The Continuity of Teeth

I was just turned 26 when I met my wife. Given that I’ll turn 52 next month, I’m approaching the point where I’ll soon have known her for more than half my life. I guess that’s a milestone, of sorts. There are people I’ve known longer, of course. Family, for starters, and people I went through RAF training with, for example, but I don’t tend to see these people on a regular basis, mostly down to distance, so as far as people I see regularly are concerned, my wife is my longest known associate.

Last week (Friday 13th) I went to the dentist for my six-monthly check-up. No problems: a quick scrape and polish and out again. As it happens, I go to the same dental surgery now that I went to as a kid. That hasn’t always been the case. At different times, and in different places, I’ve had other dentists.

When I was in the Falkland Islands, late 1983, I discovered a lump on my gum. The lump grew slowly but gave me no pain, so I ignored it until I returned to the UK. Posted to a new RAF station on my return, I had a mandatory appointment with the station dentist. He informed me that a wisdom tooth was coming through at a forty-five degree angle and kindly offered to ‘whip it out’ for me when it burst the skin. I’d never met the guy before, but he had a reputation for being a butcher, so I was pretty sure he’d be the last person I’d tell when this thing came through. Sure enough, I’d left the RAF by the time it did and had it removed by someone far more caring.

Other than  that, though, I’ve had relatively few problems with my teeth. My mother used to take my siblings and I – all four of us – off to the dentist every six months when I was a kid, to the same surgery I use now. I can remember being taken out of class when I was ten years old (we were learning about sets and Venn diagrams at the time and I had to catch up later) to go to the dentist. Typically, my siblings would have fillings, or even teeth out, and mine would be absolutely fine. In fact, I was about 22 before I had my first filling.

Last week, walking into the surgery for my check-up, I was aware of the sense of continuity that I felt, using the same dental surgery now as then. It’s in town. The building looks exactly the same from the outside. The waiting room still has a tropical fish tank. The tank, like the waiting room, has moved into the hallway where the reception was, and the receptionists are now in what used to be the waiting room, but otherwise the place looks and feels as it did then and stirred up memories of yesteryear.

In fact, in a world in which my closest regular associate spans only half of my lifetime, my teeth, like my dental surgery, provide an unexpected sense of continuity. While my body undergoes all the usual changes that life’s progress imposes (my eyebrows, for example, have taken on a life of their own, and my hair is greyer than it once was) I still have all my own teeth. Though they’re showing a little wear and tear — or character, if we’re being polite — they’re pretty much the same as they always have been.

So thank you, teeth, for being there for me. And thank you, too, dental surgery, for the comfort you bring.

Which reminds me, a couple of years ago I wrote a piece of flash fiction entitled The Girl With Big Teeth which was published on the Dogzplot Flash Fiction site. It’s a short read, takes less time than a dental check-up, and you can find it online here: