My dentist was a nice man. He hummed country music songs while he worked. After he asked me the very first question, he didn’t ask me anything else ever. He forgot to take his hand out of my mouth. He didn’t hold it against me, though. We went through a lot together, Swinford and I. He had a son after I met him. He said he was too old, but his wife wasn’t. They didn’t plan on the son, I could tell. Looking back on it, I think I made him crown all of my back teeth so I could feel good about helping out with the son he was too old to have. I crowned too many. He built a new office and bought a house in country club. But, he was still a nice man. And a good dentist. I kept all of my teeth. And, they still work fine for eating and grinning too.
My Teeth (Whiter than they really are)
I come from a long line of Grinners. We grin all the time. That’s why I need teeth. The first thing you see when you look at me is the biggest smile full of teeth you ever saw.
My teeth are solid. I depend on them. I can eat dinner faster than it’s polite to eat. When I was a kid, I couldn’t pee my name in the dirt, but I could hang from a rope by my teeth. The boys knew in their hearts that mine was the better trick. Now that I am old, I have to smile whether I feel like it or not. If old people don’t smile, they look mad or worse, they look mean. I spent years reminding my mother to smile. Now, I remind myself. Never mind that I go around grinning like a monkey. People don’t seem to notice the resemblance. People like Grinners.
Swinford had all of his teeth too, but they were brown horse teeth. He was a handsome, sweet man so I only noticed his teeth in passing. I wondered why a shoemaker would wear ugly, dirty shoes. It’s bad advertising. But, then, he thought teeth were for chewing. That’s what made his new teeth worse than a “shocker”, as they say. He didn’t send out an announcement or anything. Nothing. No warning about what I’d see. When I walked into his office, my reaction to the new grin was about like seeing an old friend who suddenly has no hair and doesn’t bother to mention it. You try not to look at it. The more you try not to look at it, the more you look at it. I was seized by an uncontrollable need to laugh. I mean double-over kind of laugh. The man had a set of the biggest, whitest teeth I ever saw in my life. The awful part is that we both knew he had these teeth that we were refusing to acknowledge. The elephant-in-the-room teeth. It was a miserable visit, but I made it out of there without belly laughing. By the next visit, he had toned the white down to a fairly normal shade of yellow-brown. Thank God. We didn’t mention the brown ones either.
In anticipation of his retirement, he invited his old clients for a farewell/intro-the-new-guy-meet-and-greet at his office. The new guy seemed very nice. His wife and little girl too. I paid no attention to him. I would miss my old friend. We went way back to my social worker days when he treated my clients just like everybody else and me like an old friend. I was very sad to see him go.
Chair With A View
At my next dental appointment, six months later, I met my new dentist. He took one look inside my cavernous mouth and rendered his verdict. I had to go to an oral surgeon who would slice off the gums that were hiding two of my back teeth on both sides making it difficult for me to clean them well enough to prevent gum loss. What? Six months earlier, I had fine gums. No way I was going the gum-slicing route. I’d swish with the vile brown stuff and hope for the best. Now, it seems to be working. The up-side? I still have my teeth. The down-side? They’re brown.