I write about going to the dentist a lot, because I go to the dentist a lot. I have been experiencing that special, you-need-another-root-canal feeling in my back molar for a few weeks now, but since I compulsively sent my oral surgeon an inappropriate email after my last visit, I will have to find a new one and I just can't face that right now.( Okay, P.S? Doctors don't like it when you imply they were drunk during your procedure. Even if it's CLEARLY sarcastic you have to remember that tone does not always come through in emails)
Although I obsessively floss and brush all day long now there were ten years that I refused to go to the dentist. In my twenties I was invincible. Now I pay,pay,pay. Even before my routine trips to the dentist I had a thing about teeth.
My father has bad teeth too. By thirty-five, all of my relatives get their teeth pulled and replaced with dentures. Dentistry is a luxury the poor cannot afford.
I remember touching my Granny’s dentures, floating like an exotic sea creature in a glass of water by the bed. The slick plastic gums, the skeletal grin of their smile, everything about them frightened me. She would grin at me, openmouthed, just to freak me out. She thought it was hilarious.
I have never had good health insurance, if any at all. Checkups were a rarity in my youth. As a result I have had eight root canals and two extractions in the back of my mouth. I began to collect teeth after the first one, to replace what I had lost. People were happy to give me their wisdom teeth. I solicited them before they went in for surgery.
“ Make them let you keep your teeth for me.”
They always agreed. As my root canals grew in number, so did my collection of other people’s teeth. I needed to have enough to superglue them together, fashioning my own dentures in the event that my oral surgeon became suddenly unavailable to me. If I offended him, or the Apocalypse came, I would be ready.
“ A tooth is a living being,” he told me once. “ Yours are injured.”
Teeth, once pulled from your skull, will never grow back. The finality of this act reminds me of my own death. I am losing pieces of myself every day, dying brain cells that will never be replaced, eggs growing ancient and feeble in my ovary, capillaries in my lungs permanently damaged by every inhale I take from a cigarette. The only organ that can regrow itself is the liver, like an earthworm that has been cut in half.
The enamel on your teeth is the hardest substance in your body, lacquered around a substance called pulp for its protection. Enamel looks like bone but it isn’t. It’s made of a mineral called calcium phosphate, which also forms structures called “brain sand” near your pineal gland. Your brain, by the time you reach middle age, has teeth.
The gums your teeth are planted in, pink like the sticky, sweet substance we chew of the same name, are part of the ecosystem in your mouth that teems with microscopic civilizations living and dying as you speak each word aloud, organisms that suckle on your sugar and burrow holes through enamel, searching for electric nerves.
A typical adult has thirty-two teeth. As I write this, I have 30 of my own left in my mouth and 19 in my collection. They are displayed in a special cabinet that is decorated with dragons and melted toothbrushes and glitter. If my house were to catch fire, after securing the safety of my child, I would reach first for that little dental shrine. Jeff would be on his own.
Sunny Haralson was born in a house of ill repute. After acing the first grade, she ran away to join the circus. At night, while the elephants slept, she learned how to spin and sew from the spiders. She made whimsical creations for the trapeze artists, who needed their outfits to be both beautiful and comfortable. Magpies brought her shiny objects to embellish the costumes with, if they sometimes accidentally brought an eyeball they'd plucked from some unfortunate, she forgave them and quietly popped it into her mouth. The circus, for all it glorious adventure, was often low on dietary protein.
When she tired of circus life she retired and set out alone to the desert in a stolen hot air balloon.
It's there, in a tiny FEMA trailer, that she writes her tell-all memoir. She steals ideas from the coyotes and writes them down with needles made from the giant cactus that guards her doorway. The UPS man never sees her face.