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Funeral for a Tooth

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I would consider myself to be your average, reasonably healthy (knock on several different grains of wood) woman in my mid-twenties. With no dire medical issues or crippling addictions to speak of beyond the occasional drunken cigarette drag or over-caffeinated Diet Coke jones (okay, maybe scrambling to guzzle one by 9am or face a wicked withdrawal headache is a tad much, but I digress), I'd say all is clear on the health front.

For whatever naive reason, I've always envisioned the ages of 21 to 31 to be a magical time of physical status quo: a cryogenic stasis during which your looks and virility fall into some nebulous "adult" classification. This will be the only period of life in which wearing a tube top is as socially acceptable as a maternity muumuu so long as you don't confuse the two. You are, except for a few things, rarely too old or too young for much of anything, and for this last generational stretch you've still got your "whole life ahead of you." You'll still get carded at bars. You can still karaoke to Britney Spears with unabashed zeal. God willing you can still saunter around in hip hugger jeans with hardly a disapproving glance (provided they fit). Ah, the 20s. How I enjoy them.

Or, I suppose, enjoyed them. Now fully entrenched in my quarter-life year, I've found some unprecedented weirdness brewing in the (gasp!) "body changes" department – something one imagines to be an experience forgotten in adolescence and further shirked until inexplicably finding yourself drawn to Anne Taylor Loft slacks, box wine, and Lifetime Original Movies.

Foolish child! The age of aging is already upon me. And its evil buzzards are circling in on, of all places, my damn mouth.

Now, do you remember this guy?

tooth No? Well, if you went to a snooty, high falutin' Boca Raton private Montessori preschool (because your mom worked there and you got free tuition like moi), or anywhere else there was a sincere need for dental education involving grown men dressed as teeth, you probably do. Ah, Tooth Santa! He comes through but once a year, bearing gifts of cheap toothbrush finery, cinnamon dental floss destined for non-use, and coloring books pertaining to the importance of oral hygiene. Tooth Santa puts you on his knee and, after giving you a sad-looking plastic toothbrush and a sample of glittery bubblegum toothpaste that you will later learn tastes like complete ass, asserts:

"Brush those teeth, little boys and girls, and they'll always stay healthy and strong!"

You know what, tooth guy? You lied. Right to my cherubic, toddler face.

I have had two — TWO — real cavities in my life. I have (admittedly) been lax on my yearly cleanings since my parents' dental insurance dropped me, but I bought me one of them 'lectric toothbrushes around the same time. Forget your analog toothbrush! Step into the future!

Anyhow, imagine my chagrin when my mouth, startlingly, began hurting something awful. I woke one morning to inexplicably find that sipping a cold beverage led to a sensation not unlike a knife traveling to random locations in my mouth. And pain makes me swear. A lot. I've been facing some serious mean mugs in public domains after taking a swig of ice cold something or other, and then reacting with a censorship threshold lower than a Tourette's tic. Whatever, man, it hurts! Ladylike posturing be damned.

Defeated by pain, I finally went to the dentist to see what was up. I could see the guy chastising me already: "You've skipped your annual cleanings for THREE years straight? Girl, your mouth's jacked. What's your insurance deductible for dentures look like?"

Instead, Mr. Dentist anticlimactically reported, "Nope, no cavities." Whuh? Ten x-rays and various biting on things and getting stabbed by things later, and it's determined I need a ROOT CANAL in my front vampire tooth! The horror!

"That's weird," skillfully assessed Mr. Dentist. "Nothing usually happens to those front teeth. Oh well, it's dying. Go get your root canal with such and such specialist guy."

"What??!? I don't even have any cavities! Why is this happening? Was this my fault? Could I have brushed more!??"

"Nah. It just happens sometimes at your age."

It just happens sometimes. Teeth just die. Like people who for no particular reason happen to drop dead. While in your mouth.

I can't help but feel like this is some sort of generational milestone. First your teeth. Then your laugh lines linger a few minutes too long. Then your hair sprouts a shock of gray announcing to all it's time to start swigging Arbor Mist and curling up to TV movies staring Tracy Gold.

Now, I know that the yoga loving, granola crunching side of me embraces the idea of aging with dignified, open arms. There is a respectable gracefulness to aging, although most women are ever ready to shoot botulism into their necks and spackle make-up like stucco to hide it. I just never imagined it was literally going to hurt.

I know I must eventually come to a place of quarter-generational acceptance. RIP, right front canine! We've had some great times together. The apples we pierced, the turkey sandwiches we masticated. I guess I can let you go and promise to cherish the memories. But please don't incite a rash of copycat suicides amongst the ranks! I may have been naive to think my 20s would be physically uneventful, but call me vain for wanting to make it through without finding sincere need for Polident.

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About Rachel Woods

  • Girl, get a second opinion. Dentists can be just as wrong as doctors.

  • Marcia Neil

    During mid-life growth spurts, smiles must stretch which means that the teeth re-position themselves from deeply set-in positions — causing pain. They also move around, even fall out, but can be returned to the socket to be tightly held once again. There is literature that claims that teeth are alive, but the teeth dry out when outside the mouth, making them brittle things that can be swallowed if care is not taken during the re-arrangement “cracking” period of the growth spurt.

  • “During mid-life growth spurts,”

    So I should expect a growth spurt in my 40s?

  • I think that’s a sideway growth spurt, El B.

  • Marcia Neil

    If space is limited, the teeth will be affected negatively growth spurt or not.

  • George Magowan

    I live in Ireland where we are firm believers in the Tooth Fairy. When a child’s tooth falls out they put it under their pillow at night and low and behold there is a £2 coin there in it’s place in the morning. Wonder how that happened?