I found insecurity in the toothpaste aisle

Categorized as 10/27/08 Goshen News column

Now, I have brushed religiously for years. I get the concept. I know about plaque and cavities. The boys know that I know about plaque and cavities, thanks to my insistence on twice-daily encounters with their toothbrushes. In fact, if the American Dental Association were to issue an annual “Brushing Nazi” award, I’d be first in line. If chairing the local chapter of the M.A.B.B. (Mothers Against Bad Breath) doesn’t qualify me, I don’t know what will.

Hence, it was a confident woman who trotted into Health and Beauty Aids recently, feeling fairly secure about her oral hygiene. It was a not-so-confident woman who slunk out, scared to death to smile at anyone for fear of exposing the state of her oral hygiene.

Whatever happened to the days when choosing a toothpaste was simple? When I was a kid, there were about three brands to choose from.

Not anymore. There was, apparently, an explosion at a toothpaste factory, resulting in hundreds of brands with thousands of formulations. At least, that’s how it looked from where I was standing.

There was your basic cavity-fighting formula. There were several that promised to fight gingivitis. There was tartar control as well, with some that claimed they could cover all three at once.

There was paste that promised to whiten as you brush. There was “whitening with mint zing.” There was even one that whitened with oxygen bubbles. Oxygen bubbles? How did those get in there?

In fact, one whole section was devoted strictly to whitening products. I saw whitening trays. There were also whitening strips, some of which dissolved and some that didn’t. There was, for crying out loud, a whitening pen.

For those with sensitive teeth, there were products galore. They all promised to protect and pamper your sensitive incisors, but you could also, if you chose the right brand, whiten your teeth and strengthen your enamel in one fell swoop.

Moving on, it became clear that the aforementioned explosion must have occurred simultaneously with a blow-up at the mouthwash factory. How else do you explain mouthwash beads in one formulation and mini breath strips in another, huh?

“Extreme clean!” one box screamed. “Advanced clean,” proclaimed another. “Complete care,” promised a third. The final straw, however, was the nighttime product that claimed to fight cavities, gingivitis, tartar, and plaque; to protect and whiten your sensitive teeth; and to freshen your breath as you slept. I squinted at the fine print, figuring that surely there was something about a face lift in there.

So there I stood, fear and doubt raging. What if I’d been using the wrong formula all these years? Was my tartar out of control and I hadn’t noticed? Was my paste hammering hard enough on the plaque?

If I fought the plaque, but neglected the gingivitis, would my teeth fall out in my lap one day? Was I protected against halitosis if my brand had no mouthwash beads? Was my “clean” extreme enough?

What if I was the only woman in America who’d never slapped her molars into a whitening tray? Maybe what I thought was my full-wattage smile was actually nothing but a dull gleam. And why was that patron next to me peering suspiciously at my gum line? I slapped my lips together and moved away.

Finally, in an agony of indecision, I closed my eyes, pointed my finger, and snatched up the box at the end of it. Running now, I headed for that other great bastion of feminine insecurity – the checkout lane.

If your self-esteem makes it through the toothpaste aisle unscathed, it’s almost sure to take a beating when you pass those magazines by the registers. That’s because they never put real women on the covers.

Those women are perfect. Their hair is perfect. Their teeth are certainly perfect. There is no gingivitis, plaque, or tarter in their seductive smiles. They never get stretch marks from having babies, and they never retain any baby weight.

Everything else about them is flawless as well. With their hyper-inflated chests, they appear to be about two solid needle sticks away from normalcy. They are botoxed, wrinkle free, and gorgeous.

It’s a lot for an average woman to live up to. Just once, I’d like to see a real woman on a cover in the supermarket. She would have crow’s feet from laughing and crying. She would have wrinkles from working and playing in the sun and wind. She may be carrying a bit of extra weight, and she’d likely have some gray hair, but there’s a twinkle in her eye because she loves life and she’s busy living it.

Now there’s a woman I could identify with in the checkout lane. I hope someone has the nerve to feature her for once. If they find her, I hope they interview her. I’d like to know what kind of toothpaste she uses.

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