Short Takes

November 9, 2012

Other People’s Teeth

By Susan Middaugh

Some folks say eyes are the first thing they notice about a person.  Others say legs or a wedding ring.

But for me, it’s teeth. Capped, gold plated or stained with nicotine, the condition of your teeth tells me whether you care about and take care of yourself. There’s probably a correlation between family income, dental insurance and a million-dollar smile.  But sometimes there’s a disconnect which makes me scratch my head.

A successful career woman I know has three single-family homes, one for Monday through Friday and two for weekends and vacations.  She has spent a considerable sum remodeling and decorating these houses and is a gracious hostess.  But she has crooked teeth. To me, her mouth is a puzzle – on a par with crosswords, anagrams, and Rubik’s cubes.  The contradiction is intriguing and makes her more interesting. Why has this woman neglected her appearance when she can afford to get braces? I was embarrassed to ask.

So I went to the library.  It seems the career woman’s priorities are in sync with many  Americans.  In the year 2000, according to the Statistical Abstract of the United States, consumers spent an average of one thousand five hundred forty-nine dollars on household furnishings and equipment compared to spending two hundred and four dollars per capita on dental services.

My own dentist believes fear, bordering on phobia, prevents many patients  — at least one out of five or more — from having procedures that would improve their appearance and/or their dental health.  Some men and women are terrified of pain or needles.  Others simply have different priorities for their discretionary income.   Expensive cars? Yes. Crowns, bridgework?  Not on the list.  And there are also those, my dentist said, who are “blissfully unaware of how they appear to other people.”

President George Washington, who suffered from dental disease most of his life, was not one of them.  He must have known the colonists would not elect a guy who had broken or missing teeth. Over a 40-year period, George Washington had four sets of dentures and was known to tinker with them till they fit properly.  Our first President’s dentures were not made of wood, but of cattle teeth and carved ivory.  The ivory came from hippopotamus, walrus and elephants.  One set of George’s dentures contained eight human teeth which were fixed in place with gold pins.  The museum does not say who the donor was.

Is this fascination with teeth apt to become a trend like hoola hoops, miniskirts or “Survivor” mania?  Doubtful.  During a Sunday afternoon trip to the Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry in downtown Baltimore, I was the only visitor.

Copyright © 2012 Susan Middaugh.

Susan Middaugh got her first and only set of braces when she was in her 40’s. She is a self-employed business writer in Baltimore who also writes the occasional personal essay. Her essays have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Baltimore Sun and on the website Susan is also a playwright with short and full length works produced in the United States, Canada and England. The One Act Play Depot in Canada has published her short play, Such Good Neighbors. Several of her personal essays have appeared on this blog. To find them, simply type her name in the little search window, or check out the archives in the sidebar, beginning in April of 2009. Also in the sidebar under the Blogroll, Business and Writing labels, there are links to Susan’s website, Have Pen Will Travel.

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