DEAR ABBY: I have a problem of my own making. When I was a young child/teenager, I never brushed my teeth. Because of it, the enamel on my teeth eroded and I have cavities, really bad ones. Add to that a desperate fear of dentists, and my teeth are in horrible shape now. When I smile, my front teeth are mostly black. I work in customer service. I'm too young to have awful teeth, and I'm ashamed.
I saw a dentist recently and I have made appointments to have my dental issues addressed, but it's expensive and it won't be for a few months. I have never been so aware of how bad my teeth are as I am now, and I consciously keep myself from smiling. It makes working in customer service really hard because I'm constantly thinking, "Don't let them see your teeth." But even when I'm just talking, I know people can see them.
It's impossible to say, "I know my teeth are disgusting, but I'm getting them fixed, so please don't judge me" to every person I meet, but I very much feel like doing so. I'm a socially anxious person anyway and this is killing my already poor social skills. I need advice. -- HIDING MY SMILE IN NEW JERSEY
DEAR HIDING: I have addressed the importance of good oral hygiene in this column before, so I won't belabor it. For the sake of your overall physical health, I'm very glad you have finally decided to deal with your dental problem. It will pay big dividends in the future.
For the time being, having set up appointments to get your dental work -- and possibly periodontal work -- done, you are doing all you can. If you weren't good at your job, you wouldn't have lasted at it for as long as you have. When customers come to you for help, they are less interested in your teeth than in what you can do to solve their problems, so you shouldn't let yourself be sidetracked by what they "might" think about them. Do your job, keep those dental appointments religiously, and your problems will solve themselves.