“If Only You Had Good Teeth”

In America, teeth are a status symbol

Felicia C. Sullivan

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Licensed from Adobe Stock

When I was small, I wanted what my friends had — MTV, Benetton sweaters, seemingly drug-free parents, and braces. Were straight teeth and terror-free sleep too much to ask for? Especially when my mother’s face would swell from the pain of rotting roots. Always, the ache. Always, the mouth that resembled a graveyard.

While my friends suffered hallway and courtyard pummelings and endured the taunts of train-tracks and brace-face, at sixteen they rose from the ashes with shiny hair, a new wardrobe and straight, white teeth. Teeth that would follow them to college bars, first-job interviews and engagement photos.

Teeth that signaled to the world: this one had the coin to care about how they look.

My teeth weren’t an issue until severe stress and trauma revealed that not only was I grinder, but I was doing things to my mouth that had been unusual — so much so the shape of my two front teeth shifted. I went from a pretty girl preening for cameras in her twenties with uneven teeth to not smiling at all. And although I was privileged to have dental coverage and the resources to fix my teeth — for some reason, I didn’t. Perhaps I was reminded of the cruelty of children on the playground. Possibly I didn’t want to walk into meetings with a mouthful of metal because Invisalign wasn’t an option. I grew self-conscious, suffering in silence.

Filtering myself into oblivion until this year when I decided to do something about it.

While we can all agree the state of American healthcare is a complete and utter abomination — we need to burn the fucker down and bask in its ashes — dental care is so much worse. In Mary Otto’s “The Class Politics of Teeth,” she writes:

“The healthcare safety net — incomplete as it is for medical care — has even greater deficiencies when it comes to oral health. There is no universal dental coverage, of course. But additionally, even Medicaid, which provides healthcare coverage to about 74 million poor Americans, treats adult dental benefits as

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Felicia C. Sullivan

Marketing Exec/Author. I build brands & tell stories. Hire me: t.ly/bEnd7 My Substack: https://feliciacsullivan.substack.com/ Brand & Content eBooks: t.ly/ZP5v