Was A Toothy Kid

And so I wore a plastic retainer, top and bottom, for four or five years. At
lunch, I would pop the metal-plastic devices out and wrap them in napkins to
avoid showing (and thereby stimulating the raucous fun-making, teasing,
ridicule, shame, etc.) them to onlookers while we ate.  Throughout first
grade we public schoolers ate lunch in the basement of the Catholic church next
door to the little yellow school house.  For first and second-graders only,
the yellow school was a two-roomer, later demolished because of an infestation
of bees. (Yellow building…swarm of bees, I’m serious) But back in the basement
of the Catholic church (the same cafeteria used to feed the kids who attended
the Catholic school), a half hour with all the ordinary aliments and
routines–something with mashed potatoes. Until I absentmindedly tossed
the napkin-wrapped retainers into the trash with the rest of my unconsumed
foodstuff.  Unnoticed.  About an hour later, coming off the high of
recess, it occurred to me that I’d misplaced the expensive straighteners. 
And so I quit my crying, and Mrs. W talked my two good friends (P. and S.) into
walking back over to the basement of the Catholic church where everyone
including the priest, no doubt, had finished their mid-day victuals and had left
us more than eight gigantic bags of garbage.  The three of us picked
through it, bit by bit by bit in search of the coveted set of plastic retainers. 
S. finally found them (said he thought it was a bundle of potatoes; why do kids
wrap up food they intend to throw out?), saved the day.  Quite a friend, S. 

Of course the dental drama carried forward.  There were lots of dentist
appointments, too many after-schools spent in the dentist’s waiting room. 
It was high-priced torture, really.  In fact, eventually, I was awarded a
wire key, which I used to crank a single arrow-notch each week, thereby turning
the screw that widened the apparatus that stretched my aching jaw over a period
of several years.  Dental behaviorism: "When it stops hurting, turn
the key again."   

No stranger
all the agony that follows from accepting an invitation to sit
in the chair, I returned to the dentist this morning for a regular cleaning (a
new dentist for me since we’re less than a year in NY).  Have a brief
pictographic recapitulation of the one hour appointment:

Clown posters, a record-setting repeat loop of
Uptown Girl, and bleeding gums.


  1. dental drama is the rage! have you ever seen billy joel’s teeth? he’s been smoking since at least ’69. old yeller. they weren’t worse than that fake 1982 pompadour, though. but seriously, i’ve never met anyone who hasn’t had to dig through the piles of slop in the cafeteria trashcans seeking some piece of plastic (mine was even more special, because I threw up on the hygienist as she was making the mold for the retainer). Just be glad it wasn’t a public school caf. can.

  2. I dumpster dived a McDonald’s once in search of my retainers. That was after I did two years with the widening device, then three of braces. And after all that, one of my bottom teeth moved out of alignment in my late teens.

  3. Looking back at the situation from my current perspective, I’m not convinced that you needed to go through all that. I think the dentist was a better salesman than he was a dentist.

    I have a vivid childhood memory of a dentist poking around in my teeth when all of a sudden the sharp dental tool slipped and stuck me in the roof of the mouth. “Oops! Oh my goodness, look at all the blood!”

    I think, if I had to do it all over again, it would be better to just let your teeth go, wait until the point of no return, and then get a set of falsies. False teeth at an early age would probably be less of an expense in the long run.

  4. I’m not familiar with Joel’s teeth; sounds like it’s just as well that way. But his music? I can recite every word of Uptown Girl.

    Here I’ve been clinging to that story as a pinnacle of childhood friendship. I had no idea others rummaged through bags of trash to retrieve lost retainers. Probably a good mix to combine with a GPS sensor.

    Thinking back, it does seem like the process was quite involved–LOTS of regular appointments because the devices were relatively new and experimental if I remember right. And all that anxiety I lived with about losing them, misplacing them, forgetting to wind them, and so on. But this smile! And if I can get another ten years out of these teeth before switching to falsies, it’ll prove to be work all the labor and expense.

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