“May all your teeth fall out – except one, so you can have a toothache.” So goes a Jewish curse.

There is no doubt that there are people in this world who do not like me, and there is no doubt that they may have wished me misery one time or other. Perhaps one of them did curse me about my teeth.

My teeth are falling out.

Teeth falling out have long been associated with aging. In earlier times, members of our species whose teeth fall out were abandoned, for they could no longer eat. Our nomadic ancestors did not have second thoughts about this. The toothless aged may linger along, but eventually they shall be left behind as their strength fail.

With dogs and other animals, the falling out of the teeth is also considered one of the last signs of old age, the portent of the final doom of death.

Prior to developments in nutrition and health and dental care, people’s teeth fell out quite normally, some earlier than others. Tooth decay arising from hygienic shortcomings is arguably the foremost reason why teeth fall out.

It is not uncommon to see many of our old folks, then and now, specially those who did not have the means and opportunity for dental care and advice, with most of their teeth already lost, and the remaining ones discolored and already rotting. Those who eventually had the means and the courage to go to the dentist after they have lost their chompers may now be sporting dentures now, lucky them.

Efren “Bata” Reyes, billiards’ “the Magician,” is one of these. In fact, whenever he is playing competitively, he removes his dentures, believing that he is luckier without them. And he is now the richer for losing his teeth. Ironically, his poverty in his younger years was the reason he could not afford a dentist, and thus lost his teeth. The question that should be asked is: would Reyes be as successful a billiards player if he did not lose his teeth?

Most of my teeth were intact until I was in my thirties, a testament that indeed I took proper care of them, brushing my teeth in sufficient frequency. However, dentists did not have the privilege of peering into my mouth, and so nobody noticed that my teeth grew bizarrely, with two or three crowding each other out, so that it was truly impossible to clean the spaces in between.

Nowadays, it is perfectly possible to correct the peculiarity, what with braces and all, never mind that they cost a fortune. Even if a dentist would have seen the unusual formation of the teeth in my mouth and suggested braces, it would have been folly, for I certainly did not have the means for it.

And so when the uncleaned spaces between my teeth became the comfortable home of innumerable bacteria, the acid they secreted ate away at my teeth, eventually causing their decay. When they did, it was not unusual for me to have toothaches in several teeth all at once.

As things go, we rue toothaches and curse the suffering in so far as we feel it. When the ache goes away, we pass off the experience as a mere reminder of aging. And so visits to the dentist are forgotten.

After the decay set in, some of my teeth fell out. Others were merely chipped, with the roots still embedded in the gums, but the crown already joining its mates in the tooth afterlife.

I was not overly troubled even then, believing that my person is not diminished with my lack of teeth. I have not been overly concerned with appearances before, and having no teeth certainly did not make me any uglier than I already was.

Yet in fact lacking teeth did pose many problems for me. When I meet people for the first time, they tend to disregard me immediately when they notice that my gums are bare save for some surviving bits of calcium. Whatever I say after that initial shock is somehow not regarded as seriously as those coming from a mouth with a complete set of chewers. This was in itself a catastrophe for me, for I tend to believe that my ideas are as good as the next one’s. Even if I did articulate an idea with considered eloquence, the effect was somehow diminished because they know that the person speaking lacked teeth.

Also, when I talk to people, they often awkwardly glance away, refusing to look me in the eye (and thus gaze into my mouth). For many years now, I have been talking to people who would rather look at the ceiling, the floor, or the other  more interesting surroundings.

I was convinced to see a lady dentist partly because of these. She was good, and after looking at my mouth and the discerning the mysteries it contained, she informed me that more of my teeth will have to go so that dentures could be fashioned to fit. I agreed, and we scheduled the days when my teeth will join their friends in tooth heaven.

The first extraction went along just well, and I was beginning to have dreams of myself smiling in full.

However, when I went back to the dentist to have the second tooth extracted, she was not able to extract it at all. No matter what she did, she was unable to dislodge it, like it was somehow welded to my jawbone. She kept trying for more than an hour, eventually applying more anesthesia as needed.

Other patients were told to leave and come back the next day, as she tried and tried in vain to remove the stubborn tooth. Her husband, who got tired of waiting for her as they previously agreed, eventually came to her clinic and was conscripted to hold my head still as the dentist tried moving the tooth this way and that to loosen it.

After so long, the tooth broke, with its roots still solidly attached to whatever anatomy it was attached to. The dentist finally accepted defeat, and told me that I will have to come back another day so she could finish the job.

I was in anesthesia heaven when I went home, but as soon as the drug wore off, I felt like somebody methodically pummeled my jaw. Despite the many medications the dentist gave me, I felt like my face was swollen for days.

I never went back to a dentist again. The chipped tooth may already have fallen off naturally. Other teeth also fell off, some of which did with my assistance.

And so I continue to talk with people who try to avoid looking at me, or to people who do not believe me because I lack teeth.

So why do I write about teeth now? It is because I have toothaches in two of them.

Perhaps after the aches subside, I shall exorcise my dental demons and see a dentist. Perhaps.

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