I’m 46 years old, and I’m teething.
My teeth and I have always had a casual relationship. I don’t remember spending a lot of time with them growing up, and really only noticed them when they started falling out- naturally, on their own, to be replaced by adult teeth.
I went through the entire tradition of having dangling teeth pulled by my parents and swallowing one or two accidentally (teeth, not parents), quarters from the Tooth Fairy (it was the 70s), gap-smile school pictures, trying to scam the Tooth Fairy (didn’t work), the weird feeling of an empty socket and how it was impossible not to explore it with my tongue, and finally discovering my parents were actually the Tooth Fairy after all (I pretty quickly had my doubts anyway.)
See, according to my mother, soon after losing my first tooth and receiving my first quarter under my pillow, I was overcome with greed and devised a plan with my brother to pull the teeth from a random jawbone we found in our yard (I don’t know where it came from; they just showed up periodically. Probably drug home by the dog. I doubt they were human jaw bones, but I never really checked.) and put them under our pillows, then rake in the cash.
Apparently, we were tripped up by our lack of strength and inability to extract the teeth from the jawbone.
I don’t remember this happening, but I was clever enough to have planned such a scheme, so I have no reason to doubt her story.
My teeth and I didn’t really talk much until I neared the end of my third senior year in college. Years of less than adequate concern and care caught up with me, and I needed a series of fillings done on my teeth. The dentist did a number of them at once, leaving me fantastically numb across the lower part of my face when he was done.
Hungry, I stopped for a roast beef sandwich, and ate it as best as I could manage with my compromised mouth control. The sandwich seemed to be of far lower quality than normal for this particular fast-food joint, with nearly every bite finding yet another piece of gristle grinding between my front teeth.
Finishing my meal, I discovered it wasn’t barbecue sauce I’d been dripping uncoordinatedly from my chin.
I’d been chewing on my lower lip the entire time.
For this and other reasons, including an irrational fear of having a dental tool dropped down my throat during an exam, I avoided dentists for the next few years.
As an adult, I bounced around a number of jobs that didn’t offer dental insurance. Even with the higher level of care I now gave my teeth at home, their condition worsened, until I had to face the choice of a root canal and a crown to save a tooth, or an extraction to remove it. The first usually cost more than I took home in an entire paycheck, so I invariably choose the latter.
By the time I’d reached a level of adult capability where I could actually pay to save a tooth, I’d already lost nearly all my molars, and one front tooth that I’d delayed work on for too long and needed to be removed because the bone in my jaw was dying off around it. My smile now permanently matches one of my grade-school pictures. Second grade, probably.
There were times I regretted my new level of responsibility, such as when I was having a crown put on one of my remaining back teeth. Suddenly, the dentist slipped, and $600 dollars worth of gold dropped down my throat. I bolted upright, my throat muscles clamped tightly, and somehow managed to cough it back up and out again. Thank goodness for that – I really didn’t want to have to delay the procedure for a day while waiting to retrieve the tooth from nature’s course.
There’s only so well something can be cleaned off. At least I confronted, and overcame, my fear of swallowing dental equipment.
But it almost bit me in the behind.
My wisdom teeth came out when I was 30, and that’s an adventure of which I remember little, but I’m told I giggled all the way home afterwards. (To me, this is even more far-fetched and difficult to believe than the story of trying to rip off the Tooth Fairy, but again, I don’t remember well enough to argue.)
Because one of my wisdom teeth had decided to drop down perfectly alongside a molar in such a way that it supported its roots, the oral surgeon decided to leave it in place as to not compromise the structural integrity of the molar, since it wasn’t causing any other issues.
I just giggled and agreed.
Years later, that molar finally decided it had had enough and it was time to come out. After numerous fillings and reconstructions, I wasn’t in the mood to argue with it any more, so in January out it came. Once again, yet another dentist had to dig out their extra-big tools for me. (I’ve always suspected at least one borrowed some from a local veterinarian.)
My dentist speculated that the wisdom tooth would either cause unspecified problems in the future, now that it had been freed, or it might decide to play nice, and slowly move its way into the gap left behind by the missing molar.
Seven months later, that seems to be what’s happening. It’s been so long since a tooth has broken through my gums that I actually didn’t realize what was happening. It’s sore, but nothing to cry over (take that, babies!) I’m looking forward to actually gaining a molar to finally replace one of the many I’ve lost, even though I’m planning on getting some dentures when I’ve finally reached that next level of adulthood where I’m able.
Especially since I want to replace that missing front tooth with a gold one. I think it will add a little bit of character to my smile.
Second-grade me would be delighted.