When the dentist asked if I felt like keeping all my teeth for the rest of my life, that’s when I started to feel my age. The rest of my life? I started to count. How many years does “the rest of your life” mean? Maybe it’s actually not that many — 30 if I’m lucky, 20 or 25 if I’m like the average American 60-year-old woman. I don’t like making such calulations, since when I look backward, 20 or 25 years is the blink of an eye ago.
So, yes, I said to him, I’d rather keep all my teeth for the rest of my life if possible, thank you very much.
The question got me thinking about Grandpa and his dentures. Back in the 1960s, when we were growing up, being old automatically meant you had a mouth full of false teeth. In fact, when Avuncular was little he used to ask how long he’d have to wait until he was old enough to have teeth you could take out every night and put in a little water glass by the bathroom sink. He and I would wake up early when our grandparents were sleeping over, so we could stand next to him as he stood at the mirror with a collapsed old-man face and would transform before our eyes: grab the top teeth from the glass, shake them out, put them in, shake out the bottom teeth and put them in, and there he is again, our handsome Grandpa.
No one has dentures these days, so what we’re going to do with these problem teeth at the back of my mouth is put in crowns rather than yank them out. It’s a long slow process of oral restoration.
Is this the first of a long line of such procedures? Will a doctor soon ask me if I feel like keeping both my hips for the rest of my life, or if I’d like him to insert a fake one to replace the one that’s wearing away? How about one of my organs? My kidneys are likely to putter out, if they’re anything like my father’s were (and I suspect they are), so maybe that will be a question some day, too. Do you want these kidneys? Do you want a different one? Do you want to plug yourself up to this dialysis machine and pretend you don’t have kidneys at all, just let the machine do the work for you?
As Ur-Momma says whenever she notices changes in her skin or hair or ability to breathe when walking up the hill near her apartment, a body isn’t designed to live 89 years. No, it’s not, no matter how much care you take in how you feed it and exercise it (neither of which I’m doing quite enough of). So what happens when it starts falling apart, by inches — especially when you’re only 60? My two back teeth might be the beginning of a long line of decay — decay is actually the word my dentist used in describing the problem that leads me to need a crown — and I suspect that all I’ll be able to do about it, at least for a while, is try to shore things back up as well as I can.
(By the way, the teeth in that photo belonged to George Washington. I saw them in a photo on Twitter posted today by Lindsay Fitzharris, a British medical historian and creator of a web publication called The Chirugeons Apprentice.)