I took inventory the other day; I counted my teeth. It’s something you need to do every once in a while when you’re an old coot. I had 32 teeth when I turned 21. Four were wisdom teeth, though I had no wisdom at the time, just the teeth. Now, I’m down to twenty-five. I’m not a hockey player nor do I get in fights. My last tooth-jarring scuffle came when I was 12 years old. It took place at YMCA’s Camp Arrowhead, on what is now a private lake near Little Meadows, Pa. A big kid was shoving around my friend Woody, so I jumped in, pushed him aside and told him to stop. He beat the stuffing out of me.
I didn’t lose any teeth, just a load of pride and an inkling that my perceived prowess was suspect. Something I proved beyond a doubt over the next several years, twice the recipient of a surprise throat punch. (No teeth to worry about in that situation.) I had watched too many cowboy and Indian movies, where the good guy (most notably Roy Rogers) could beat up a gang of bad guys with one hand tied behind his back. I thought I was just like him. It was a hard road to the truth.
No, the demise of my tooth full grin was not the result of violence. It started with my wisdom teeth; they became impacted one at a time over a 20-year stretch. When the last one left me I was in my forties and more concerned about a vision problem than a tooth problem. I couldn’t read the paper; my arms weren’t long enough. So there I was, well into a second mid life crisis (my first came at age 30), half blind and down to 28 teeth. Twenty-eight isn’t bad. It’s an even number, 14 on the top, 14 on the bottom, and one over the other so they function as designed.
But then along came the old coot roulette wheel. It spins and spins. One day it lands on the sore knee space, another day on the aching back slot. Then the cataract spot. The wheel keeps spinning and eventually lands on the broken tooth space. An absent-minded crunch on an un-popped popcorn kernel breaks off the back quadrant of a molar. You get it fixed. You get the speech that all medical personnel deliver to you at the end of every visit. “You have to expect this at your age.”
Now, you’re paranoid. Afraid that one misplaced chew will put you back in the dentist’s chair. Time passes and you forget. The roulette wheel comes back to the broken tooth slot. You do it again. This time on a Sugar Daddy. It should be against the law to sell Sugar Daddies to old coots. We should be asked for proof of age, and turned away if we’re over 60. The tooth is beyond repair, so you have it pulled. Then it happens again! And, again! Oh sure, multi-thousand dollar root canals and crowns could save them, for a while (maybe, no guarantees). But old coots are cheap .So, now I’m down to twenty-five and still counting.
I originally penned this essay 11 years ago. Just the other day, my dentist, Pam, (gently) removed yet another molar. It wasn’t doing much; the opposing tooth above, left in 2006, yet somehow, it decided to leave the sinking ship while it could. Maybe now I’ll get a discount when I get them cleaned, 24 teeth versus 32. Only makes sense doesn’t it?
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