There’s a small chip in my front tooth that I got from a S’well bottle. I knocked the lip of the bottle against my teeth and somehow it hit the wrong way, and the tooth cracked. I felt it as soon as it happened. The small piece of broken enamel rolled against my tongue before I spit it out.
I can’t even see it. My friends told me when I pointed it out in horror. But it’s huge, I thought. A mountain has been carved into the front of my tooth. I can feel the uneven groove every time I slide my tongue over my teeth; a zag where there should be a flat edge. There’s a crater that’s displaced a part of my smile, and no one thinks it a big deal but me. I promise, if you hadn’t pointed it out, I wouldn’t have noticed, they say.
I dated someone once, and only months into the relationship, did he say: you know you have a chip in your tooth?
It builds character, I told myself one morning, as I smiled into the mirror. You should keep it, I decided. Gavel to the sink, the case was settled. The chip would stay. It can be your thing, I said to my reflection. I’m like Prince Harry. I’m like Anna Paquin. I have a tooth thing. I’m that woman. The one with the small chip in her tooth. A defining characteristic. If you can call a characteristic that people claim they rarely notice, “defining”.
I’m a woman who’s cared about the way I looked for most of life, but I don’t even care about the look of my teeth! I’m modern! I’m postmodern!
I’m great at lying to myself. But also I hate the dentist. The smell. The feeling as the drill grates against my teeth. Those gloved hands in my mouth. Spit flying everywhere. And plus, I don’t have dental insurance.
When life throws you S’well bottles, pretend things are swell. Yeah, the irony wasn’t lost on me.
But also after the initial shock of the confrontation with my vanity wore off, I forgot about the chip much faster than I thought I would. The groove started to look much smaller than the first time I noticed it, blending into my smile seamlessly. And over a year went by, and I would rarely notice its presence.
And then, one day recently, after a night out with a friend, I woke up and it was massive. A crevice so large, it had me zooming into old pictures of myself wondering: when did it get bigger? How did that happen? Has it been chipping away more and more every day? Will I wake up one morning with half a tooth?
And yet, no one has said anything. Not my friends. Not my family. No one noticed.
It’s definitely more vast. But there’s no real way to measure if it grew. And so every morning I brush my teeth and I wonder; is this in my head? It must be, if no one else notices it. But then, what does it mean that I woke up one morning and it was suddenly bigger?
One of the most common dreams people have is that their teeth are crumbling. When you search “teeth breaking dream”, Google spits back a plethora of explanations for why your subconscious went down the crumbling tooth rabbit hole: You’re feeling insecure. You feel a loss of control. You feel powerless. You feel anxious. But I’m not much of a dream interpreter. I actually hate when people tell me their dreams. I think they’re kind of dumb.
But I noticed the chip’s sudden growth at a moment of internal uncertainty. I can pinpoint exactly how I was feeling about my future, my personal life, my career when I noticed it. I was feeling unsure about my next steps. And so now I wonder: Am I living in a crumbling tooth dream? What happens when the tooth dream isn’t really a dream? What happens when it happens while you are conscious?
Should I start taking dreams more seriously?
Will the gap grow every time my life shifts? Every time something inside me feels uncertain? Every time I feel unsettled?
Or did the chip in my tooth actually grow? Did I bite something the wrong way and another small piece of enamel broke away, and I swallowed it without even realizing?
What’s the best way to actually measure an immeasurable size shifting chip in my tooth that’s eating me up inside?