Ever since I was a child, I wanted my own set of false teeth. Even before my permanent molars arrived, I suffered drillings and fillings on my teeth, which seemed to disintegrate as soon as they emerged above the gum line. How much easier, I thought, to have removable teeth that I could put in a container like Aunt Tess did. When she spent the night in the twin bed in my room, I was comforted to see her disconnected smile beaming at me from the glass on the night stand.
Throughout the years, I’ve provided fodder for the tooth fairy as my teeth crumbled, rotted or broke. I had my front teeth capped while I was still in my 30’s when the enamel started to wear off, causing blights that looked like small liver spots. About ten years later, I received the happy news that it was time to replace my missing teeth with a bridge.
I loved my bridgework. I never had to worry about a small flag of spinach salad waving from my front teeth, since I could hose off my choppers after every meal. Sometimes, when the clasps became loose, my fake teeth would rise out of my mouth, adhering to whatever food I was eating, such as corn on the cob (on the top) or a piece of caramel candy (on the bottom); however, this was a small price to pay for a perfect smile.
For the past twenty years Dr. Armstrong has been my judge as well as my dentist. Every time he looked at my eroding molars he would sigh and say, “You couldn’t possibly be flossing your teeth.”
When I broke a cap on my front tooth while eating a frozen Milky Way, his comment was, “Well, with your teeth, you shouldn’t be eating things like that anyway.” Since I thrive on guilt, his statements always furnished me with a fresh supply.
Several years ago, Dr. Armstrong declared that trying to save the few upper teeth I had left was a hopeless task. As a result, fourteen porcelain pearls embedded in a substance the color of bubble gum cover my whole upper palate.
I’ve never been happier. Thanks to my dentures, I can change my identity at will. In fact, I’m already planning next year’s Halloween costume. Experimenting in the mirror after I docked my teeth for the night, I discovered that I can almost touch the bottom of my nose with my lower lip. All I need is a pipe and a sailor suit to become a classic Popeye.
Although every bridge wearer attending a dinner party dreads the rye bread seed that sneaks up between the teeth and gums causing excruciating pain, this was not a problem for me once I had full upper dentures. Since they slid out much more smoothly than partials, I became a master of the sleigh-of-hand required to put my napkin to my lips, slip out my teeth, remove the offending seed, replace my choppers, and smile comfortably at my fellow dinner guests.
I am involved in an amateur theater group; however, it is difficult for me to find a role appropriate to my age. I can hardly wait to remove my teeth so that I can play a crone in Zorba the Greek. I am already rehearsing in my mind the scene where I become a toothless hag who invades the death bed of a dying woman, hoping to carry away her treasures. I can imagine myself descending like a raven as I flap my voluminous black sleeves. Hysterical cackles fly from my mouth as I display my naked, pink gums.
One of the most exciting things about having dentures is the fact that they can be a source of identification. On the underside of my chopper’s, “spence.e” is imprinted in tiny blue letters. Dr. Armstrong told me that this is required by law, since dental records are an important key in identifying missing persons. Therefore, should I be a passenger on an airline that goes down in the Pacific Ocean, I must remember to keep my mouth tightly shut as I zoom to my death, lest my teeth, loosened from their mooring by the impact, float to the shore of some tropical island, leaving me forever unidentified.
My dentures have become by best friends. I never leave home unless they accompany me. Without them, I would be reduced to soaking my toast in milk in order to eat it. Because they are so much a part of me, removing my choppers at night becomes a little like cutting out my heart. However, I am comforted by the fact that they bathe each night in their own little white plastic tub, floating in an Aegean-blue water solution .
As I drift into toothless slumber, I like to imagine that my dentures are taking nocturnal dream trips to the Greek islands biting into succulent slices of spinakoptica or absorbing the creosote taste of ouzo.