Brush your teeth, kids.

The first thing people notice about me is that I'm overweight, but they notice my teeth, too, whenever I smile, or speak, or eat, or open my mouth. I'm in my early 60s and I'll make it to death without needing dentures, but my teeth are ugly, stained and wobbly.

When someone smiles through missing or crooked teeth, my first thought is, "Wow, bad teeth." My second thought is, well, mine are worse. Once in a while I'd like to be able to smile without knowing that's what other people are thinking. I'd like the ability to make a good first impression if I tried, but the reality is, that ain't gonna happen.

I've had no dental coverage since I turned 18, so in the past 40+ years I've seen dentists only to have teeth removed when they became painful. Eleven are gone.

Those that remain are beige instead of white, with many chips, and most of my fillings from childhood have dropped out.

It hurts a little when I chomp straight on, so I bite sorta sideways. My uppers and lowers aren't aligned, and my entire array of teeth on the top front is tilted to the right.

It's not a pretty sight, but my teeth still chew, usually without pain, and I can eat just about anything except apples and bagels. Which is OK, because apples are overrated and I don't like bagels.

I ruined my teeth myself, by sidestepping dentists for decades, and especially by never developing the habit of brushing my teeth. There were years when I didn't own a toothbrush, not from poverty but from just not giving a damn.

In my 20s and early 30s, I only brushed my teeth when I had a date, and I was never much of a ladies' man so my teeth went weeks, months unbrushed. Toothpaste, toothbrush, floss, and dental appointments are unnecessary expenses, I thought.

Only after my second emergency tooth extraction, in my mid-30s, did I start brushing once daily, before showering. Over the years since then I've worked up to a solid, reliable twice daily... most days.

Even if I could afford it, though, I wouldn't hire a dentist to fix my mouth. I care about my teeth, but not enough to spend big bucks repairing the damage. There are more important this I'd spend money on that teeth. But if I could do it all over again, I'd brush my teeth more often, as a habit and a rule.

I'm thinking about this, writing about this, because I'm remembering that when me and my siblings were kids, our parents never stressed the importance of brushing your teeth. They bought us toothbrushes, probably showed us how to brush (can't really remember), but they never nagged about it or required it. We were occasionally told, "Brush your teeth and go to bed," but there was never a follow-up question, "Did you brush your teeth?"

More often than "Brush your teeth and go to bed" it was "Say your prayers and go to bed," but I always did neither. I just never developed such good habits, but my brothers and sisters always brush after every meal. Some of them pray, too. So my years of not brushing are on me, not my parents.

Maybe they should've nagged me more about brushing my teeth, and I wouldn't have listened.

Please use me as a cautionary tale, when your children don't want to brush their teeth, or when you as parents don't want to nag your kids to brush their teeth. There are consequences if kids don't develop that habit — serious, genuine consequences that follow you all your life, and are as plain as the smile on your face.

Don't be like me. Brush for two minutes, 2-3 daily.

Republished 5/17/2023  


  1. Captain HampocketsJuly 13, 2021 at 5:21 PM

    I am 47. Between the ages of about 14 and 46, I probably brushed... lemme think... 300 times?

    I have hated brushing my teeth since childhood. I faked it then. I have 13 teeth on the bottom, and 14.5 on top. But my sweetie asked me to brush, so in the last year, I have probably equalled the previous three decades worth of brushing.

    I swear on my dogs' lives, I'm not exaggerating one bit. I hate brushing my teeth.

    I have, for years, cleaned them, with my fingernail, and rubbed the tartar on my chair or whatever. But yeah, like I said, I'm missing a bunch of teeth. So don't follow my lead.

  2. The good news is, brushing helps, even if you start late. I'm missing 11, but haven't lost a tooth since the 1990s.

  3. An update to my old comment - since then, I have discovered those mini-flossing toothpicks. They make flossing fun and ejoyable. I have a bag in my desk next to my PC, and I absent-mindedly floss several times daily. Haven't brushed in months, though. Teeth are pretty damn good, at least the ones that are left. I still clean them with napkins and fingernails, and the flossing that I never did before digs out an amazing amount of grossness. I'd bet if I went back in time 35 years and started flossing like I do now, but never changed my brushing habits for the better, I'd have all my teeth.

    1. I love those little floss things. Relaxing at home, I never eat a meal without flossing afterward, just like you said — not because I care about my teeth, but because it's fun and productive. You get amazing stuff out of the crevices.

      It's the same reason I pick my nose.

  4. Claude Reigns Lives In VainMay 19, 2023 at 6:06 PM

    "Paul Linebarger wrote science fiction as Cordwainer Smith"

    My favorite SF short story writer, period. Not my favorite SF writer altogether (Dick, Ballard, Gene Wolfe, etc.) but as far a short stories go, he's my man - he really utilized the short format to create a whole related world, but each story is readable on its own.

    Just an utterly strange, unique world. Not studied eccentricity or faux naivete or contrived fantasy, but genuinely bizarre and simultaneously universal, full of history and invention and pain and beauty.

    Just seeing his name now makes me want to go read it again. "Scanners Live In Vain" might be the greatest SF short ever written, or at least my favorite. I've read it a dozen times and I'm glad to say I still can't wrap my head around it.

    Other great SF shortists: Ted Sturgeon, Robert Sheckley, Lucius Shepard, etc.

    1. WTF? Wrong entry?

    2. Yeah, I think you meant it for here, but I like the scrambled effect. Here, there, anywhere.

      I was also a big fan of Cordwainer Smith, back in my heady sci-fi days. Less intentionally challenging than Dick, but no less rewarding. Never knew anything about his other life, though, until that article.


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