Mike told me several months ago that so far, if I had one, just one, failing as a mom, it is that I am lax with Charlie when it comes to brushing his teeth at night.  I let Charlie off the hook pretty easily.  At the end of day, when I’m out of patience and I just want some quiet, I choose to send Charlie to bed with unbrushed teeth instead of suffering one more of his exhausting tantrums.

This gets me to thinking about my history of dental hygiene.  I will be the first one to admit that my dental hygiene habits are horrible.  But I don’t know if it could be any thing else given where and how I was raised in the Philippines.

Believe it or not, despite the fact that I have innumerable giant fillings and root canals and caps, I still actually have it better than a lot of my childhood friends.  At the very least I don’t wear the infamous “pustiso”.  I’m not saying this with any vanity or a sense of superiority.  I know I just got lucky.  I didn’t have any say as to who my parents would be and how they would deal with dental hygiene.  Fortunately, my parents did not opt to pull all my front teeth when I started developing cavities.  Some of my friends’ parents did for all sorts of reasons.  To some, extraction was the cheaper alternative.  Others also thought that extraction was the easiest- once it was done, they never had to deal with cavities again.

When I was growing up, the pustiso was very common.  It seemed that every one had them.  In retrospect, they were atrocious to look at.  I’m sure, however, that people back then did not think of them as ugly.  Pustiso was almost like a way of life that one did not question or looked at with critical eyes.  Like I said, they were atrocious.  The wires that hooked on the remaining teeth were always visible so there was no way to hide the fact that they were not real teeth.  Not that you could be fooled.  The false teeth themselves were always crooked or jutted out which had the unfortunate effect of mishaping the person’s facial features.  Also, the teeth always developed this slick mossy green sheen, as if from food build up.  It went without saying- the person’s breath stank!  The one thing that alarmed me was that the pustiso moved up and down with the mouth when the person talked.   I remember always feeling anxious and uneasy for the person talking.  It was very distracting.  Instead of listening, I would think of what the proper thing to do was in case the pustiso fell in the middle of the conversation.  Amazingly, I don’t remember ever seeing one fall.  I guess people developed muscle or tongue control or something.  I have heard of the pustiso falling in other circumstances.  A friend went out drinking, got drunk and vomited into a toilet.  Her pustiso fell along with digested chicharon and redhorse beer.  Now if you know how Filipino toilets were back then- not pristine white but cement and with no flushing mechanism- you can imagine how gross that must have been.  In her drunken haze she actually considered leaving her pustiso but she managed to remember how much it cost so she had no choice but to reach for it, rinse it with water, and pop it back in.  I still shudder every time I think about this.

When I lived in Florence, Italy, I noticed how bad their teeth were.  I also noticed that the water there smelled nasty, like it rose from the sewer.  I drank fizzy water the whole time I was there, convinced that the water would rot my teeth.  But it may also be the super strong espresso and super sweet pastry they have for breakfast.  And lack of dental care.

Anyway, like I said, I owe my teeth to my parents.  I guess I could be better about getting Charlie to brush his teeth at night.  I don’t want him to someday lament in his journal about his unluck in getting me as his parent.   But man, why does it have to cost hundreds of dollars just to get a kid to open his mouth and get him used to the idea of a dentist?

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