Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Naked Tooth

I am British, and consequently have British Teeth. In the company of my pearl-fanged American friends I answer to “Snaggletooth”, but amongst mine own here in Britain I pass unnoticed in bazaar and highway and meadow alike. My teeth are themselves reminiscent of the Stone Age tumuli of Stonehenge, albeit boasting a less impressive crop of lichen. They are at least a recognizable gang, not all of equal standing, but at least standing together. Some of my friends have teeth resembling the skyline of Easter Island. Moody, magnificent and seldom, their teeth are aloof Kings of gum, much grander in their way than my rowdy Parliament of incisors and molars, jostling for attention. And if they stand aloof, they do at least stand. Other of my friends part their lips to reveal transverse and oblique tusks, much like the bars of a broken old farm gate, or the half boarded-up entrance to the Old Haunted Gold Mine.

It’s unfair. Teeth are THE indicators of health. Our movie stars may have hair like hay, eyes like a surrounded chameleon and the posture of a question mark, but their teeth shine with integrity, wisdom and heroism. This is rubbish. I have heroic teeth. Every chip is an abysmal fall survived, every notch an enemy coolly despatched. I have world-weary, been-there done-that teeth. A mouthful of Bogarts, bidding Bergmanesque farewells, and reminders of our mutual possession of Paris. I am literally hardbitten, and there’s the proof in the shape of my teeth.

Of course, my sister is a dentist. Worse still, an orthodontist. My panicky tight-lipped embraces upon see her again lend new urgency to the old saw about the British keeping a stiff upper lip (and it's the teeth of that saw which my own gums so eloquently mime). She has nice teeth. Teeth you’d trust. But then you have to trust the teeth of those to whom you entrust your teeth.

My dental tendency is towards independence and away from tyranny. My teeth celebrate independence. I have nothing against the dull perfect conformist grins of my IKEA-mouthed counterparts. But their milky teeth betray no wisdom. Theirs are mouths without struggle. Their fat veal-calf teeth are crammed into their mouths are and forbidden to exercise or roam the earth. My teeth have clearly been places. My teeth have seen and done things beyond other teeth’s ken. On several occasions, my teeth only just made it back to my mouth.

My teeth parrot the whites and blacks of the piano keyboard, like the interlaced fingers of a mixed-race couple holding hands. My happy gappy smile reminds pianists to worry their instruments in practice, ensuring better concerts. My teeth would be a metaphor for the prettier, less conscience-wracked songwriters, if only they could see past the blinding glare of their own oral crenelations.

My teeth do their job, no more or less conscienciously nor complainingly than any other part of my frame. I occasionally tease them with an antique toothbrush or fret them with floss but apart from the few occasions when they play the innocent conductor for a roving lightning bolt of agony, they are contented guests in my head, helpful at mealtimes and a foe to all pen ends. Scrupulously egalitarian and prudent, my teeth hoard everything between them, only surrendering their shards of candy and slivers of fruit with graceful reluctance, like a wife shopping her kindly bankrobber husband. My teeth, Oh my teeth gone by, I love you so.

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