“Keeping My Teeth”


The other day I was talking about the dentist with a friend and my surprise that most people don’t like going there. Since I have always enjoyed, or at least not disliked, going to the dentist, I began to wonder why. Then I remembered the ever present admonishment in my home to “keep my teeth.” Apparently it had been a matter of pride that my grandparents and my parents had all managed to “keep their teeth.”

I suppose to a young person in the U.S. today the phrase would seem odd. Here there are fluoridated water, fluoridated toothpaste and countless reminders everywhere to brush your teeth. In fact the ads for denture paste seem to have been replaced by ads for whitening products. For older people today yellow teeth, while the natural result of using them for a life time, need bleaching. At least according to the teeth whitening industry.

But when I was a kid I knew many adults my parents’ age who had false teeth. We didn’t use the more polite term “dentures,” but called them false teeth. One of my favorite family friends could not only blow pipe smoke out his ears but could also wiggle his teeth in and out. We thought it was hilarious. Even my orthodontist had lost his teeth, though it was from the Bataan Death March and not from neglect.

But not our family. No way. We were a family who kept our teeth. In retrospect I think this may have had more to do with the rock solid hard water they grew up with. Portland, where I grew up, had water so soft anything could produce suds. Not so in the Minnesota of my forebears. So geography rather than personal habits shaped their teeth. I was going to have to work to “keep” mine.

Going to the dentist meant I was continuing in the family tradition. I still go. I still feel unnecessarily virtuous. And I still have my teeth.

29 thoughts on ““Keeping My Teeth”

  1. I always hated the dentist, and associated it with gas masks and pain, in my youth. But modern techniques, and greater sensibility from the dentists themselves, have removed any fear I once had.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My earliest experiences were painful and with a dentist who hated kids. Add to that having to pay huge sums of money every time you walk in the door, and it was enough to keep me working hard to stay healthy on my own.


      1. My dad pulled many more teeth than he wanted to. He was a country dentist — we lived in a small town surrounded by farms. Most of the people were not interested in saving teeth. They’d come in when a tooth hurt unbearably and demand that he pull it. A few people had their teeth filled, crowned, or replaced with a bridge, but not many cared.


        1. I was thinking of people like that when I wrote. I think my parents and grandparents knew a lot of people like that and that is why they stressed that in our family we kept our teeth.


        2. You were lucky if you had good teeth. John’s dad had one cavity in his life, but his mom fought a continual battle with soft teeth. She won. Her smile still looked good at 92.


  3. My son is now twenty-six, but when I used to take him to the dentist when he was a little guy, it was a whole different experience than what I had. His dentist had the coolest toys that the kids all loved to play with while they waited for their appointment. My son looked forward to his appointments—something I never experienced.


  4. My mom also still has her own teeth, Elizabeth. Despite the fact that during the war she shared a toothbrush with her 7 siblings and only had salt to brush with. I do not like the dentist because they poke around in your mouth and having your teeth cleaned is very uncomfortable.


  5. I think it depends on your early childhood experiences with the dentist.
    Mine were a nightmare, so those bad & painful experiences can induce a dental procedure phobia…which can be further exasperated by bad experiences as adults in the dentist’s chair…
    You have been blessed Elizabeth! 😉


  6. OMG! I know your family friend was a hit with the kids, blowing smoke out of his ears and jiggling his teeth!! That makes me want to cry with laughter. I remember thinking it was big deal that one of my uncles could crack any one of his joints on command. On another note: I have recently been wondering if younger generations will judge me for not having perfectly white teeth? My dentist complimented me for keeping my teeth clean on my most recent visit, but I haven’t got into the teeth-whitening trend.


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