reasons to love new york

How My Dentist Taught Me That I Am a New Yorker

Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

I go to a very upscale dentist. I definitely can’t use that adjective for any of my other consumption patterns, and so — thanks, Cigna — I tend to brag about this more than I should. The office has a zillion–dollar view of Central Park, and I think it’s only when I rounded the corner toward 30 that my dentist realized the job in journalism I kept mentioning was actually what paid my bills, not a hobby I pursued in the rare off-hours from my gig in finance. I mention all this only for context: When my dentist told me 80 percent of his clients grind their teeth at night, compared with about 10 percent nationally, I assumed it was a finance thing. Buy, sell, grind. First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado, second prize is a set of steak knives, third prize is all your teeth break and you can never eat steak again or enunciate the word Cadillac.

It turns out that grinding your teeth might just be a New York thing. Another uptown dentist, Central Park West Dental, estimated that 75 to 80 percent of its clients are grinders. (“That’s New York for you!” said the receptionist.) Rates of bruxism were lower elsewhere — 50 percent at Morningside Dental Care, 40 percent at Tribeca Smile, 45 percent in Park Slope — but still well above the national average of one in ten patients. The phrase gnashing of the teeth appears no fewer than seven times in the Bible, to describe the human reaction to the misery of hell. We react that way to a bad Tuesday.

My own diagnosis as a grinder — the dentist recommended a mouth guard to be worn at night — did set off some soul-searching. When I moved here, it was as if I’d sloughed off all the neurosis and type-A self-flagellation I’d spent years understanding as key to my identity: Suddenly, I was the sunny, placid Midwesterner who would happily split that beer cheese with you. Sure, I lived in New York, but maybe at heart I was a Chicagoan, or an Austinite, or still a Clevelander, with an adaptable, low-key optimism. And now it turned out I’d been lying to myself. I’m the kind of person who thrives on stress and who gets off on having the best possible dentist. My teeth knew the truth.

A year and a half ago, my younger sister moved to New York. At first, she kept New York at arm’s length, appraisingly. But some time around her anniversary here, in her worn apartment with a shiny cross-river view, she told me she never wanted to leave her place, ever. A few months afterward, her dentist recommended a mouth guard. She ordered one. I think she’ll stay.

*This article appears in the December 14, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.