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 In fact the ads for denture paste seem to have been replaced by ads for whitening products.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.