When I was in middle school, I got braces. Just like most of my friends in my Catholic, private middle school did. They hurt, and they were a pain to take care of, and I hated the appointments. I loved that I got to choose new colors for the rubber bands every time I went in. But what I remember most about my experience with braces was that they were a privilege.
I am the daughter of a single mom. Every appointment, every adjustment, every time I entered the orthodontist’s office, I was aware of just how expensive this endeavor was. For my friends, braces were just an annoyance, a part of growing up. For me, they were a bill near impossible to pay.
I have bad teeth in my genes. My dad’s first dental appointment was late into his thirties. He is still incredibly afraid of the dentist. I have been aware from a young age that dental work was a lot more than just a mundane, irritating part of life. Straightening my teeth was both a privilege and a health necessity — anatomically, my teeth were bad enough that if they weren’t fixed they would end up permanently damaging my jaw. However, the braces felt necessary for reasons other than that, too. Cosmetically, I had a huge gap between my two front teeth. I had crooked bottom teeth and an underbite. My smile was far from up to society’s standards. And my mom struggled to pay off the bill to fix that.
In class, we discussed the idea that teeth serve as an indicator of one’s social status. We read two articles that supported this. First, we read an article from The Washington Post called “The Painful Truth About Teeth” that talked about an event that was hosted in Maryland where dentists volunteered to fix people’s teeth for free. Hundreds of people were lined up in the bitter cold, and more people than could be served waited copious amounts of time, some ten or more hours, just to be told they had to come back the next day because there was not enough time left in the day for them to be helped.
The fact that the need was so high for this service is a sign that dental care is not accessible for those in the United States, particularly those who are not well off financially. Even with decent or good insurance, dental care is often not covered. As Dr. McCoy mentioned in class, sometimes dental care is regarded as a luxury, but often it is a basic healthcare need, particularly with issues like a tooth abscess, for example, which can be life-threatening. This distinction is not at the discretion of the patient, but rather, at the discretion of insurance companies who are profiting off of people instead of helping them.
In my group last class, we talked about the books we have read for this course throughout the semester. Adrianna posed a question: which of these novels do you see as possibly coming true? We discussed the idea that we felt that aspects of all of the novels coming true were sadly completely feasible. And although we are not living in a post-apocalyptic world, it is easy to see that there are sometimes there are elements of all of these novels that connect to our reality, both historically and currently.