By: Peadar O’Maoileoin
Since emigrating to the United States of America in 2011, I have spent close to twelve thousand dollars fixing my teeth. Depressing as it sounds, the job still isn’t complete. At this stage I wonder why I didn’t opt for complete removal, and the installation of dentures.
My father suffered with bad teeth for most of his adult life and I am determined not to repeat the unnecessary conflict a plethora of Irish and indeed British people live with on a daily basis. I frivolously lay the blame with my mother; as a victim of odontophobia she rarely brought me to the dentist during my childhood.
I landed in America with a gum boil the size of a human eye, and swiftly sought the help of Aspen Dental, a dental chain located throughout the country. My teeth were so bad I felt the need to apologize to the dentist before she took a look inside my mouth. After a large dose of antibiotics, several tooth extractions and twelve fillings, I’m nearly at the finish line. All that remains are three additional fillings and a couple of implants, for now.
In Martin Amis’ elegantly titled memoir Experience, he recalls an incident as a young boy of seven or eight. While riding on a bus he witnessed a conversation between a bus conductor and a lady passenger. The conductor proudly displayed his newly implanted dentures, and made the case that it was less hassle having all of his teeth replaced:
“I’ve been bad. Terrible I’ve been.”
“Oh aye? It’s the hospital then is it?”
“Have them all out and be done with it is what I say.”
“Saves all the bother.”
After using the overhead strap to balance himself, the conductor leaned closer to the women and showed off his new teeth.
“Ooh. Lovely. They’re posh.”
As with my father, Martin suffered with his teeth for close to twenty years and in the end he had them extracted and replaced with implants. This reduced his suffering and was one of the best decisions of his life.
Martin’s memoir also provides an insight into the suffering of James Joyce, and Vladimir Nabokov, two fantastically talented writers who shared the condition I like to call “dentally challenged”. For them, the process of extraction and implantation was exceptionally more arduous than it is today, so it’s safe to say we are evolving our grasp on this affliction. It’s long overdue, because we have suffered with our teeth since our species’ infancy. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for a person to prematurely die in their twenties from this affliction.
Thomas Jefferson, author of America, was a man who kept slaves and had sexual relations with a girl who by today’s law and moral standards would land him in prison quicker than he could pull his trousers up. It’s true that his slaves were extremely well treated, as was the young Sally, but this is a stark reminder that judging history by today’s morality is biased and dishonest. It’s a lens that is fair to no one. Jefferson is said to have suffered from two serious dental problems late in his life. He describes these incidents in letters to his daughter Martha in 1807, and his granddaughter Ellen in 1808: “I have been confined to the house these three weeks with a swelled face.” He said he “suffered much” for four or five days, but “was relieved by a suppuration and have since been able to extract the tooth”.
D.H. Lawrence, we’re informed by Amis, was a “beater of women, animals, a racist, an anti-Semite, etc, etc”. This, I’m embarrassed to say was news to me, and when informed of this I can’t help but think of George Orwell’s Dairies. Upon reading his diaries, one discovers that he, too, had plenty of bad traits or flaws of character. Orwell was a xenophobe, a racist and despite dying in poverty he hated the poor. With these misgivings under consideration, one has to accept that both men were brilliant authors and to ignore their literary achievements based on these misgivings would be to fall victim to the same kind of prejudice they suffered from. I believe this is a topic which requires it’s own essay so I won’t discuss it any further here, however I will simply state that I lay the blame for the condition of my mouth solely on me, and not some mythical “Celtic water” issue which ails people in Britain and Ireland.