Anyone around my age around this area knows who said “Brush your teeth and say your prayers!” That would be Salty Brine, iconic Rhode Island radio and TV personality, admonishing us youngsters to do those two things before we went to bed. As did our mothers.
I obeyed Salty not so much because of his authority (which was considerable in my early years), but because of my mom’s, which was far more considerable, not to mention unyielding
She was happy I did both, particularly the prayer part because she was a staunch Italian Catholic who believed in God and prayers, as I did in my young life. But for whatever reasons that presented themselves in my later years, I stopped, except in my own way, believing and praying in what seemed right in my spirit and mind.
Brushing teeth was another story altogether. Believe me, I fervently wish I listened to Mom and Salty on that one.
I thought of this recently when I went to a dentist for the first time in far too long, an introductory deal at Gentle Dental, figuring it was time. They were good – terrific in fact – but decidedly blunt when telling me that, due to lack of my own care over the years, my teeth were a mess. So much for the “gentle” part of dental, but hey, I appreciate forthright honesty.
Bottom line is I brushed, but not religiously, and not correctly, just slamming the brush around inside my mouth until it felt done. I had no idea how wrong that was, despite dentists over the years giving me ample warning, over and over and over. I listened to them like I did Mom and Salty.
That day at Gentle Dental was eye-opening. I’ll pull a Kellyanne Conway here and do a free commercial for them: it was $57 for exam, cleaning, and x-rays. I strongly recommend it. They took a slew of x-rays as part of the introductory deal and showed me the results.
It was not pretty. The dark shadows pockmarking a bunch of my choppers were signs of decay, some small, some holy-crap-have-I-screwed-up huge. As a part-time actor looking for work constantly, bad teeth is bad business. Particularly disconcerting was the fact the three front teeth were the worst. And in need of replacement.
That was jolting. I knew they were bad, but… hell, I was in denial, I guess. I mean I could tell, but like many other problems that you have that have been around for awhile, sometimes they go away. Okay, not really. But it’s like when your car makes weird noises and you just turn up the radio. Problem solved – or at least disguised.
This problem was right there, literally front and center, smack dab in the middle of my face. Those three teeth have to go, either replaced by implants (unlikely because due to the egregious lack of care, the bone loss may be too great for them to hold) or a bridge and plate thing, the exact kind my dad used to have that I made fun of. Guess who the joke’s on now, Pops?
Then to add insult to self-imposed injury, the very day I left the dentist office with the ugly prognosis, what happened on the drive home? I bit into a turkey leg I picked up at a grocery store and cracked one of the teeth that had to come out anyway. No lie. It was as if Mom and Salty were looking down from heaven and saying, “See?”
So the next day I had to go back and have that thing dug out, which was not fun, plus now with this glaring gap in my smile, my acting options are limited to hillbillies, hockey players, and pirates.
Anyone who’s had major dental work knows the pain. No, not that pain, the financial pain, which is worse and much longer lasting. Major dental work is up there in the “Are you KIDDING me?!” range. Thousands, high thousands, often in the ten-plus-thousand range. Insurance? Not many have it. And from poking around the web for it, no insurance seems to cover huge jobs like this. Most insurance seems to just cover checkups and fillings and cleanings, you know, those things you should be doing all along to avoid the kind of dental
mess I’m in now.
That’s when I checked into donating my body to science, in a manner of speaking. Seems that places like the dental schools at Tufts University in Boston do this dental work all the time, giving the students real-world practice and the public huge savings (there’s another commercial pitch).
I signed up, went in and I love it so far. One caveat: It’s not like regular dentistry, where you can get work done in a hurry. In dental school it can take months because it’s very process-oriented, a learning experience after all, so this is going to take some time, but will save me a ton of money – maybe as little as half as what it would be on the outside. And as part of this, I volunteered for a deep-scaling session with a fourth-year dental student, which is as nasty and painful as it sounds because she went deep under the gums to scrape off stuff that wouldn’t be there in the first place if I’d listened to Mom and Salty.
But the rewarding part of this was it was part of her board exam, a necessity in her getting her degree in dentistry this spring. That made me feel better, knowing my pain meant furthering her education. I honestly mean every word of that.
As I do when I tell you this: brush your damn teeth. Mom and Salty were right. The prayer stuff I leave up to you, but trust me, you brush now, and you won’t have to pray for better teeth later on.