It’s almost the end of the month and I happened to flip the page on my calendar to take a sneak peak at what to expect in the coming weeks. The first thing to catch my eye was a bright flag marking the occasion of my next dentist appointment. How could nine months have flown by so quickly? The gap between regular visits never seems long enough in my mind. I know I shouldn’t complain. It’s because of those regular visits that I still have all my own teeth and they remain relatively problem free. I didn’t have that luxury when I was a child. Back in those days we only went to the dentist when we had a toothache that became unbearable. In all the years I was growing up I only ever sat in a dentist’s chair twice and both times it was to have a tooth pulled.
My Dad used to tell stories of how my Uncle Antonio pulled out his own teeth with a pair of pliers whenever they became too troublesome. There eventually came a day when he only had one or two teeth left and his smile had a decidedly forlorn quality to it. His one remaining front tooth stood all alone in the gap and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the strange smiles we’d see carved into pumpkins every Halloween. At least no one could accuse him of vanity. I often wondered why he didn’t just pull out that last tooth and get himself fitted with a set of dentures but perhaps he held on to it for sentimental reasons. As far as I know he never went to a dentist in his life.
My own parents each had a set of false teeth before they reached middle age. My mother used to take hers out and make faces at us when we were children. It made her look positively sinister and never failed to leave us shrieking in horrified glee as we scrambled to escape her clutching fingers and smacking lips. Then she would slip her teeth back into her mouth and simply be Mom again, blithely ignoring our giggling pleas for her to do it again. She liked to save that game for when we were least expecting it.
She and Dad were visiting us when our own children were little and Mom decided to try it out on the boys. They were sitting on her lap when she reached up and slipped her dentures into the palm of her hand and turned to grin at them, her cheeks sunken and her empty mouth stretched wide. Their initial reaction was all she could have wished for but curiosity quickly overcame any fear. Instead of trying to run away, Daniel crowded closer to get a better view and Jason took his cue from his older brother. They were clearly fascinated and wanted to know how she’d done it. She had to put her teeth in and take them out several more times before they were satisfied.
A couple of days later I found Daniel rummaging around in the kitchen drawer where we kept a few household tools. He came up with the hammer we used for hanging pictures and he definitely looked like a boy with a mission in mind.
“What do you need a hammer for?” I asked as I deftly plucked it out of his hand.
“My teeth are stuck,” he complained. “I can’t get them out.”
I just stood there in stunned surprise. Clearly I was going to have to do some debriefing after my Mom’s little game. It was one of those occasions where I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I shudder to think what might have happened if Daniel had been able to carry through with his intent before I had a chance to explain the difference between false teeth and real. He might have ended up with a smile like Uncle Antonio’s.