I had terrible teeth as a child. They aren’t much better now, but I enjoy the idea of self-improvement if not the work involved.
I had a decent underbite, corrected with a retainer when I was seven. And the traditional train tracks lay in my eleven year old future. However, before we could get so far as installed braces between achy-mouthed sobs, I had to have some teeth extracted. There was nothing wrong with them, I take some pride in that. No, there were just too many teeth for my allegedly small jaw to readily accommodate.
My parents decided against the terribly charming dentist, whose surname might have been a first name as seems so often to be the case, and who wanted to take my lateral incisors, rendering my smile to two square front teeth sandwiched between killer canines.
That would ruin my life, my mother told me. All of it. Every single second, every job interview, every relationship, all of it. She didn’t blink and so I knew I should be worried.
I genuinely don’t know how, but I went private. We never had a windfall but they found the money from somewhere, and the new dentist suggested taking a couple of molars from top and bottom jaws; nothing that would interfere with smiling ability, and not so far back as to impede my chewing skills.
My mother was satisfied. I was without choice, because I was eleven. One molar from the upper right, one from upper left, one from lower left, one from lower right. It sounded extensive, but I hadn’t long lost the last of my baby teeth, so it couldn’t be that painful. The last milk tooth had gone in a wad of black liquorice.
The dentist explained that, to ensure my throat didn’t close up and kill me, he would take two teeth from the right side of my mouth first, and then two from the left a fortnight later. My mother nodded in agreement. My own nodding was quite enthusiastic, as I recall, because I hadn’t realised death was a possibility.
The fateful day came, and my dad drove me into town.
Even the tiniest thought of the cracking, crunching, sucking sounds that come from a tooth extraction sends shivers down my spine.
I bled like a haemophiliac. It was only after the second tooth screamed out of my mouth, that the dentist discovered he was out of swabs.
He left the room as I spat redly into the dinky sink beside the electric chair. After a brief conflab with the receptionist, the dentist returned, replaced his gloves, unwrapped something, placed it in my mouth and told me to bite down on it to stem the bleeding. My father looked mortified. I assumed it was because of the blood. It wasn’t.
As we walked together down a main street in Croydon, busy and bustling with the post-school influx of a million children, the breeze rose and I felt something brush past my chin. I suspect I had misidentified it as a flying insect, brushed off course by the wind, and I tried to sweep it away with a flick of my hand. It swung back at my face.
We got to the car, and I looked at myself in the misnamed vanity mirror.
Definitely a string. Really quite remarkably slowly, I realised that the bleeding in my mouth had been eased by the application of a receptionist’s spare tampon.
I’d just walked through the centre of Croydon with it.
A fortnight later, I steered my dad to the rapid procurement of sterile swabs from the local pharmacy before I would dein to get back in the car.
The braces, when they came, were horrid. My mouth was broken. My parents were advised that Calpol was the solution. With time, and multiple appointments, my teeth shifted, as did my accent, and I could finally have the brace removed.
I read somewhere that the reason Freddie Mercury never had his teeth fixed was that any change in the shape of his mouth would have affected his voice. I am perfectly happy to blame years of expensive dentistry for my complicated, quasi-transatlantic, semi-South-African accent. I have no control over it. My voice is better travelled than I am.
Of course, with the braces off, I smiled. All the time. At everyone. I may have frightened people.
I’ve always wondered what it must be like to live next to a dental surgery. You’d have to keep your curtains closed for fear of strangers examining their teeth at your windows; not looking in, just staring at their teeth reflected in the glass, possibly open-mouthed and picking out spinach, or glaring at a stump that used to be a tooth.
I got my teeth from my parents. My mother had the deep, black fillings of the 1960s. When she broke a tooth on takeaway chicken, the tooth came clean away, but the filling stood stock-still.
My dear old dad had a gold tooth. Don’t get me wrong; he wasn’t gangsta, he wore a lot of corduroy.
I know all too well that I have paid for my dentist’s last three holidays. This is the thing, you see. When you go private, you can’t go back.
When my wisdom teeth came through, there were only two of them, in the top jaw. Bugger all wisdom in the lower half. Such is life.
My wisdom teeth grew out to the side a little bit. This was fine with me because they gave me cheekbones for days. However, they didn’t do too well in my mouth. The first one had to be extracted a couple of years ago. The second was filled, and was coping relatively well, until I broke it on a tuna sandwich. The filling took part of the tooth with it, such that I was left with a shard of tooth, hanging down at the back of my mouth.
It wasn’t sharp. It didn’t hurt, nor did it impede my love life, so I had no problem with it.
It was pointed out to me: if a tooth is broken and doesn’t hurt, there may be a problem with the nerve. I reluctantly booked an appointment.
My dentist is lovely. I pay him, so he has to be. I was relieved not to need a crown. I’ve never had one, but I understand I’d have to sell my house to afford it. I agreed quite readily to the extraction. He dosed me up with local anaesthetic. He knows me, you see. If I can feel any part of my face, we’re going to have words.
The tooth fought back. It broke into three pieces. Once it was all gone, and I’d been home for a couple of hours, then I started feeling the pain.
I honestly think it would have hurt less if he had punched the tooth out of my head. £110.