Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Those Damn Teeth

For some bizarre reason, this morning I thought about how my teeth have had a big influence on my life. 

As you know, I wasn’t the brightest, or the most coordinated, little kid back in the early 50s and even through in the 60s. Of course some would say I’m still not the brightest candle on the cake, but I try to ignore that reality as much as possible. Anyway, I became fascinated with my teeth when I was quite young and especially when my baby teeth began falling out. I remember the Tooth Fairy leaving money under my pillow or some silly thing like that when I placed one of my discarded teeth there overnight. Yep, I actually bought that story for a long time. I couldn’t really picture what the hell a Tooth Fairy would look like, but she (it had to be a she as far as I was concerned) must have been very fetching. Of course, I eventually ran out of baby teeth and she dropped me like a rotten tomato. Thus began my difficult relationship with my teeth.

When I began getting my permanent teeth (I was told they were permanent), I didn’t realize how much attention and care they would require, and I didn’t realize how much they would affect my life. The problems all began when I was expected to brush them excessively every day, but unfortunately they were not satisfied with just all that brushing. I was expected to be careful and take care of them like they were some kind of valuable gems.

Unfortunately, little Clark didn’t want to worry about teeth. I remember one of my first serious breaches of care happened when I took a header over the handlebars of my two-wheel bike on a street near our Grandfather’s house in Altoona. Evidently, I decided it was better to land on my face then to put my hands out to prevent the “teeth-hitting-the-pavement” landing. It was an early example of poor decision making that would continue throughout my childhood and teenage years. Anyway that “teeth-hitting-the-pavement” event left me with a straggle-tooth mouth and some cuts and bruises, but I somehow was able to save my nose. The parents were upset, but I was not too upset at first because I didn’t realize how much those wild-assed teeth would affect my future life.

I eventually got accustomed to the “Bucky, Bucktooth, Beaver-Face” nicknames, but over time I became obsessed with those crooked front teeth. Eventually, our parents took me to an orthodontist (Dr. Whirlie or something like that.), and that resulted in new nicknames, such as “Wire-Mouth, and even Bucky Wire-Mouth, etc.). However, it was a step in the right direction and after a few years of wearing braces my teeth were straighten and aligned with each other. Eventually, the braces came off, but I had to wear a “retainer” on them at night, which continued for several years.

Unfortunately, the difficult relationship with my teeth continued to be a problem. When I was a teenager, I discovered that not everyone liked me when a rather big guy decided to punch my face. I don’t remember the underling details, but I must have irritated him because he slammed a fist right into my mouth and one of my front teeth was never the same. It stayed in my mouth, but it hurt for a while and it became slightly dark over time and has caused some pain ever since that punch.

Thinking back about all this teeth angst, I believe that perhaps the worst thing about the “Braces Experience” was that it planted a deep-seated time-bomb of interest in dentistry and orthodontics that festered somewhere in my cerebral cortex. That ticking time-bomb exploded when I was about to begin college. I declared that I wanted to become a dentist and I wanted to attend the University of Pittsburgh because it provided an undergraduate pre-dental program and a dental graduate program where I could achieve my goal of becoming a dentist.

I enrolled at Pitt and began the pre-dental program that would enable me to enter dental school during my senior year. Therefore, I had to complete many science courses through my first three years at Pitt, which I endured fairly well.  However, I also enjoyed several humanities courses and really enjoyed psychology and sociology courses, but they were hard to fit into my schedule because of all the science content that was required for the pre-dental program.

Well, I was very pleased to begin dental school during my senior year at Pitt, but I had to buy about a thousand-dollars-worth of dental tools, which was a financial strain. I figured it would pay off when I finished and opened my dental practice. The dental curriculum was of course loaded with many scientific, medical, and anatomical type of courses, which I was expecting. I was accustomed to scientific studies, but the anatomical content proved to be a challenge.

During that first semester in dental school all of us newbie dental students were assigned a cadaver. Yep we each got a dead person to work on. I certainly had been warned about that anatomy content, but the reality of working with a cadaver was not for me. I tried to endure, but my common sense told me that Clark was not suited to cut and sew dead people and probably not living people either. Near the end of that semester, I retired from dentistry.

I was deeply in debt, but I had not completed my undergraduate degree so I got more loans and completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology, which I enjoyed very much. I retained the dental tools that I had wasted over a thousand dollars on, but I eventually sold them for scrap metal or something. Of course, I did not get anything close to what I paid for them.

Anyway, my difficult relationship with teeth continued, because the one that was damaged in the fight during high school continued to give me problems with pain throughout my life. I recently had a root canal on that tooth because the pain was becoming difficult to handle. Happily, that tooth is cooperating very well now.

Unfortunately, I expect to have more difficult experiences with “Those Damn Teeth!” However, I’m determined to keep them as long as possible. 

Bill – I know you have had many unforgettable experiences in your life and I would be delighted to hear about them. It would be great if we lived closer to each other so we could get together more often. However, I know that is never going to happen. I guess letters and phone calls will need to suffice. I hope all is well with you and your family.

Take care.

Sincerely, Clark

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