I think my boyfriend is toothless.
October 18, 2013 10:50 AM   Subscribe

So, I've been dating a guy since March, and despite a few hiccups, things are pretty great. There's one thing that's been bothering me though - I'm 99% sure he doesn't have any teeth, at least in the front. There's a whole list of evidence I've assembled in my brain over the last few months that makes me believe he is almost certainly toothless, and I can no longer stand not to know. I've decided to try to bring it up this weekend, but I haven't a clue how.

He is obviously very protective of people seeing into his mouth. He covers his mouth when laughing, never smiles openly, and generally goes to great lengths to keep things hidden. I'm guessing that if he does in fact have some mouth funk going on, that he's probably really, really embarrassed about it. I'm, in fact, a little embarrassed that it took me this long to realize that the person I'm dating/kissing/sleeping with might have no teeth. This entire question feels completely ridiculous and surreal.

I guess my question is, how in the hell do I bring this up? I want to be sensitive to his feelings, but at the same time, I really need to know a) if my suspicions are correct, and b) why in the world this happened to a 29 year old man. For what it's worth, I've eliminated a lot of possibilities regarding b) - he has never mentioned a car wreck, for example, or playing hockey, getting into fights, or anything else that might explain extreme tooth loss. I can only figure that it's due to poor oral hygiene, and EW, I really would want to be aware of that.

So folks, can you think of a way to ask this question? I've run through possibilities in my head ranging from sensitive and serious (I hate to bring up a topic which might be distressing for you, but I'm curious as to why you seem to have some oral issues?), to funny/sarcastic to try to make it seem like not a big deal (So...what's going on up in your grill?). I know there is virtually no way this isn't going to be a really awkward conversation, but I'd like to not screw it up from the get-go. Help?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (81 answers total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
How could you not know if he has teeth? Haven't you kissed him?
posted by tuberose at 10:55 AM on October 18, 2013 [17 favorites]

Wait, but, you kiss him, right? With tongue?
posted by pyjammy at 10:55 AM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Without any teeth or do you think he has fake teeth?
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:57 AM on October 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

Do you mean you suspect he has dentures?
posted by matty at 10:57 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

So wait, just to clarify, he's wearing fake teeth/dentures and you think he has no teeth, or there is nothing there at all and he's really good at hiding it?

If it's the first, then, I guess you could ask about it nicely and just say you are curious, wanted to know how it might have happened...

If it's the second, wow! He must be really great at hiding this!!!!! At the same time, that seems like an almost less awkward thing to ask, since if there's nothing there, it would be crazy after all this time for you not to have noticed and might be easier to bring up-also, you can tell him you are concerned about his health and want to make sure whatever it is has been treated (I'm not sure the best way to say that part exactly, but if someone that takes care of them self/health is important to you, that's a good reason to ask).
posted by PinkPoodle at 10:58 AM on October 18, 2013

While you guys are laughing/doing something amusing, playfully say: "Hey, how come you never really smile, huh? I never get to see you really laugh. I want you to be comfortable around me!"
posted by phunniemee at 10:58 AM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

"I can only figure that it's due to poor oral hygiene, and EW, I really would want to be aware of that."

I wouldn't jump to this conclusion, but substance abuse can be very hard on the teeth - the such an extent that multiple extractions may be required.
posted by onshi at 10:59 AM on October 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Given that he seems to be embarassed and has developed a lot of strategies for hiding it, I would go with a gentle approach that doesn't assume anything (also reassuring him to that his hiding techniques are pretty good - you would have never noticed if you hadn't gotten to know him so well.

So something like: There is a question that I've been wondering about. As I've gotten to know you, I gradually realize that you tend to keep your mouth covered or closed. What is that about?

By the way, there was a profile on NPR of a dance or yoga teacher who was missing an arm - many of her students didn't even realize, so don't be embarassed that you didn't notice sooner.
posted by metahawk at 10:59 AM on October 18, 2013 [14 favorites]

Best answer: "Hey boyfriend, let's sit down and talk for a minute. I like/adore/love you and being with you, and I want to know and understand as much as I can about you.

First off - this may be a sensitive subject and I want you to know that whatever we discuss, it's not going to change how I feel about you one iota, however I am curious and want to understand the situation so that we can both feel more at ease, both with each other and with friends and family.

I notice that you take effort to keep your smiles tight and hide your open mouth. I can't help but be curious as to what drives these self-concious mannerisms. Would you like to talk about it?"
posted by de void at 10:59 AM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you really do mean no teeth at all, no dentures or dental implants - I think you'd be able to tell just by the way he talks. People without teeth tend to sound a very particular way when talking.

Probably the most tactful way to ask would be something like "I notice you cover your mouth a lot, why is that?"
posted by joan_holloway at 11:00 AM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

To me the issue is not whether or not your boyfriend has teeth, the issue is, do your boyfriend and you share values around what is shared and not shared? Does your boyfriend feel safe being vulnerable with you? Do you feel comfortable talking about difficult topics with your boyfriend?

If I was in this relationship, this would be the stuff I'd want to be dealing with.
posted by latkes at 11:00 AM on October 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

NB - the eating disorder Bulimia is also very hard on the teeth; might not be drugs but still might be hard for him to speak of.
posted by tilde at 11:01 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Your teeth are so perfectly straight; you have beautiful teeth -- they're so nice that all I can think is that they're dentures, or you went through an incredible amount of orthodontia... Did you have work done when you were younger?"

(if there is some sort of bridge or implant in place)
posted by kmennie at 11:02 AM on October 18, 2013

I have two sisters who do not have any of their natural teeth left. They both wear dentures. One has a set that looks very real, the other set looks patently fake.

While this is anecdotal, my response is, please, no. Do not bring this up with either of them, or your boyfriend....

My sisters would be mortified and I can't say your boyfriend would also be, but all signs point in that direction because he's sensitive about people seeing into his mouth.

As he continues to get to know you, he either will or won't bring this up on his own. You can be ok or not ok with his level of disclosure, but it's really none of your business what happened to his teeth.

To continue the anecdote - I knew a guy who had lost most of his teeth in a chainsaw accident (not as horrific as it could have been...the chainsaw was bouncing down a mountainside and the not bitey part bounced into his teeth/face) and he was really outspoke about his teeth and all the work he'd had done. This makes me think that if your boyfriend were comfortable talking about this, he'd be already.

It's not your job to help him get over this, or get to a dentist, or be more comfortable telling people what happened.
posted by bilabial at 11:02 AM on October 18, 2013 [12 favorites]

If you've been dating since March, and you don't feel comfortable asking him if he has no teeth (and he's not comfortable telling you), I'd say it's not all that great a relationship anyway.
posted by xingcat at 11:06 AM on October 18, 2013 [64 favorites]

If he really has no teeth, wouldn't it also be obvious when you saw him eat food?
posted by jozxyqk at 11:06 AM on October 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

If he doesn't want you to see that he's missing teeth, then he surely won't be happy talking about it either.

If I were you I'd probe him - tactfully - about substance abuse instead.
posted by Dragonness at 11:07 AM on October 18, 2013

I guess if you feel that you have trust/disclosure issues overall, that's one thing, but this is something I think you should leave alone.

Good teeth are a huge marker of social status and class... think of the redneck/hillbilly stereotypes. If he's hiding them that much, he's certainly aware that people will judge him, and saying "HEY MAN WASSUP WITH THOSE TEEF" will make you sound like... well, one of the people that judges him.

My best guess would be financial difficulties that led to him not getting dental work done until it was too late, which he may be deeply ashamed of. I think demonstrating that you are cool enough to NOT pry about it will get him to tell you in due time.
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:07 AM on October 18, 2013 [24 favorites]

Make corn on the cob for dinner as an ice breaker.

You should just ask him and not make too big of a deal out of it. For all you know he has a full set of teeth. But if he doesn't, make sure that you are going to be okay with that too.
posted by KMoney at 11:08 AM on October 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

Oh, as for the causes of tooth loss, sure, there's poor hygiene, but there's also appalling pediatric care, which is the culprit for one of my sisters, drug use for the other sister, the chainsaw for my acquaintance, car accidents, recreational accidents, eating disorders, periodontal disease (which can even be exacerbated by thyroid problems), malnutrition at various life stages, violence, diabetes, high blood pressure, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Is the lack of teeth the dealbreaker, or would some reasons for not having teeth be ok, while others wouldn't?

Because if you are going to go forward and ask this question, we can't really help you figure out how to ask it unless we know what you really want/what your best outcome is here.
posted by bilabial at 11:08 AM on October 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

You've never seen his teeth, so you're jumping to the conclusion that they don't exist? Maybe they're just a shade or two off white and he's self-conscious about it?
posted by zeri at 11:08 AM on October 18, 2013 [19 favorites]

We kiss/make out, have sex frequently

Are you, uh, watching him when he comes? That shit's kind of hard to control. It might be your window to sneak a peek.
posted by phunniemee at 11:09 AM on October 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

For what it's worth, I've eliminated a lot of possibilities regarding b) - he has never mentioned a car wreck, for example, or playing hockey, getting into fights, or anything else that might explain extreme tooth loss. I can only figure that it's due to poor oral hygiene, and EW, I really would want to be aware of that.

How can you eliminate those when he didn't even mention not having teeth before? If he doesn't have them, then it's something he doesn't want to talk about most likely and would likely not talk about things that might explain how he lost them.

But if you must ask, then just be as straightforward as possible.

"Boyfriend, I know this is a very strange question, but I just came to realize it lately. I know it may be an uncomfortable subject for you, but do you not have front teeth?"

If he admits it, then you need to have a frank discussion over how that makes you feel and what you want to do from that point on.
posted by inturnaround at 11:10 AM on October 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm guessing you've seen him eat. It should be very obvious whether he has front teeth from how he eats, and, as mentioned above, how he speaks. Actually, if he has no front teeth at all, that would affect how his upper lip looks, too.

Why are you jumping to "no front teeth"? That seems really weird, based on what you've mentioned here, anyway. What about stained teeth? Crooked teeth? There are lots of reasons for someone with a full set of 32 to want to hide them, and most of those are much more likely than a 29-year-old with no front teeth.

I also agree that in a relationship of this length, you should really feel comfortable asking him "What's up with the way you hide your mouth all the time?"
posted by snorkmaiden at 11:11 AM on October 18, 2013 [11 favorites]

If he didn't have teeth, you would almost certainly hear that in his speech. They may just be in rough shape rather than completely missing.
posted by maudlin at 11:11 AM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Whoa. Please do not bring this up with him. Do not hint about it either: no "hey I'd love to see you smile more" or "you cover your mouth when you laugh" because he will instantly see through you. And, on preview, for god's sake don't make corn on the cob!

I have a missing front tooth and have a partial denture that looks incredibly realistic. I lost the tooth about 15 years ago and I'm still pretty sensitive about it, even though you'd never know looking at my smile. In the last year I've gotten comfortable not wearing my denture in the mornings around my husband, and we've been married for five years.

I did not lose my tooth during a hockey game, a bar fight, or due to poor dental hygiene. My tooth got bumped while roughhousing with a friend, the root was damaged, and it required a root canal. The root canal went bad a number of years later and had to be removed.

You do NOT need to know anything about his teeth. If he has bad breath and it bothers you, delicately bring that up. Otherwise keep your curiosity in check and your mouth, uh, shut.
posted by Specklet at 11:15 AM on October 18, 2013 [19 favorites]

"Hey boyfriend, this is going to sound like a really weird question, but do you have front teeth?"

That's how I'd do it. See also "This is going to sound like a weird question, but is your great uncle Hitler?" "This is going to sound like a weird question, but are you a champion hot dog eater?" etc.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:15 AM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

If he had no teeth and no replacement prosthetics across the 4-6 tooth long front top portion of his jaw, you would see it in his profile, as the lip would lie very flat across the front of his face, such that it would appear that he has a significant underbite. The part of his mouth where the toothline proceeds in the regular betoothed fashion would similarly be very noticeable as the edges would protrude slightly in the lip line.
posted by elizardbits at 11:15 AM on October 18, 2013 [25 favorites]

It may not be that he has NO teeth but that he has some type of cosmetic situation with his teeth that he finds embarrassing. My grandmother never smiled openly and hid her teeth for decades due to a gap.

Yes, I find it amazing that you've been with this person for this long and you don't know whether or not he has teeth, and I also find it interesting that you think it's going great but you'd be willing to dump him over something you couldn't even tell one way or the other for months.

But if it's a dealbreaker, then you need to ask him directly, why he keeps hiding his mouth, when he actually does it right in front of you.

Also FWIW my mother is missing most of her teeth and while it changed the shape of her face, her speech was not affected.
posted by sm1tten at 11:16 AM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Why are you jumping to "no front teeth"? That seems really weird, based on what you've mentioned here, anyway. What about stained teeth? Crooked teeth? There are lots of reasons for someone with a full set of 32 to want to hide them, and most of those are much more likely than a 29-year-old with no front teeth.

For real. Maybe they're crooked, stained, chipped, maybe they USED to be crooked and he never got over his automatic embarrassment, maybe he had to have a tooth pulled (like my mom, who is missing her eyeteeth but has no gaps in her teeth).

But, sorry, it is beyond belief that you could put your mouth on a mouth and not know it had no front teeth!

Also, it is worth pointing out: my dad lost some, and then later in life all, of his top teeth and now wears dentures. He comes from a family that simply has a history of bad teeth, and the first one, he lost because he was chewing on a pen and it broke! And, furthermore, when he has his dentures out? I know. His whole face looks different and he sounds different too.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:16 AM on October 18, 2013 [10 favorites]

If you're in a relationship with someone you need to feel comfortable asking if he has no teeth. Especially if it's a dealbreaker for you if he doesn't. This is like basic, basic communication 101. You're just going to have to mention that it has recently occurred to you that you've never seen his teeth, and then see what happens from there.
posted by something something at 11:18 AM on October 18, 2013

If you can never see any teeth when you look at him - when he is talking, eating laughing - and if you can't feel any teeth in there when you kiss him...sounds like yes, he doesn't have any teeth.
posted by amaire at 11:18 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you know you are going to break up with him if he has no teeth, then just ask him directly and get it over with.

Not to be judgy but... if you were married and your husband lost his teeth for some reason, would you get a divorce? MIssing teeth is actually a fixable problem.
posted by latkes at 11:18 AM on October 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

Can't you just, uh, feel around with your tongue next time you're getting all makey-out-y?
posted by coppermoss at 11:19 AM on October 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I just texted my boyfriend and asked if he had all his teeth, because someone online was talking about going 9 months without seeing teeth. He texted back "I have teeth".

It's probably not even our weirdest text exchange.

You can do this.
posted by politikitty at 11:25 AM on October 18, 2013 [119 favorites]

Not being able to afford dental work is a sensitive subject for people. So is having let something get so far out of control. Talk to him, but do it without judgement. He is your partner. You should be able to ask him things, even the uncomfortable stuff. There is a reason for this and you want to have a successful relationship, you need to communicate.
posted by futureisunwritten at 11:25 AM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

You should read the Smile, Paul! blog (previously) for a fairly extreme but not unheard-of example of bad hygiene and decay -- and how he feels/felt about it.

The fact that he referred to it as "revealing my deepest, darkest secret" tells you a bit about the level of hiding he'd been going through.
posted by Madamina at 11:28 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For what it's worth, the folks who are saying "omg never ask him evar" sound completely crazeballs to me. I can't imagine getting to this point (it would seriously, seriously bum me the fuck out if the dude I was with never smiled or guffawed, to the point where I would have long, long ago been all "wtf smile at me dammit" or we would have split), but you are not me and you sound distraught enough as it is so I'm not going to give you a hard time.

But geez, please do not feel bad for feeling like you need to know. Like, are folks really suggesting that you never discuss this? Like, things go well and you get married and you still have no idea? That seems completely insane.

After 6+ months together and frequent sexing, I think it's reasonable to expect to know/discuss some things that might not be "comfortable" to bring up. Like: What is that massive scar on your leg? Did you know that irregardless isn't actually a word? Why don't I ever see your front teeth? You need to do a better job wiping your buttcrack. It bothers me that you spend so much time texting your friends while we're hanging out together. ET CETERA.

You are in a relationship with him. If it's important to you that you know this, it is OK to ask him. For me, personally, any problem he would potentially have with me asking him after this long dating would be a far bigger deal breaker than if he didn't have teeth.

I just...y'know...I don't want you to feel like you're a bad person for wanting to know this. It seems very, very reasonable to me that you want to know.
posted by phunniemee at 11:30 AM on October 18, 2013 [43 favorites]

I'd ask him to bite me.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:31 AM on October 18, 2013 [15 favorites]

If he has no front teeth, it will affect his speech. When he pronounces words with "th" sounds, how does that sound to you? Are there any verbal sounds which sound different?

Or, better yet, how does he pronounce words like weed or glee? Words which pretty much require the teeth to be bared, unless special effort is exerted?

If you've kissed him with any force at all, then you know whether or not he has teeth. Stick your tongue in there, if you need to. It'll be obvious. If you feel teeth then I'd go with the more likely scenario that he has bad teeth he's sensitive about, in which case I would wait for him to tell you about it.

Or wait until he's sleeping. Not unthinkable his mouth would hang open when he sleeps.

But me, personally, I would just ask him. "Hey, you know what's funny? I don't think I've ever seen your teeth. Weird, right?" Wait for an answer to that. It may distress him if there's some underlying cause here, and I would have advised you to play it cool if this were someone you'd only just met, but you've been dating and kissing and fucking this man for more than half a goddamn year and you don't know whether or not he has teeth, so this is officially a crazy situation. Screw your courage to the sticking place and ask.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:31 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

He'll sleep at my house for 3 days without showering or brushing his teeth.

You've told him this bothers you and he didn't do anything about it? DTMFA. Jesus.
posted by phunniemee at 11:34 AM on October 18, 2013 [52 favorites]

He'll sleep at my house for 3 days without showering or brushing his teeth. I've told him that I find this pretty gross and he says he has a weird hang-up about showering/etc. anywhere but at his house.

He has a hangup about brushing his teeth at someone else's house? Even if he had his own toothbrush?

Does he brush his teeth and/or bathe when you stay over at his house?
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:36 AM on October 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Poor oral hygiene is totally fixable. But a lot of people have problems with that--some small percentage of those also has teeth that are particularly vulnerable to it, and that's the portion that ends up feeling ashamed and horrible about their bad teeth. My dad used to say he'd like to get all his pulled and replaced with dentures, and as I get older I start to see why.

So as someone whose teeth do not really bear looking at closely as a general rule, I think I'd prefer to hear it something like: "You really seem to be trying to keep me from seeing your mouth. If you've got bad teeth or something, it's really totally okay. I clearly like being intimate with you as it is, and this isn't gonna change that, but I don't want you to feel like you need to hide things from me."

I think either less-than-fantastic dental work or a bad state of existing teeth are far more likely than them being totally missing. The only people I know who have missing front teeth who have not gotten dentures have been either aging or really grindingly poor. But, if they are missing, dentures don't look nearly as bad as they used to, and so it's hardly permanent.

But that said, all of this has to be okay with you if it turns out to be the case. You can't go saying it's going to be okay if it's not. If you can't love him if it turns out he has poor oral hygiene, and you already have evidence this is the case, it would probably be more dignified for you both to skip to finding a new boyfriend.
posted by Sequence at 11:36 AM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Maybe figuring out what you hope for from this exchange will help you figure out how to do it. Right now you sound pretty certain that you think he has no front teeth, that it is the result of poor hygiene, that you find it disgusting, and that you are likely to break up with him once it's confirmed. With all that in mind, I don't see how it could be a less-than-awkward conversation. There is no nice way to say "hey, are you missing teeth? Because I find that gross and might want to dump you."
posted by feets at 11:37 AM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Mod note: Folks OP is not looking for general relationship advice so please don't give it. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:39 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

OP, I want to apologise for coming off as judgmental about this being a deal-breaker earlier. I mean it more as a "but this can be fixed if this is an otherwise good thing" sort of way, but frankly, your update kind of made me change my mind.

I still think your best bet is to just ask directly. Awkward or not, you need to have this conversation because it's obviously weighing on you a lot.
posted by sm1tten at 11:43 AM on October 18, 2013

Your BF may have had a bridge for those missing teeth, but lost it and is now too broke to replace it.

Anecdata and British filter here, but at least three of my friends have partial bridgework to replace missing front teeth. One fell over on an icy street; another was in a car accident; the other was ... just falling-over drunk.

One of them (can you guess which one?) promptly lost his removable bridge, and walked around for at least two years like Shane McGowan because he didn't feel like dealing with it. He mostly ate chips and beer anyway, so he didn't really need the teeth.
posted by vickyverky at 11:43 AM on October 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Also, as someone who has lost teeth due to shitty genetic gum disease, I was ready to take umbrage when you said "this is due to being a grosso grosspants, right", but with your latest update I retract that umbrage wholeheartedly. This dude sounds like he has hygiene issues/hangups about hygiene, and whether or not they are related to his toothlessness is sort of moot when he refuses to participate in generally acknowledged "minimum standards of hygiene" around the person with whom he is intimate.

Not showering a day or two? Whatevs. Going for 3-4 days without brushing teeth? Nope.
posted by elizardbits at 11:44 AM on October 18, 2013 [22 favorites]

I fell off of a stool in fifth grade and broke my two front teeth on top when I hit the concrete floor. I broke the teeth to exposed nerves. For a long time I had ceramic crowns on the teeth. Over the years they became stained and made me very self conscious. I never smiled with an open mouth, didn't speak in a way that revealed my upper teeth, etc. Those crowns were replaced with nice ones in 12th grade and yet the habits continue to this day.

Perhaps it is something similar...perhaps it is more of a "big picture" hygiene issue.
posted by Leenie at 11:50 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am surprised by all of the proposed Rube Goldberg/Ocean's Eleven heists to get to the bottom of this. Maybe I don't watch enough movies.

Your question is "can you think of a way to ask this question?" Yes, I can. Ask, "why do you always hide your teeth?"

FWIW, I think your concerns about his general hygiene are reasonable and I suspect poor hygiene may be at the root of this issue.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:55 AM on October 18, 2013 [13 favorites]

Hmm. I am going to say that if you are wondering if he has teeth, and this is a big thing that you want to know about, instead of pussyfooting around it with hints about him smiling or eating corn on the cob, I'd go with being direct. You can open it up with, "Hey, this might sound crazy but - I was wondering..." And if he's like, "yes, I have teeth," THEN you can be all like, "Haha, I can't believe that crossed my mind" and laugh it off.
posted by mermily at 11:56 AM on October 18, 2013

I've tried mentioning the whole "how come you never break out into a big 'ole smile" and he changed the subject.

Clearly you need to be direct. Just ask him if he has teeth. If he does have teeth and finds this to be a weird question, you can explain why you were wondering. To me, after your update, this doesn't seem like the biggest problem in your relationship, but if all you want to know is whether or not he has teeth, just ask him that very question.
posted by wondermouse at 12:00 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

- I know it's going to be uncomfortable to talk about, but as much as I hate to say it, this might be a deal-breaker for me.

Really? Can't be too enamored of his other good qualities then. What about if he has no teeth, but is willing to get implants or a bridge? You need to talk to him, gently, and for pete's sake, if you do break up with him, do it a couple weeks later and use some other excuse. The poor guy's already self-conscious about his mouth, no matter what the issue is.

(and offer to take a shower with him after fun times, to continue the fun times)
posted by BlueHorse at 12:01 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are reasons beyond toothlessness to be self-conscious about one's dentition. My adult teeth came in kind of jumbled and overlarge, and I was stubbornly resistant to braces as a teenager. I had one of my top incisors removed and let the bottoms come in as they may. To this day the lower ones are not quite in a straight line -- I spent my adolescence imagining them like jumbled old gravestones in an ancient cemetery -- and where most people have four upper incisors, I have three in the same space, although no one ever knows unless I grin widely and invite them to count how many teeth are visible between the canines; they came in large enough that there was no gap.

In any event, I took great care to avoid open-mouthed smiles as I was terribly self-conscious about my teeth until well into my twenties, and I had thirty-one of then all that time, not the potential zero that we seem to be attributing to this fellow.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:12 PM on October 18, 2013

Well I was also going to tell you about how one can be uncomfortable with one's teeth, or have incurred embarrassing damage to them, for all kinds of reasons having nothing to do with hygiene; but your update changes everything. That hygiene situation is untenable. Is he seriously not showering or brushing for days at a time? How do you kiss?! And this is the stage where he's supposed to be putting his best foot forward!!! Can you imagine if you were his live-in partner? Eesh.

How to ask him: hey I wanted to ask you about something I've been wondering -- why do you always hide your mouth? Is there something weird about your teeth?

But honestly, I mean, even not having front teeth isn't an acceptable reason to not brush the ones you do have. (Although it could explain having lost the others.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:33 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can only figure that it's due to poor oral hygiene, and EW, I really would want to be aware of that.

If you've been kissing someone with poor oral hygiene, unless you have lost your sense of taste and smell, it would be extremely noticable! If you haven't been bothered by smells with him going 3 days without showering you may have a poor sense of smell.

It's possible he had poor oral hygiene in the past but does not any longer, and if this is such a big deal to you as to be a dealbreaker he might like to know so he can choose to date someone who wouldn't have a problem with it.

Some people have not been so fortunate as to have had fluoridated water or proper fluoride supplements when they were children. It's a hygiene issue, sure, but it's not like an average five year old knows about fluoride supplements and can ask their parents to administer them every week.

Some people also have genetics that leave them with thinner enamel, or other medical conditions that result in teeth loss either from themselves or from their treatment.

If he's bulimic or has a drug addiction, obviously at this stage I think that's something I'd want to know as well.

If he had bulimia or drug addiction in the past, conquering such a thing doesn't make the teeth come back.

I dated someone with no upper teeth without noticing for a while. I found out when they told a longtime friend of theirs about having no upper teeth, and they seemed very amused by my shocked reaction to finding out they had no upper teeth and I hadn't noticed. People can get very good at hiding it.

It seems kind of harsh for it to be a dealbreaker, but it's likely that he might not want to date someone it was such a big deal to himself, so he might prefer to find out this about you as well. It's fair to both of you to bring it up with him at this time.

I've expressed a number of times that I would like him to use teeth during sex, which he has never done

If that's part of why it's a dealbreaker, be aware that there are some really nifty things to experience with someone just using their gums rather than teeth. There are also clamps available to perform certain functions you might otherwise like teeth to do. It's something that can be worked around if you just want certain physical sensations that often go with teeth.
posted by yohko at 12:47 PM on October 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

As you can see from the responses, there are a lot of reasons someone might have lost teeth at a young age, many from just bad luck. I think the deal breaker part for me is why hasn't he done anything to fix the problem such as getting dentures or an implant? I realize dental work is expensive, but in American society is really socially damaging to be missing teeth. If I were interviewing someone for a job and he didn't have teeth, I would think twice about hiring that person. I think you need to ask the question, plus ask why he hasn't done anything about it.

I would phrase it along these lines:

I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I noticed you have been covering your mouth quite a bit. I love you and want you to know that I will love you even if you are missing teeth or have bad teeth. It would make me happy if you felt comfortable smiling around me.

From there, you can start to ask why he hasn't done anything about it. Then decide if it's a deal breaker for you.
posted by parakeetdog at 1:22 PM on October 18, 2013 [9 favorites]

After reading the update I feel like the best approach here is simply saying, "what the fuck, what is actually up with your teeth and hygiene issues?" Both of these things can be easily fixed with some therapy.

It's the bit where you've brought up the hygiene and he's done fuckall to fix it that makes me think he has underlying issues here. Either he's lazy, depressed, or has some other hangups.

Had a guy tell me I was super sloppy in the way I dressed once. It really hurt my precious little feelings. HE WAS EXACTLY RIGHT, THOUGH. Steps were taken by me to deal with the issue.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 2:10 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

He'll sleep at my house for 3 days without showering or brushing his teeth. I've told him that I find this pretty gross and he says he has a weird hang-up about showering/etc. anywhere but at his house.

b) why in the world this happened to a 29 year old man.

Obviously, there are a million things that it could be, but my first thought is child abuse. If you get your teeth knocked out as a kid, by your parent or guardian, they are not exactly going to be taking you to the ER. He could very well have never had dental insurance in his whole life to get them fixed. And he may not have had his hygiene properly taken care of or taught to him.

I don't think you're like some kind of bad person to want to know. I think at pretty much any point where you're going to make out with someone, it's reasonable to want to know what is going on inside their mouth.

However, I just don't think the right thing to do is just abruptly ask him flat out what is going on with him. Even though it's perfectly reasonable to want to know, even if this is a "weird" situation, even though lots of people are like, "how could you not know if he has teeth???" I don't think it's right to try to force people to confront things that are sources of shame for them in a really abrupt and forceful way. Because really, who knows what happened to him to create this situation?

I'm not saying you have to like get married to him without ever knowing if he has teeth. I'm not saying you have to be okay with any of it. But I do think that if you're not okay with it, there are other options that are okay, such as broaching it gently or just kindly ending the relationship. I don't think putting him on the spot in a super shameful situation is an okay option.

If he feels like he can't brush his teeth or shower for 3 days at your house, it's obvious that he has serious issues. And when people have serious issues, I just do not think it's okay to say, "Ew, what the fuck is wrong with you, you gross disgusting person, you make me sick." Like even if you feel that way I think it's best to just keep it to yourself and nicely break up if you can't be nicer about it. (Not YOU you I'm using "you" in a general sense.). This isn't something like wearing some gnarly old boxers because he can't be bothered to go shopping.

I think you could say to him, "Sweetheart, I really love and care about you. It's obvious that there is something going on when you can't shower or brush your teeth. At this point it's really important to me that we talk about it and I understand it. I don't want to make you uncomfortable and I'm not saying I need to know right this second. But it's important to me at this point to know what's going on with you. Do you think you can find a way to tell me that you would be comfortable with?"
posted by cairdeas at 3:00 PM on October 18, 2013 [21 favorites]

When Mrs. Brownrd and I were dating, I knew that she was working as a dental assistant, which made me even more self-conscious about my teeth (cleft palate, which makes for a very interesting dentition, and an abandoned attempt at wearing braces, which had not been properly maintained nor removed up until I was 19). She noticed that I never showed teeth when smiling and would cover my mouth when I laughed, etc.

She came right out and asked me why, and I told her because I thought my teeth were ugly. She said she didn't care, that she would love me anyway regardless of how they looked, and could I let her look. That, my friends, was the single most vulnerable moment of my entire life (I cried), and she went on to marry me even thought mah teef *were* fugly. (After we got married she recommended an orthodontist who removed the old braces and fixed me RIGHT UP).

Unless you are willing to love him anyway, regardless of what you see, either don't ask or don't stay if you can't deal with it. It will be better for both of you.
posted by brownrd at 3:09 PM on October 18, 2013 [32 favorites]

I could frankly care less about the reason, but seriously, you've been dating for seven months and he hasn't given you the "hey, let me tell you about my teeth" talk. That needs to happen on the first or second date.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 3:12 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Not showering a day or two? Whatevs. Going for 3-4 days without brushing teeth? Nope.

Yeah, this is what sticks out to me. I mean, sure, ask him about his teeth, because there are a ton of reasons for losing teeth at an early age other than/in addition to poor oral hygiene. I think you should be prepared to be minimally judgey about those reasons, because it'll probably be an intensely uncomfortable and vulnerable conversation for him.

But a pattern of shitty oral hygiene on the level of not brushing his teeth at all for days at a stretch is a bit of a red flag. Like, I would assume your average person maybe doesn't brush their teeth once in a while because their routine has been disrupted for some reason (super late in the morning, coming back home late and/or drunk, falling asleep before brushing teeth at night, forgot toothbrush etc), but not doing it at all while he's at your place despite your bringing it up as gross? That's weird, and you should gently bring up your concerns with him in a way that doesn't focus on how gross it is for you.
posted by yasaman at 4:51 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hey OP, I want to reiterate that you should NOT feel bad if this is a deal breaker for you. I mean it! Don't feel one bit bad. A person needs what they need for relationship to work for them. None of us know why exactly this bothers you, and even if we did know, it wouldn't matter. Your reasons for why a relationship works or doesn't work are perfectly legitimate no matter what they are. It doesn't make you a bad person for having them. What is not cool is constantly trying to change your SO to conform to your needs.

Someone who doesn't like dogs is a deal breaker for me. Anybody got a problem with that?

I didn't think so.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 4:53 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hi, my name is yarly, and I'm missing my lateral incisors! I do have a little removeable teeth thingamagiggy that looks real, but I still do some of the stuff you describe your boyfriend doing even though my fake teeth look normal. For example, I have to be very careful biting into things and sometimes may stealthily take the appliance out altogether when eating. And I still hide from my boyfriend/babydaddy/comortgagee if I have my teeths out. So yes, it can be something that can be hidden even from very close loved ones.
posted by yarly at 5:03 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

If your boyfriend doesn't show (other) signs of mental illness or drug abuse, I would guess his cluelessness about hygiene and missing/bad teeth are a sign of childhood neglect. It sounds to me like he was never taught the basics of how to keep clean and healthy. His intense privacy about all aspects of his personal hygiene (only being able to shower in his own home, etc) makes me think he feels weird/ignorant and is ashamed.

If that sounds probable to you, I would try asking about his family before asking about his teeth directly. Nothing confrontational, just asking about where he grew up or asking more in depth about stories/people from his past that he's OK talking about. He might feel more comfortable telling you specifically about his teeth once he knows you understand his childhood wasn't the best and don't judge him for it -- at that point, he might even bring up his teeth himself, because if he's this good at hiding them they're probably something he's pretty sensitive about and thinks about a lot.

Honestly, if the problem is childhood neglect on that scale, I would be prepared for this to be the tip of an iceberg.
posted by rue72 at 6:18 PM on October 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

Do you know any of his family members / friends? Couldn't you just ask them?
posted by jasondigitized at 7:09 PM on October 18, 2013

Half serious: you should consider checking when he is sleeping. It might work!
posted by ruhroh at 7:38 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just to throw this out, one of my kids has-or had, rather-seizures as an adult-and during one of them she literally knocked her front teeth out. She has been extremely sensitive about this even though she does have a plate to replace them. Her current boyfriend used to work as a dental tech so he brought it up almost from the beginning. Now it isn't an issue.

If you see a future with this man, and lack of teeth would not be a dealbreaker, go ahead and ask. But be aware that he might be more sensitive regarding the cause of the tooth loss than he is the lack of teeth. (But honestly, having been around my daughter before she got her replacements, I doubt very seriously he could have totally hidden tooth loss from you if that indeed is the case. )
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:38 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm late to this but just wanted to add: be gentle because he may be extremely embarrassed.

When I was 16, in high school, I wore top dentures because my dentist was waiting for my jaw to finish growing before he could give me implants for the teeth that I never had. It was mortifying. Take the awkwardness of being a geeky, gawky 16 year old girl and add three bathroom breaks a day where I was re-applying fixodent in the bathroom stall rather than going pee. Yes, I did have a boyfriend, and no he never noticed. (Or if he did, bless him because he never said anything).

Even as an adult with implants today I still shudder with embarrassment when I think of those years. Yikes.

Be kind.
posted by floweredfish at 10:31 AM on October 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

FYI...I had a friend who had testicular cancer at a young age (early thirties). The chemo caused him to lose his teeth, so that is another possibility. But I know two people without teeth (him and someone else) and it's hard for me to imagine him hiding it from you unless he has dentures.
posted by bananafish at 8:41 PM on October 19, 2013

My father has dentures, and when his teeth are out he has a completely different face and enunciation—he looks and sounds like your stereotypical toothless old man. People with no teeth have a pretty standard lips-turned-inward-ness about the mouth that would be hard to miss.

Despite it being none of my business, once you find out I would really like to know how you handled this, and whether or not your boyfriend does, in fact, have teeth.
posted by audacity at 9:30 PM on October 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

I knew someone who was missing many of his top front teeth due to a motorcycle accident and no decent heath insurance for many years. Once he got a good job with benefits he was able to get them fixed, but he was many years partly toothless.

I think you should straight up ask. It may relieve him to tell you and you may be relieved to know.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:56 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've known a couple of people with very decayed teeth, that are discoloured and patched up with fillings in a really visible way. Some totally live with it and don't care, others are super self-conscious about it. His teeth might be gappy, discoloured, chipped or badly fixed, but if he's that intent on hiding them then you might never know unless you straight-forwardly ask.

It sounds like you've already tried to do this tactfully so fair play to you. But if it's a potential deal-breaker, go in with a bit more determination before you make the break.
posted by greenish at 7:03 AM on October 21, 2013

Nthing others above that say maybe they're just not the whitest teeth? But everything you've said really makes it sound like he's missing some.

And I do hope you update, I haven't wanted to know how any AskMes turned out more than this one!
posted by heavenstobetsy at 9:46 AM on October 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Mod note: Less JudgeMe more helpful constructive answers folks. OP will update if they feel like it, please don't use this thread to hassle them to update.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:21 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Spinach check!"

Show him your teeth so he can check for spinach. Then you can check for spinach in his own Schrödinger's box of a mouth. If he won't play, then no fair.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:36 PM on October 22, 2013

My cousin has no front teeth. He had an accident where he fell and knocked the two front teeth out and he cannot afford to have it repaired. He is embarrassed by it. I really don't get why you / many others are assuming this is poor hygiene (although of course that is possible).

Also you should just ask - it is a long way into this relationship, but I have to say that the idea you would dump someone who you seem to get on with very well just because they lost two teeth doesn't reflect well on you, at least in my mind. I hardly think it is a trust issue as it is understandably embarassing.
posted by inbetweener at 1:49 PM on October 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

You could offer him an apple or other piece of hard fruit and see his response if you want to go the indirect route.
posted by Erberus at 10:03 AM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

1. What ethnicity / cultural background is your boyfriend?

In some cultures (e.g. Japanese, Arab) the mouth-hiding behavior you describe is often considered fairly normal and even politeness-required (though primarily of women).

2. Seriously, per the kmoney's suggestion, just make corn on the cob for dinner someday without any comment or mention whatsoever of the tooth issue. It's a perfectly normal thing to have for dinner, and there is no possible way to eat it without either showing teeth, or at least proving that you have functional front teeth or replacements thereof.

3. Ask him outright if there's anything wrong with his teeth, in a way that just makes it sound like a neutral question about his physiology and not a judgmental question about self-image. At this point questions about your boyfriend's medical status should be perfectly acceptable to ask and answer.

It might help for you to talk about your own body issues first, *outside* of any context of asking about this. Talk with him, without any mention or even hint at this issue, about your own body image issues, body weirdnesses, disabilities, or the like — both from the sides of how you feel about them and also as just "hey look at this unusual part of my physiology" or "fyi this is a thing I have to deal with, just in case it comes up". Sharing first, IME, usually helps others feel much more comfortable reciprocating.

4. If you have been dating for 7 months and are unable to ask a simple, direct, question like "hey what's up with your teeth", I would suggest that there's something seriously wrong with your relationship at either the trust or communication levels that you need to take a serious look at.

For me at least, there is no possible way that I could be dating someone that long — hell, I wouldn't even have close friends — where something like this would be unanswered. But I'm very straightforward about asking about others' disabilities in a nonjudgmental way and also disclosing my own.

Perhaps you are coming across as (or are) judgmental about this, and he's responding by hiding out of self-preservation. It wouldn't hurt regardless to work more on prefacing questions that might be sensitive with clear indications (explicit *and* implicit) that you would not think worse of him no matter what the answer is.
posted by saizai at 10:43 AM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well that's too bad that he reacted badly and wouldn't discuss it at all. I'd be curious how you asked him but it sounds like he just won't tell you anything. Maybe just assume he's toothless and decide whether you can live with it. I'd be more concerned about his inability to discuss it than the actual state of his teeth.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 5:11 PM on October 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

I've been following this thread with interest, and I'm glad to hear you asked him about this. I am bummed but not entirely surprised by his answer, and while I am not prone to playing songs in the chord of DTMFA, you might want to give serious thought to the longterm viability of this relationship.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:17 PM on October 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

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