You know how when you notice something for the first time you think it's uncommon, then all of a sudden you see it everywhere? It was like that after I saw my first fellow inmate with few teeth. Or is it more correct to call them inmates who are missing many teeth? (Perhaps this is another one of those is the glass half full or half empty questions.) They are everywhere, and I can't help but notice them. Okay, I'll admit it. I can't help but stare. Often the remaining tooth or few teeth are badly discolored, broken or misshappen.
They kind of remind me of a bad car accident. You know when these women open their mouths you are going to see something gross and unpleasant. But, like driving past a car accident, you look anyways because you are so intrigued that you can't help but stare.
Starting up a conversation with a stranger about her missing teeth is very difficult to do. But I just had to know how they ended up like this. Most women in prison are missing at least a few teeth (and I'm not just talking about pulled wisdom teeth here-- a large proportion of women have big gaps in their mouths where teeth should be).
Since missing teeth are clearly the norm, women did not seem uncomfortable talking about them. Many said that they never went to the dentist unless they had a toothache. Their dentists simply pulled the rotten tooth, and the women could not afford to have it replaced with a crown or partial denture. Many said they could never afford going to a dentist at all, but did brush their teeth regularly. Apparently, just brushing wasn't enough to save their teeth.
Being the naive middle aged woman that I am, when the first person gave me the answer of "drugs" when I asked about their missing teeth I thought they were kidding. My roommate started pointing out women with "meth mouth" whose teeth were not only missing, but those they had were discolored and broken. She was fairly adept at correctly guessing a woman's primary drug of habit by the state of their teeth. Apparently, many drugs, and especially meth, eat away at teeth. Plus, I guess if you are "trippin" for weeks at a time brushing and flossing twice a day is not a priority. My roommate told me that the other inmates can tell I am not "one of them" and do not use drugs because my teeth are nice.
Gosh, you can't learn this kind of stuff in school. I am gaining knowledge that I didn't imagine even existed before! I don't know how useful it will be when I get out, but I have a feeling I will be taking greater notice of the quality (and quantity) of my friends', neighbors', and coworkers' teeth from now on.