated to my Gillette stick. Maybe this would have been more successful were I more physically active and less overweight, but that’s an alternate reality. Everybody is different and this is one thing my body and lifestyle require.
Overall, I think we’re too obsessed with being clean. Medical research is only now revealing how much our bodies depend on the microbiome, that huge population of organisms that lives in and on us. In fact, we can’t survive without it. It effects our digestive, nervous, immune and other organ systems. I’ve been reminded of this by the regimen of antibiotics, necessary to bring down the infection in my tooth, and what harsh side effects it has had on my digestive process. I’ve been tired and dehydrated for 10 days.
There is even evidence that the bacteria living in plaques on our teeth provide protection against certain diseases. So maybe I’ll stop using the toothbrush again once this ordeal is finished.
No doubt, I need a dentist now. Without modern medicine I might die of infection or, at the very least, lose the tooth in a painful, undignified and risky way. Evolution didn’t design our teeth to last 75 years, but I do hope to live and enjoy meals for at least that long.
Maybe that’s why we’re so paranoid about filth. It’s the old fight against eternity, and the gnawing realization that bacteria will someday consume our bodies. The body’s slow decay during life and afterward is tragic, inevitable and natural.