Friday, June 06, 2014

About ... My Teeth

from Jacqueline

This is a short story of the memoir persuasion.

On Monday I began to think about what I might write for my Friday post.  Then today (Tuesday, June 3rd) spurred on by my endodontist – the amazing Mindy Buonochristiani in Mill Valley, CA – I decided to tell you a bit about my teeth.  You see, I was recounting the long journey of teeth-related adventures I’ve had (in truth, I was probably playing for time – I knew she had the mother of all syringes behind her back), when she said, “You know, you really have to write about this.”

My problems began when I was three years old.  At that age I had my full set of baby teeth, lovely nubby little white tombstones.  We were living close to the picturesque village of Goudhurst in Kent, England. 

My mother, myself, and my aunt – who was staying with us – had walked into the village to do some shopping.  And we’d brought the dogs with us.  We went from the greengrocers, to the bakers then on to the butcher.  I can’t remember how many thick slabs of stone had been laid in Days Of Yore to form the steps from the street into the butcher’s shop, but when I was three, it seemed mountainous.  Here are those  steps in Days of Yore:

My mother went into the shop, while my aunt and I, plus the dogs, remained outside.  This aunt did not have children, so certain elements of child protection did not spring to mind, I guess – which explains what came next. Having decided that she needed something from the pharmacy across the street, she wrapped the leashes around my little hand, and off she went.  And when she got there, she turned around and waved.  The two dogs –working dogs, trained to follow voice and hand command – launched down the steps and I was dragged head first, crashing onto the pavement and smashing out almost all my teeth.  I still remember people running towards me and turning me over onto my back, whereupon I saw big faces peering down.  I think that was the point at which I decided to scream my head off.

I spent a day or two in the hospital, and came home very gummy with first dibs on ice cream.  Thereafter, whenever anyone raised a camera to take a family photograph, or whenever the annual school photograph was scheduled, my mother said, “Keep your mouth shut – don’t show your gums.”  In every photograph of me as a child, I have my mouth clamped shut. I was also a tooth-fairy deprived child, though you would have thought my aunt could have ponied up a cash settlement for those teeth.

Note the mouth firmly closed. 
My mother also cut my hair.

Our local dentist was a sweet man, one of those dentists who made sure that the teeth of a child’s doll or teddy-bear were given the once-over before the child was asked to open wide.  I may not have had many teeth, but those gums had to be monitored.  Then we moved.  And we went to the new dentist, who had his practice in an old Georgian house with a massive door knocker in the shape of a lion’s head.  The mouth was open where the brass knocker went through, and it was very, very scary. 

The dentist was very, very scary too. I walked in for my first appointment, confident, and with Teddy in my arms, and the next thing you know, the Terrible Old Man Dentist had fastened straps around me because that’s what he did with all children. It was like being in a Victorian workhouse, though I am sure workhouses didn’t have dentists. I screamed. My mother ran in, and that was the end of that appointment. But he was the only show in town, so I feared even walking past that house with the scary door-knocker.

I don’t know if it was a downward spiral when my mother went to work as an assistant to the dentist in a neighboring village when I was about 11.  I do know that I was not allowed even a whimper when I went for my check-ups – by this time my adult teeth had pushed through.  Mum would stand behind the dentist as he began his inspection, and she would glare if I took so much as a deep breath.  I had been warned not to let the family down with my fears. 

But the interesting thing about those trips to the dentist was the man who lived opposite. He was probably in his fifties and lived in the house with his aging mother, who had never allowed her son to be taken into an institution, despite him being declared “slow” as a child.  In fact, he was still a child.  He stood by the hedge in front of his house with two plastic balls balanced on the top of the hedge.  He would play there for hours, perhaps throwing a ball to a passer-by, who would throw it back and a game would ensure. My mother always told us to play the game with him, that there was nothing to be afraid of and he would enjoy it. And he did, because he giggled as he ran for the ball, and his smile would light up the world.  Everyone called him “Ball-Ball” – and my memories of his playful innocence are inextricably linked to recollections of that dentist.

I was twenty when I had my wisdom teeth removed.  Every student in London, unless they had money, made a beeline for Guys Hospital if they needed dental treatment. Guys hospital is one of the oldest in the world, and it has both medical and dental schools. 

They always needed guinea pigs for the fledgling dentists, which is why you could get your dental work free.  That’s where they decreed that I would need surgery to remove all four wisdom teeth.  The student who admitted me was not actually allowed to perform surgery at that point, so the big cheese professor did the deed.  I was so ill afterwards due to a problem with anesthesia, that I was kept in for a week.   I was discharged ten pounds lighter and only able to eat baby food. 

Fast-forward seven years, and I began to get really, really bad headaches.  So bad were these headaches that I was sent for brain scans.  Nothing untoward could be found. But I had begun to have my own wild theory.  Eventually, I went to the dentist. 

“So, what’s going on, Jackie?” he asked.
“Look, I know this sounds whacky, but I have been having these headaches, and … I think I have teeth breaking through, top row, at the back.”
He laughed.
“I’m serious. I can feel something funny there.”
“Let’s have a look then.” He looked.  He frowned.  “Um, let’s take an x-ray.” 
“So, I’m right, aren’t I?”
“Yep, you’re right.”
“That doctor left my top wisdom teeth in, didn’t he?”
The dentist looked at my notes, and shook his head. “No, I know him, he was my prof years ago – with him, it’s amazing your head wasn't lopped off.”  He laughed. “Lucky you – you’ve got supernumeries.”
“Super what?” said I.
“Two extra wisdom teeth.  You’ve had six altogether, and these come down a long way. Once I’ve whipped them out, the headaches will go.”
And they did.

Now for the last part of the story.  When I was 32, in the Paleolithic Age, I had a nasty car accident.  I was rear-ended by a French guy doing 70 mph – he wasn’t looking where he was going and hadn’t realized the highway traffic had come to a standstill, and I was the last one in the line.  I was lucky – I wasn’t killed, though my car was wrecked, and I had a terrible whiplash. 

With whiplash, you think of your neck. You think an awful lot about your neck. You don’t consider your teeth.  Four years later, I was living in the US, and went along to my new dentist, who asked, “Have you ever had a bad car accident, with whiplash?”  I opened my eyes – I always keep my eyes clamped shut at the dentist.  “How do you know?” I asked.  “It’s your teeth,” he said.  “Especially at the back – you have a lot of hairline cracks, and I only usually see this when someone’s had a whiplash.”

Then he said something about it coming home to roost one day.

That day came about a month ago. At once it seemed as if every tooth in my head had started to rebel against having such a careless person in charge of the mouth.  I have had four root canals in that time, and every one of those teeth had fractures I attribute to that accident.  I fly to the UK tomorrow, and am sitting here with a fat lip from today’s root canal. 

So that’s it from me.  Getting it off my chest. I wish I could say it’s all over now, but I know it isn’t. It’s just the start.  I used to think I should have married a veterinarian, to save money on taking care of my menagerie.  Now I think it should have been a dentist.  There again, maybe not.

Hey Patty – if my memory serves me well, you know a thing or two about teeth and dentists.

And have a lovely weekend, all.


  1. Whiplash & teeth! Who knew? This should be a paper presented to the next Dental Convention on Miami Beach.

    1. from Jacqueline: I know - and if I had known at the time, I would have loaded up that settlement amount! As it was, it barely covered the PT!!!

  2. Wow! I was going to ask if the dentist recommended something like a nightguard for your teeth when you reported the headaches. I recall my first visit to the dentist. He was a "children's dentist" and I was scared of him. I liked my parents' dentist so I asked if I could see him instead. Even if he was not a children's dentist, it worked out. In England, did the National Health Service include dental visits? I learned something new today about whiplash and teeth. Never knew that. Have a wonderful time in the UK ~ one of my favorite places.


    1. p.s. your Aunt must have felt awful. I was reminded of wanting to walk with my big dog when I was five and my dog (looked like the dog in Babe the Pig movie) suddenly ran after something and I fell down, scraping my knees!


    2. From Jacqueline: Dental care was always "subsidized" in the UK, so you had to pay for part of the charge, but when you're a student, everything you can save counts! And I do have a night guard - I'm a clencher, not a grinder! I don't think my aunt ever mentioned that event again ...

  3. What a harrowing story! And yes, I know a bit about teeth and dentists. And BTW, my dentist just sent me to an endodontist for a root canal, but he told me it wasn't necessary for now. Whew!

    I LOVED those pics of you. Precious. My first grade pic looked a bit like that because my two front teeth were missing. My braids had been lopped off and I was sporting my first home permanent. Ghastly! Maybe we Nakeds should have a photo competition.

  4. Reminds me of when I had two impacted teeth removed at Guy's when I was sixteen. I had rode my bike there, but not feeling good after the surgery. The instructing dentist accompanied me home and then asked for a date. I turned him down. Silly girl! Love the photos Jackie, have a great time in UK. rbb

    1. RBB: You should have gone on that date, eh?

  5. James O. Born6/06/2014 2:20 PM

    You took my comment at the end of your post. Patty and Bill are the experts. I had Bill check me out when I visited LA. Teeth are the only thing holding up.

  6. from Jacqueline: Maybe I should make an appointment to see Bill!

  7. Oh, what a long string of very bad luck -- I've had many fillings and root canals, but I've almost always had really good dentists. Good luck with the ongoing efforts and all future dentists. Hugs!

    1. from Jacquelne: Fortunately, I have always had good dentists - which as you can imagine, I needed, with all that going on!!!