Fixing My Mouth to Fix My Life

12 May 2019

I love my dentist.

He’s about my age or maybe younger or older. We don’t interact long enough to know personal details.

He’ll explain what’s going on with my fillings, my wisdom teeth and gum health for someone of my vintage. He has no fancy products to recommend me but just good old cleaning and scaling, to be followed by diligent brushing and flossing at home.

He likes to tell every thing as it is. And before any panic sets in, he’ll say, “This is age. There’s nothing much you can do about it.”

“It’s happening to me too,” he’ll add with a beam, as if he’s just shared the secret to longevity with me.

However, if a patient insists on further treatment he’ll comply, but not before reminding her that all corrective improvements done at this point of our lives should have a larger purpose beyond the aesthetic.

Besides, there’s also our genetic predispositions to contend with. What works for others may not necessarily work for us.

The constant public exhortations on active aging with accompanying graphics of elderly folks attempting dramatic feats while inspiring, may also convey the idea that we have complete control over how we age. On top of that, the reality of degenerative issues brought on by aging are quickly glossed over with yet more promises of cures with anti-aging supplements, foods and lifestyle choices.

Everyone has a different path. Advice needs to be dispensed and taken responsibly.

I used to be easily intimidated by pharmacy ladies charging at me with offers of cream to remove my pigmentation spots. Against their uniformed complexion I became self conscious of my rather uneven facial colouring. I felt like a peasant woman surrounded by noble ladies even though I knew at the end of the work day most of us would be returning home to our HDB flats.

But when I realised that those spots on my face are indicators of my advancing years, exposure to the elements and health history, I started to see myself more clearly and more kindly. I became more interested in how hard my liver must be working instead of how flawless my skin should look.

So these days I wear my aging face like a badge of courage and smile appreciatively at the pharmacy staff ambushing in the aisles with their pots of promises.

In tracking my dental health, my dentist has shown me that being pain free and enjoying food is as important as looking good. And aging with all its ensuing uncertainties is actually very natural. What becomes unnatural is when we believe that we can remain youthful if we eat or apply the right things, hang out with the right folks and keep up with technology and other trends.

While we’re quick to praise the elderly for knowing how to scan & pay, we don’t give old folks enough credit for the wisdom & resourcefulness they may have accumulated from years of having survived sweeping changes to support our present success.

So next time when I meet an older person, I would try to ask what he or she knows & thinks, instead of what he or she can do.

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