Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Tooth for a Tooth

  You may have noticed from some of my previous posts that I notice when gum is on sale. That’s because I’m an inveterate gum chewer. Whether I’m sitting at my desk breaking my head over a complex programming problem, sitting across the chess board in a battle of the minds, or in the middle of a monotonous hour commute, chomping on 3 or 4 sticks of gum help me to relax my mind and get in the proper rhythm to deal with the situation in front of me.

  2 weeks ago, while I was chewing away in the afternoon, I found myself with an unfamiliar crunching sound in my mouth. A piece of a filling had broken off and shattered into my gum. I’m in no pain so I’m not in a hurry to get the filling repaired, but I know that a trip to the dentist is in my future.

  My teeth have been less than perfect since I was 8 years old and broke my front tooth and chipped a half dozen others meeting a car face-first. My folks lost the half of my front tooth and never got any of them repaired. I never needed braces and I’ve had my share of cavities but except for my wisdom teeth being removed, I still have all my original teeth. I’ve always wondered about these older people I see who have a big mouth full of perfect looking teeth. I just figured they took care of them better than me or the people I see that don’t have a lot of teeth. I’m pretty naïve. I never considered that people wore hairpieces or dyed their hair or had false teeth, but now I understand that these people with the perfect teeth were probably just wearing dentures or false teeth.

  When I worked the midnight shift at a factory, we would gather together in a local bar for a couple of morning beers. The bartender would occasionally draft a mug of beer, take his teeth out of his mouth, stir the beer, put it on the bar, and offer it for free to anyone who wanted it. As disgusting as this may sound, the closer we got to payday, the quicker the offer was taken up.

  My grandfather Matthew had dentures. I only know this because once when we went to visit him in the hospital (he was 95 and it was a couple of weeks before he passed away), he had lost his teeth and it seemed the entire hospital was looking for them. It turns out they had come out while he was eating and were found in the trash bag used to clean all the food trays. I remember getting his teeth when I got his personal effects from the hospital and I think I have them somewhere in the house, but I couldn’t find them. Hopefully they won’t scare Matt or Ben when they start going through our effects someday.

  On Easter Sunday, Kathy’s mother (Mary) and her husband Mitch came to visit us. Both had recently gotten dentures. Mary looked completely different with a full set of teeth. She said she couldn’t have any jellybeans because they would make her dentures stick together. Our neighbor Don, also came over. Don is in his late 70s, spends a lot of time copying movies to DVDs, and occasionally comes with us to movies. I remember when he had come over for Christmas I noticed that I never realized what good teeth he had. Seeing Mary made me realize that Don didn’t have great teeth. Don had dentures.

  Feeling particularly impish, I asked Don if he could eat a jelly bean with his dentures. When he said he could, I asked him how and he told me the trick was to eat it from the back part of the dentures so you could twist your jaw to unstuck your teeth, if necessary. I think Mary was paying attention so I didn’t ask him to repeat himself. Then Don mentioned how he had his last 3 teeth taken out so he could get his dentures. I remember my Aunt having a bridge to fill in a couple of missing teeth, but it never occurred to me that in order to get false teeth you can’t have any real ones. In reality, you can, but it gets very expensive to get new teeth every time one of your real ones falls out.

  This made me ask Mary if she had any teeth taken out for her dentures and she said she had taken 5 of them out. Mitch said he waited until all his teeth fell out before getting dentures. I had to ask if this meant there was a point where he was eating his food with only one tooth and he said it did. Now this is a meat and potatoes farmer, so I had to ask how he could eat meat with one tooth. He told me you could eat most everything without any teeth, you just needed to gum it a lot. We did agree that it would be very difficult to eat an apple or corn on the cob with one tooth.

  Our Easter conversation gradually steered itself towards other topics, but I’ve been thinking about dentures a lot more since I broke a piece of my filling chewing gum. I don’t want to wait for my teeth to fall out OR have a bunch of them ripped out. It is an awful choice to have to make and even the best dental plans don’t cover all the cost of dentures. I tried to find a denture savings plan on the internet, but came up empty. This could be a new product for financial planners. I even have a slogan – “Don’t plan for a toothless retirement!”