The Yomiuri Shimbun Dear Troubleshooter:
I’m a woman in my 30s. My mother-in-law, who lives alone, won’t wear dentures even though she has virtually no front teeth. I can’t stand looking at her.
She is in her late 60s. When she speaks or laughs, you can tell her front teeth are missing. There’s a hissing sound whenever she speaks.
I’m annoyed that she doesn’t care about her appearance, too. Her clothes smell like urine. Yet, above all, it’s disgusting to see her without her teeth.
She tells me she wants to come to watch my child’s school activities, but I don’t want her there. It’ll be too embarrassing for me to have people know that she’s my relative.
I don’t think she does this because she hasn’t the money to visit a dentist. She’s on a pension and has never asked my husband to support her financially. She also has gone on trips with her friends.
It could be that she does have dentures, but just won’t wear them.
My grandmother said to me the other day, that if she were her, she would be “too ashamed to go out.” She told me that I should tell her to wear dentures. But I don’t think this is a good idea since I’m her daughter-in-law.
The fact that my husband doesn’t care about this makes it even worse. He would get angry and in the end say, “If you’re the one who doesn’t like it, you tell her.” He has a younger sister and brother. I wish one of them would advise her on this.
Dear Ms. M:
It’s not that I can’t understand your feelings, but there is little you can do by complaining behind her back.
If she was a total stranger, you probably would have left her to happily get on with her life without complaining at all. On the other hand, if she was your mother, I wouldn’t be surprised if you tried to persuade her to wear dentures, look for a good dentist, and even help her pay if she wasn’t able to do so.
You must have thought a lot and tried a lot, based on your relationship, but nothing changed because you didn’t do anything in particular. This is the outcome, even though you don’t like her being satisfied with herself, and strongly wanted her to change because it is disgusting to see her looking so dreadful.
If the person is not aware of a problem, you can’t change them merely by hope. You could either interfere, fully aware that you could infuriate her, or just turn a blind eye and stop thinking about it. I’d say these are the only choices you have.
Taku Mayumura, writer