Nearly forty years ago I had five teeth go airborne while playing hockey in Brainerd, Minnesota, the final resting place of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. I can only assume that their dentist used a jackhammer for cavities, or maybe even a little dynamite.
Sorry; I’m drifting here . . . inspiring people to respond that Big Chopper and the Babe (their first album title) actually died in places like New Jersey, after another failed attempt at rehab.
Where was I? Hockey teeth! So about forty years ago, I was skating hard to check a rushing forward, just as my teammate, Jeff Vacanti, was doing the same thing from his other side.
When we met at the opponent, Jeff’s helmet introduced itself to my mouth like Mike Tyson’s right hook.
I didn’t feel anything until the whistle blew, and everyone began staring at me in horror.
I instinctively checked the front of my hockey pants to find them securely laced, then spotted all these little white things on the ice, resembling several little white things in my mouth. What a coincidence! It took me just seconds to realize the terrible truth: A $3.99 piece of thin clear plastic posing as a “mouth guard” had failed miserably. I’m sure my parents returned it for reimbursement.
When my runaway teeth didn’t draw any penalties, I was rushed home (after the game, of course). A phone call to our dentist’s house drew the kind of advice they gave young hockey players back in the late sixties, or the owner of a rabid pet:
“Stuff a towel in his mouth and see me in the morning.”
Today it’s all much different. You get to sit in an actual waiting room all night, before they finally inform you how insurance won’t cover a single thing. Eventually, offering your house and first born will begin a surgical procedure (dental rinse).
Boy we’ve come a long way.
I found that after years and years of procedures involving capped teeth, laughing gas, and waking from dental surgery with my clothes rearranged, I was still left with one obvious victim of that fateful collision so very long ago; a blackening front tooth that seemed to be losing its white color faster than souls in Atlantic City.
For years I was painfully aware of that hideous smile-killer, always nervous and uncomfortable around photographers brightly ordering everyone to “Say cheeeeeese” as I stretched my closed lips from ear to ear. I was always reluctant to reveal that hideous black stump unless several beers came into play, and the obnoxious pirate took over (“Say aaaaaargh!”)
It got worse when I became a parent, and my daughter started dropping very subtle hints, like “Oh-my-God-that-tooth-is-super-gross!”
I was only slightly rattled, until substitute teaching.
I would be helping a student, who would be paying more attention to my pirate’s tooth than the assignment at hand (like how to protect your teeth during hockey games), and eventually I would ask a question pertaining to say — mathematics – and the lovely little student would answer with, “Oh-my-God-that-tooth-is-super-gross!”
I finally asked my dentist about the tooth during a routine procedure like root canal and frontal lobotomy, and he assured me that — hey — it wasn’t only an easy procedure to place a nice covering over that tooth, but it was also pretty inexpensive.
And so it was done, and now I’m a changed man. There is a huge marble shrine dedicated to my dentist in the backyard (Saint Dentisto of the Sacred Impression).
Cashiers at the grocery store are nervous when I linger that extra hour or two after they say, “Have a nice day,” blinding them with my perfectly brilliant tooth.
“You can’t look away!” I command. “The white light is powerful and all knowing!”
Lately, however, I am deeply disturbed by the number of people who . . . are you ready? Don’t even notice my brand new, perfect white tooth!
Who the hell do they think they are!?!
I want to pull the tooth out every night and put it on a little stand, perched under a brilliant spotlight illuminating its perfection, as I prepare for the next big showing.
Reading between the lines, you can see how I’m already preparing for the final phase of crumbling dentition, when all my caps and fillings have done their job:
Dentures! Or — as they called my shift in hockey; “The last string.”