As if sixth grade were not awkward enough, I spent mine as an orthodontic freak show. I was eleven years-old when I went under the knife for an impacted incisor tooth. Basically, one of my eye teeth was trying to shoot through the roof of my mouth. The oral surgeon exposed the tooth (ouch), attached a bracket to the exposed tooth (mommy!) and tied the bracket to the wire of my braces (ouch to your mother!).

Yeah, I was into heavy metal in the 6th grade.

It was very Looney Toons dentist with a string pulled taut between two teeth. The goal was to drag the one tooth into place, but I kept waiting for the string to break and some dental work to go flying.

The string that was supposedly guiding my tooth into place was knotted off in a big heap. It resembled a soggy piece of popcorn. I’d be giving my oral presentation on cumulus clouds at the front of the classroom and watch as the furrowed brows of my classmates tried to tell me: Kendra, you have a piece of--

I know. A piece of popcorn stuck in my braces.

The process of relocating my rogue tooth took three months, which translates to a biblical eternity of stale popcorn smiles in the social minefield that is sixth grade.

The good news is that it worked. The even better news is that I get to regale every dental professional with my history of freakodontics.

The Stanton children were an orthodontic powerhouse. I also rocked the mushroom cut long after the age it was okay to do so.


When I was 22, I went to a dentist whose office was near the community center where I worked in Boston. While the dental hygienist scraped and picked, I noticed a list on the office wall. The list included the names of all the patients who would be seen by the dentist that day, and next to the names were the patients’ phone numbers.

I considered the at-risk youth that I would be working with that afternoon, whom I saw every day but whom I made sure never got a hold of my phone number.

When the dentist entered, I asked him about the policy of placing patient names with contact information in such a public place. He said it convenienced the staff, having all the information so handy. But couldn’t the list be placed where no patient could read it? I asked.

I watched as the dentist took a ballpoint pen and crossed off my name and phone number. “That all right?” he asked. “No one can read it now.”

Feeling violated, I called the HIPAA hotline to see if I might have a case against this dentist for what seemed to me a sloppy management of personal information. The hotline attendant said my case was weak, especially as the list had been posted in a room with a limited viewership. It wasn’t as if the whole waiting room was privy to our digits.

I staged a silent protest of the dentist’s policies, like spitting into the wind. I never went to see him again.


Within four minutes of being seated in the chair at my dentist's office in the south, the dental hygienist, whom I had only just met that day, asked me about my plans to add more children into my life. She scraped and picked and gave me the sucking implement for when it was time to spit.

My mouth ajar, the only reflex I could control was my urge to spit. This is, as I have learned since sixth grade, sometimes all any of us can control.

Until we open our mouths, we can conceal so much. Our fears about invasion of privacy. Our feelings about having a(nother) baby. Our pieces of stale popcorn, real or facsimile, wedged conspicuously between our braces.

They told me to put my chin down because my glasses were causing a glare here. I thought it was my pearly white teeth!

My relationships with dental professionals have been numerous and frequent. In many ways, I can thank them for exposing not only my teeth, but my deeply-lodged fears and anxieties.

But I also find that our fears and chagrins have a way of fighting their way out. Every sixth grader eventually finds reason to speak. Just as every dental patient will eventually find reason to cry, “ouch” or “stop.” When the moment of truth finally arrives, we cannot reverse history. The laws of motion seem to make no exemption for spit.

It doesn’t take an oral surgeon to expose our most hidden deposits. Sometimes all any of us has to do is open up and say, “Ah.”

Here's the dentist -