• Marina

Poverty, bad teeth and van Gogh.

Обновлено: 2 окт. 2018 г.

I know too many words people of my age are generally not familiar with – dental restoration, inlays and onlays, irreversible pulpitis, necrosis of the pulp tissue and root canal treatment. I know everything about dental prostheses and types of dental crowns. And sadly, it’s not only theoretical knowledge. 

I started losing teeth in my first years in Moscow when I was homeless. I was eating from trash or not eating at all, I didn’t have a place to take care of myself, most of the time I didn’t even have a tooth brush. On the occasions I did eat, my teeth crumbled like chalk and I had to remove from my mouth pieces of my own enamel fixed with food. 

I have bad genetics in the first place, but in those years of extreme poverty my teeth started to decay even quicker. I didn’t have money for doctors, so I used chewing gum to fill the holes in my teeth. Before turning 20, I lost all my molars and premolars. 

When my life evolved from extreme poverty to just poverty, I started to work on my countless health issues. Most of my teeth were fixed by students or young doctors with cheap materials. 

My homeless days are long gone now and I have a room in a shared apartement to sleep and a bathroom full of toothbrushes, irrigators and flosses. But my teeth are not getting any better. I spend $1500-2000 every year to restore what remains of them, which is basically all my savings. This year is no different and instead of vacation, I’m planning to fix ten new caries, have four dental crowns and one tooth extraction. With so many crowns, I would be a real Queen! 

Sometimes, I think to convert myself gay and marry my dentist. She’s pretty and we spend a lot of time together. It freaks me out to say, but I have had more appointments with her than dates in the last couple of years. 

At times it looks like I have restored most of the urgent issues, while eating one day I will hear the familiar sound of a crumbling tooth… No jokes about hard food, the last time it happened was when I was eating boiled potatoes…

Dentist bills are a bottomless hole in my budget, where all my money disappears. Sometimes, I fantasize about what I could do with all this cash - pay many months of rent, buy a lot of art supplies, buy better food and new clothes and shoes, go on vacation, visit a cosmetologist and masseur. But all those pleasures are not for me! In this life, I’m a slave to my dentist and landlord.  I'm also annoyed that all this money does not give any pleasant external result. I do not get a beautiful Hollywood smile or something, I just get the chance to chew. Sometimes I feel like I’m 90 years old.

My teeth ache constantly, I finish a treatment of one tooth and then another starts to decay. I do not have the money to cure all teeth at once, so I do it gradually. Toothache is my constant companion, often I can’t sleep and eat normally. It makes me feel and look grumpy and tired and sad.

I often receive comments such as “you’re so young and pretty, what do you know about problems?! You should dazzle others with smile!”. I don’t know what to say! Of course I’m lucky to have a pretty face, but it doesn’t make my life any easier.

I share my pain, when people ask me “how are you”, but when I say how really I am, they don’t believe me or even laugh. I hate when people say, I have no right to be sad, because I’m not in Syria or something like this. I’m well aware, people have harder life than I do, but believe me, when you have your tooth nerve inflamed and no cash to fix it, advice to think about Syria doesn’t help at all…

When I post selfies I often receive comments such as “give us a smile!” and sometimes I want to say, “If you want me to give a smile, give me money on new dentures first!”. (Wow! I just finally wrote this phrase, phew, what a relief!). By the way it actually hurts to smile sometimes, especially outdoors, because my fragile enamel and gums react on the temperature drops and wind with sharp intense pain.

Now I feel somebody is typing a comment such as “but your teeth look good on photos!” - I envy these people, because only a person who never had serious dental problems can say that. It’s also funny to make diagnoses by the small photography on Facebook. I wish doctors could do it as well, so I wouldn’t need any appointments.  

This text is a strange desire to explain to all these people that my toothache is not a trifle. Now I write this when I have not slept for a month because of the pain. This is a strange text, boring, probably no one will read it. But I always feel better when I write in English, so it's a text-analgesic. And of course, I like when people understand me and do not discount my problems.

I also hate when people give me advice, when I didn’t ask for it. I lost all my teeth and people say, “you should eat more broccoli” or “you should rinse out your mouth with salt water”. But unfortunately, I don’t have many real teeth anymore, I have mostly fillings that are falling apart, and broccoli won’t help that. But I do take care of my diet, I don’t eat sweets, I don’t smoke, I rarely drink, and I work out every day. I don’t need advice on a healthy lifestyle…

This text is getting too long, I know. Toothache is moving me from one line to another. I want to leave all my pain and misunderstandings here. 

I find consolation in the fact that in the 21th century, my problems can easily be remedied with money. In all the previous historical periods, I would simply have been a toothless ugly old woman. In this age, I only need a few thousand dollars for dentures. Money cures!

Another source of comfort for me are the letters of van Gogh. He was not lucky to be born in the 21st century and most of the treatment for his teeth consisted of their removal. He would often write about this to his brother Theo and I can feel all his pain. I’m glad I have at least one thing in common with the great artist. I like the way he keeps his spirit up and tries to forget his pain, dissolving in art. I made a collection of dental related quotations from his letters. I’m not sure if they are any interest for healthy people, but maybe some fellow toothless friends will find a consolation here. 

Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh.

The Hague, 26 January 1882

Dear Theo,

I received your letter with the enclosed 100 fr., and thank you very much for both. What I had already feared when I wrote you last has really happened, meaning that I have not been well, and have been in bed for almost three days with fever and nervousness, now and then accompanied by headache and toothache. It is a miserable condition and is caused by overexertion. Mauve has again been to see me, and once more we agreed to keep up courage through all.

The Hague, c. 28-30 December 1882

These days I am troubled with a bad toothache which sometimes affects my right eye and ear; however, it may be partly due to nerves. If one has toothache, one becomes indifferent to many things, but it is curious that, for instance, Daumier's drawings are so true that they almost make one forget the toothache. 

Antwerp, early February 1886

And it is a fact that I must change my outward appearance somewhat. Perhaps you will say that has nothing to do with art, but on the other hand, perhaps you will agree with me I am having my teeth seen to, for instance, there are no less than ten teeth that I have either lost or may lose, and that is too many and too troublesome, and besides, it makes me look over forty, which is not to my advantage.

So I have decided to have that taken care of. It will cost me 100 fr., but it can be done better now while I am drawing than at any other time, and I have had the bad teeth cut off and have just paid half the money in advance.

Antwerp, 1st half February 1886

Now what shall I tell you about my health? I keep thinking there is a chance of avoiding a real illness, but it will take some time to restore my health.

I have two more teeth that must be filled, then my upper jaw, which was in the worst condition, will be all right. I have still to pay 10 fr. on it, and then another 40 fr. to have the lower jaw taken care of too.

Thus some of those ten years which I seem to have spent in prison will disappear. Because bad teeth, which one rarely sees nowadays when it is so easy to have them taken care of, give the face a somewhat sunken look.

And then, even when taking the same food, one can digest it better when one can chew well, so my stomach will have a better chance to recover.

But I can feel that I am in a bad condition, and as you write yourself, by neglecting it, it might become much worse. But we will try to get over it.

Antwerp, 15-17 February 1886

I should also like so very much to finish having my teeth fixed. What must I do?

I have a total of one franc fifty centimes left, and as to my food, I paid 5 francs in advance until the end of the month.

Theo to mother

2nd half June 1886

Fortunately we're doing well in our new apartment. You would not recognize Vincent, he has changed so much, and it strikes other people even more than it does me. He has undergone an important operation in his mouth, for he had lost almost all his teeth through the bad condition of his stomach. The doctor says that he has now quite recovered.

Arles, 1 May 1888

My dear Theo,

Many thanks for your letter and the 50 Fr. note enclosed.

I don't see the whole future black, but I do see it bristling with difficulties and sometimes I ask myself if they won't be too much for me. But this is mostly in moments of physical weakness, and last week I had such a fierce toothache that much against my will I had to waste time.

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