I was originally going to title this piece, “My Bad Teeth”, and then I thought that for half a century my teeth have been hanging in there, literally. Certainly, I was not born with immaculate white teeth, as you see on TV and at the movies. My teeth have always been more of a yellowish white. I must confess that I did not treat my teeth well in my formative years. I ate too many sweets, too often, and did not listen to the sage words of my dear mother. I knew it all from a very early age. Well, I considered that I knew it all at any rate. My hard headed and opinionated self was bullet and dental caries proof. Actually, I wasn’t, but I thought that I was. Isn’t that so stereotypical of youth? We think we know it all and yet… My teeth: Deep roots into psyche, this is it.
My Crowded Mouth
I had to have four teeth pulled out forcibly by a very hairy dentist, whilst I was still a boy. I remember his hairy forearms as his gloved hands gripped the dental pliers inside my mouth. I remember the force with which he ripped those embedded teeth from my oral cavity. ‘A crowded mouth’, is that, perhaps, a metaphor for my life? Maybe, I have been stuffing things in my gob ever since in a desperate bid to replace those missing teeth? Why would God get is so wrong in determining the number of teeth I required?
The Moustachioed Dentist
So many questions and so few answers. Was my jaw too small? I think upon that day in the dental chair, ensconced in an upstairs clinic on Canning Highway just before the bridge. The moustachioed dentist with thick black hairs covering his bare forearms. The antiseptic smell of the gargle in the basin, where blood and saliva are spat out spasmodically by a heavily sedated mouth. The bright dancing light emanating from a small window high upon the wall.
My Dentist Boogying to Aretha Franklin
This may have been in the late 1960s. If this was a movie, the director may, at this point, throw in a snippet of a sound track by some universally acclaimed pop group of the time. However, I do not think that my dentist was boogying to Aretha Franklin or something by Clearance Creedwater Revival. There may have been some elevator music playing via the radio station 6IX, but I cannot truly remember. This was, I feel in my bones, or, in the roots of my missing teeth, a seminal moment in the life of me and my teeth. My teeth: Deep roots into psyche and identity.
Check out this dental clinic, as a fine example of modern dentistry in Australia in 2018. The differences between now and back then are many and profound. Pain was a prosaic part of the dental experience back in the good old days. It was a torture chamber, with those instruments of torture laid out in their gleaming pointedness on trays by my side. The proud dentist and his whining electric drill. Why do dentists, always, start conversation when they have their hands down your throat? I can see that hooked pointy tool and feel its bite inside my mouth, as he scrapped and tugged at my teeth.
I have avoided dentists ever since. I have only attended their clinics under sufferance and duress. I have been forced to seek out their special skills in a bid to end the nerve pain inside my head. I have always been fascinated by the fact that, in Australia, teeth are not considered to be part of the human body. They are not covered by our universal healthcare. Teeth, like dentists, sit outside of the normal universe. The torturous nature of a visit to the dentist is compounded by the fact that you must pay for the privilege. Medicare ducks and weaves away from any responsibility for our teeth. Strangely, the state of our teeth impacts heavily upon our overall health but is not covered by our socialised health insurance. We must seek out private health insurance, if we wish to offset some of the cost of visiting the dentist. Such a benign phrase, ‘visiting the dentist’, it makes one think of the Nazis and their institutional care of the disabled and the elderly during the 1930s. Obfuscation and deception lie at the heart of these matters. Of course, today the pain relief options are numerous at most modern dental clinics. One can be transported to a state of nerveless nirvana by a cornucopia of drugs. Still, the high-powered scream of the electric drill leaves my sensitive nature full of holes. I open my mouth as widely as I can and try and surrender to the torture going on inside my oral cavity. I think to myself, ‘this too will pass’. I desperately hope that it will, at any rate.
I have had several teeth removed due to decay over the decades that have passed since my quartet of teeth were removed as a boy. I have chosen to have them removed rather than pay the exorbitant cost of caps and bridges outlined by various dentists over the years. I think to myself, as I recline uncomfortably on the dental couch pondering my choices, “am I potentially paying for your children to attend expensive private schools?” I remember Barry Humphries writing about an Australian dentist exorbitantly charging wealthy Africans in London for completely unnecessary dental work on their perfect white teeth during the 1960s. Of course, I am sure that the greater majority of dentists are fine upstanding human beings. Someone always quotes the fact that dentists have one of the highest rates of suicide in our community. Not sure if that is true or an urban myth.
Teeth represent what we bite into things with. Our ability to chomp down on life. Have you ever seen a molar and its root or a photo of one? Mine, when it was extracted in all its decayed glory, reminded me of a Klingon warrior from Star Trek. It was pre-historic, and it gleamed dully with broken embedded old fillings made of metal. Instead of wearing a shark’s tooth around my neck, I could have worn my own tooth. What would that say of me I wonder? Weirdo? Bloke with a problem? Fixated on remnants of his youth? All of the above?
Teeth punch above their weight, in that they are relatively small (on the surface anyway) and yet, when they are missing they feel like they make a big hole in your life. Many of us have had the dreams about all our teeth falling out and how bereft that leaves us. Jungian psychologist identified the symbolic link between the ego and our teeth. Children teethe with their first teeth and it causes much pain and disturbance in their tiny lives. We get two sets of teeth; and how did I squander both lots so readily? Teeth mark our journey from infancy through childhood into early adulthood. Wisdom teeth are an interesting subject, as more people are born today without wisdom teeth than ever before. Natural selection at work? Third molars are on their way out.
Having bad teeth with lots of decay damages the psyche and our own implicit perception of our self. The nerve pain prods us to act and do something about our rotten teeth. The shadow of this pain works upon our self-esteem or lack thereof. I am at an impasse with my bad teeth or, perhaps, they are in remission. I know that the pain will come again, and I will be forced to gather together a large amount of money to visit the dentist once more. Until then my friends…