Monday, February 19, 2018

Lip Incompetence on Dollar Street

I scheduled an appointment for a routine cleaning a few weeks ago with a new dentist. As this was the first visit, the appointment began with a one-on-one consultation in which the doctor and I discussed my dentistry goals. Seeing the dollar signs in her eyes light up when I flashed my tea-stained smile, I told her I was not interested in cosmetic dentistry. (I wanted to nip that puppy in the bud right away!) Rather, I am interested in the long-term health and functionality of my teeth and their supporting structures.

For the record, this is me.
You can't see my teeth, but that's not important.

After reviewing my xrays, the dentist handed me a five-page "Review of Findings." This felt more like a meeting with an attorney, but I digress. The dentist went over her findings with me -- I had healthy gums and bone, no tooth decay, yadda yadda. When we came to the section labeled Diagnosis, the dentist looked me straight in the eye, and said, "Sarah, you have incompetent lips."

I have incompetent lips!? What in the hell is lip incompetence? I wanted nothing more than to bust out laughing. Alas, the dentist's straight face implied that this was not a joking matter. I swallowed my laughter and did my best to relay a concerned look.

The doctor asked me to close my lips. I did as she requested. She pointed at my mouth, and said, "There. Look. Your muscles are straining to close your lips." I pursed my lips, out of spite. Yup, my muscles were definitely strained.

For the record, this is my slightly off-centered lip incompetence.

I told the dentist I was surprised. After all, I have lived my whole life unaware of my incompetent lips. Though a part of me was dying to ask if this condition was fatal, I instead asked why this lip incompetence was of concern. The dentist went on to explain a whole slew of life improvements that would occur if my incompetency was addressed.

Honey, that little gap you call "lip incompetence" is actually my blow hole. Watch out, darling, I'm about to blow:

This lip incompetence garbage is bull shit! I'm not dissing lip incompetence; it is indeed a legitimate condition with a set of unfortunate side-effects. But my less-than-1mm lip incompetence is less symptomatic of the structure of my mouth and more symptomatic of a culture that is wrapped up in vanity and selling unnecessary shit to people. My dear dentist friend, let's focus on things that really matter. Let's get our heads out of our first-world asses and start leveraging our first-world resources to make the entire world a better place.

A few days after my dentist visit, I was introduced to a brilliant idea via a TED talk given by Anna Rosling Rönnlund. An employee at Gapminder, a Swedish non-profit that creates teaching resources using worldwide statistics, Anna was in search of a way to show how people in different income levels live across the globe. She wanted to reduce the exoticisms of different cultures to show that, despite our differences, we are similar.

And thus Dollar Street was created. Dollar Street is a fictitious online street on which all the world's homes reside. The homes are arranged in a spectrum -- the wealthiest homes are positioned at one end of the street and the poorest homes at the opposite end.

The Dollar Street spectrum.

To visualize similarities and differences among the homes, Dollar Street displays photographs of everyday objects (such as shoes and toys) common to all the homes.

Fixated on the pettiness of my lip incompetence, I searched Dollar Street to see if there were photographs of teeth among the data. Sure enough there were.

Here are the teeth of folks who live in the richest third of the street:

Teeth of the richest third.

Here are the teeth of folks who live in the middle third of the street:

Teeth of the middle third.

And here are the teeth of folks who live in the poorest third of the street:

Teeth of the poorest third.

An examination of toothbrushes on Dollar Street was even more enlightening. An array of electric toothbrushes, one for each member of the family, sit in the multiple bathrooms of the wealthy homes. In the mid-street homes, a standard bristled toothbrush, sitting aside the one and only sink in the house, is shared by the entire family. At the far opposite end of the street, teeth are brushed with index fingers, topped with a dab of mud paste scraped from the walls of the one-room homes.

A small fortune, courtesy of my parents, was invested in two major childhood overhauls of my mouth to deal with overbite issues, space issues, and speech issues. Whatever lip incompetence issues I have this far into my adulthood seem ridiculously trivial. We're on the brink of nuclear warfare, children are dying daily in school shootings, and Sarah's facial muscles have to work a wee bit harder to close the less-than-1mm gap in her lips.

I am incredibly fortunate to live on the wealthy end of the street, aside all of you who have the privilege of reading an online blog. I don't know about you, but I want to do more with my life than simply improve my position amongst my wealthy neighbors; I want to live my life being neighborly with all the residents on Dollar Street.

As Dollar Street so brilliantly demonstrates, there is a long distance to walk if we want to visit our neighbors at the other end of the street. Rather than invest in more crap and vanity, why don't we use our wealth to help reduce the distance between those who reside at the far spectrums of Dollar Street. The money, time, and energy that could be invested in addressing the gap between my lips would go a hell of a long way in closing the gap between the wealthy and the poor.


  1. Wow.... I am going to work backwards a bit. Dollar street is an interesting concept, and it makes perfect sense. I agree I am on the wealthy side, no question there. But I seriously hope I don't ACT that way. Luckily I have a great wife and a good friends (like you) who would call me out.

    Incomplete lips? Forgive me please, but whatthefuckever!! I have seen many the photo of you, worn out from rides, relaxing with cats, contemplative about books and just happy enjoying life. Lady, you look amazing, and never once have I looked at your lips and said "Wow, they just don't close right..."

    and now I truly love my dentist! My first visit to Dr Connie, she broke it down. 1) This NEEDS to be done, cavities, deep cleaning. Your mouth is a mess. 2) I recommend this, A tooth being pulled would make caring for the rest better 3) if the dentist had her wish, straightening some teeth with orthodontics, but not necessary at all for your health. Then she said, let me know.

    We did one and 2 and never mentioned it again! I am really very sorry your experience was not the same!

    Finally, I love when you post and it makes me think!

    1. A majority of the population of our country resides at one end of Dollar Street. I only wish that more of our population was like you, Tony, with your humongous'n'generous heart.

      Yeah, I'm assuming y'all would have let me know by now if that lip gap was bothering you. Now that I've turned a big spot light onto my imperfect lips, I fully expect at least someone will point their finger at me and say, "There. Look. Dear gawd almighty, you *are* straining to close your lips."

      I've heard about your dentist. Espresso! Cookies! There's no question in my mind that your dentist rocks!

      As always, thanks for your comments, Mountainstroh. :)

    2. If you go, tell them Michelle and Tony sent ya. There's no discount, but they will know you are family, and take the best care of you possible!

  2. I knew there was something but I just couldn’t put my finger on it... ����

    1. And I don't suggest you do. You put your finger on my incompetent lips, Knaak, and I'll bite it off. Be forewarned, I've got tea-stained daggers for teeth! Grrr! :)

    2. Tea stained daggers for teeth may be the single best thing I have heard or read all day!

    3. Uh, I meant figuratively... lol

  3. I think — or, really, I want to think — incompetent lips is just a euphemism. What your dentist *really* wanted to say was, “Honey, I would totally want to have a sloppy makeout session with you right now, except your lips just aren’t my type."

    1. Hahahahaha. [Snort!] That's great! I love the way you think, Dave. In case that software architecture gig doesn't pan out for you, you would have a future as a first date counselor.

  4. Sarah, PLEASE dump that dentist and go see mine-
    I was absolutely terrified of dentists and the entire experience with Nikole and her staff has been incredible. She donates dentistry to musicians who have no healthcare, and she has never once pushed me to do anything more than basic dental care, even though my mouth needs tons of work. I love her, and you would too! Just a suggestion, she has sure changed my life for the better.

    Take care, Rusty

    1. Wow, I'm getting lots of good dentist referrals! Thanks for the suggestion! I appreciate it mucho. While I'm not terrified of dentists, I do appreciate dentists who don't push unnecessary work and unnecessary xrays on their patients.

      Hope all is well in your world, Rusty. Hope to see you out-and-about sometime soon. :)

  5. Great post! I love my dentist in Seattle, Dr. Carmady, and I'm sure he'd be happy to have you now that he's about to lose a client ;)

    1. Thanks, Josey. I'm gonna miss you, lil Pippa, your hubby, and all your beautiful smiles. :)

  6. Wow learned something new today... incompetent lips! I know a lot of people with incompetent lips and it is largely because they are unable to keep their lips shut when they ought to ... and you're not one of them :P

    1. Haha. That's funny, Ashutosh! You're absolutely right! And in the context of digital communications (Twitter and the such), I suppose a lot of people have incompetent fingers as well. 😀


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