I needed a new dentist and made an appointment for a cleaning with a new one. It’s daunting enough when the hygienist sits you in the chair, tilts you back so your knees are higher than your head, and turns a bright light on straight into your eyes. It reminds me of what torture preparation must be like, never having (thankfully) been tortured.
This particular hygienist started exploring my mouth and teeth, using her finger to stretch the interior, running around the top and throughout the gum area. She checked the hard and soft pallet, grabbed my tongue with a small cloth, and looked around. She next picked up the tool. You know the one. The scaler. One description of them read: “These medical grade stainless steel instruments provide a thin, sharp edge for rapid and effective removal of plaque, calculus, and other deposits.” Right. She tapped the handle end on my left canine and said, “What’s up with this tooth?”
When I was growing up in rural Ohio, you went to the dentist when you had a toothache. Our family was far from wealthy, and dental insurance wasn’t invented. Visiting the dentist was rare. This was years before every child started getting braces to straighten naturally crooked teeth. On one occasion when I was in grade school and suffering from a painful tooth, my mother secretly scheduled an appointment for me to have the tooth pulled. (Maybe I have been tortured.) I was terrified, and as the dentist tried to pull my lower first molar with what I recall looked exactly like pliers, I clung to his wrists with both hands, trying to stop the extraction. The dentist won the fight that day and got the bad tooth out of my mouth.
Nonetheless, my teeth were naturally and relatively straight except for this one canine that hung a little too high and created a gap in my smile. I had seen another dentist a few years before, and he and I devised a plan where he placed a small crown put on top of the tooth to close the gap. I grant you it probably wasn’t how it should have been fixed, but it was done without any Novocain and was a simple fix for a few hundred dollars rather than a couple of thousand.
As the hygienist stared at my fix, I knew she was judging me and my dental choice. I dated a dentist once, and he loved the mouth. He would rattle on about how fascinating teeth, gums, and the mouth were. It was a short relationship. Needless to say, I didn’t continue with that dentist and have since found an excellent dentist and hygienist who love my teeth the way they are. My hygienist says I have a perfect natural color, not needing to brighten and whiten.
Americans seem to be crazed with having perfect teeth—beautiful bright white, straight, shiny teeth that sparkle when they’re shown in a smile. I have since become obsessed with looking at people’s teeth to see if they are natural or artificial. It’s a challenging hobby to have in these days of mask-wearing, and so I have to focus on the people on my television. I love British shows that offer a steady stream of real-looking people who have not been cosmetically or dentally enhanced. That and the writing on these programs is excellent. Think Masterpiece Theatre and PBS and Brit Box. Think Absolutely Fabulous, Are You Being Served, and our own Mike Myers lampooning the British look with his absurdly large toothy grin smiling and saying, “Oh behave,” or “Yeah, baby, yeah.”
Bob Newhart, the famous comedian known for two terrifically successful sitcoms aptly titled The Bob Newhart Show and Newhart, always made me laugh. He was on CBS Sunday Morning last November, interviewed by Bob Mankiewicz. At 91, Newhart was clearly showing his age. His face was gaunt. His cheeks were sunken. His eyes were rimmed with red. Oh, but his teeth were a magnificent set of choppers that had stood the test of time and stayed pristinely perfect. The teeth didn’t go with the aged face. He looked like he was melting like the bad guy in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and eventually, all that would be left in the ashes would be those teeth. The interview included pictures from Newhart’s early career when he was a Grammy-winning recording artist making everyone laugh at his jokes. He had his original teeth in those pictures. They looked fine to me and not needing to be replaced with a mouth full of dental implants. Perhaps, a medical condition required it to be. No matter what I thought of his teeth during the seven-minute interview, he still, at 91, made me laugh with his incredible gift of gab.
It seems as if I am a bit obsessive over teeth. My regimen can take up to half an hour of using a small, slanted brush, a holder that secures a toothpick in place, my beloved Rotadent electric toothbrush, and the latest favorite, my Waterpik Waterflosser that had a bit of a wet learning curve to understand how to use it.
And when I laugh, I smile wide, throw my head back and not worry what people will think of my teeth.