By Katherine Wright

During a 2010 family trip to the dentist, I started fiddling around with the tools on the dental hygienist’s tray as she cleaned my younger brother’s teeth. When she noticed what I was doing, the hygienist yelled at me in a tone that was far more severe than the level of my crime.

I think that event established my reputation. It ignited a fire within me… spreading amongst my teeth. Playing with dental tools when I wasn’t supposed to turned into getting cavities, which was countered by a condescending commentary from my dentist. 

“Your brother and sister have perfect teeth. No cavities. They get gold stars for the day. But you, Katherine? You do not get a gold star.” 

It seemed a little harsh and unnecessary, and even though the gold stars were imaginary to begin with, it seemed unfair that my soda-loving brother and vegetable-hating sister received them while I came out empty handed. 

At some point after this disappointment, I started flossing. While my gold-star siblings put down their toothbrushes and called it a night, I dedicated an extra 30 seconds every day to prove my dentist wrong. 

Six months later, I waited impatiently in the dentist’s chair, eagerly preparing to show off what I hoped would be my new and improved reputation. When she came into the room to inspect my teeth, I was sure I would be praised rather than ridiculed, and finally given my metaphorical gold star — forcing my dentist to retire the sarcastic disapproval I was so familiar with. 

And this time, I didn’t have a cavity. I had four. 

Snickering, my dentist shook her head as if she had predicted this all along. My cavity-prone reputation had advanced, despite my diligent efforts to shut it down. In the eyes of my dentist, I will always be the anti-flosser, no matter how much floss I use. That day, I walked out of the office with a brand new toothbrush, a miniature toothpaste, a pack of floss (useless, apparently) and no gold star. My bad reputation was stronger than my good habits. 

However, a few weeks ago, I returned to the dentist. I had continued flossing every single night, but walked into the building in quiet anticipation of inevitable defeat. But this time, I had no cavities. None. Zero. Zilch. It was an experience I hadn’t had in a very, very long time.

My dentist, of course, wasn’t going to let me forget my past mistakes.

“You had a lot of cavities when you were here last year,” she said as she began the examination. “It’s usually the x-ray visits when we find the cavities, so you might get lucky today.” Even when I don’t have cavities, there’s still the assumption that the x-ray will find them. 

She asked, “Did you finally start using floss?”

“I used floss last year too,” I said. 

While I may not be gold-star worthy, I will, at least, no longer be the cavity-prone fool who took subtle hits from the sarcastic dentist. Instead, I will be the cavity-prone fool who stands up for herself. 

Until next time, apparently. At the x-ray visit.