Monday, January 28, 2008


A recent post might have led you to believe that there was no way on earth I could possibly look more grotesque. You’d be wrong. As you are about to discover, I could have easily looked worse.

Yes, those are my real teeth. Or, at least, they were my real teeth. Here’s the story of how they became my former teeth.


For as long as I can remember, the Sullivan side of my family has been at war with their teeth. Only one relative older than me hasn’t had trouble with them, and that’s because he took action, early on, to avoid battles later. He had his teeth capped. They look damn good, too. Everybody else in the family? Dentures.

Some of them didn’t need to have dentures, but they ended up with them anyway. My grandfather had no teeth except those he paid for, but I just recently found out it didn’t have to be that way. In a telephone conversation with my Uncle Jim, he told me that Pa had beautiful teeth until he ran into a quack doctor.

It seems that Pa had developed a hideous rash on his legs. He had no idea where it came from, and nothing he did had any real soothing effect. About the best there was to offer in those days was calamine lotion – no hydrocortisone or other better agents of relief. After itching, scratching, and generally going crazy for a couple of months, he finally went to see a doctor about it. This doctor told him that the reason he had developed the rash was because of bad teeth. Pa asked the quack what the solution was. He was told that he should have all of his teeth removed, and that this would cure his rash.

Now, you or I, with the wisdom of this current age at our disposal, might have sought out a second opinion on the matter. However, this was 60-some-odd years in the past. At that time, you rarely questioned a doctor. You assumed that he knew his business, and that his diagnosis was correct. Also, Pa had been going nuts with this thing, so he wasn’t in the best frame of mind to make a rational decision. So…

Yup. He had them all yanked. Beautiful, pearly white, perfectly healthy, and not a single one of them left in his head. The worst part of it was that the rash didn’t go away. If he had at least gotten that out of the deal, it might not have been a complete horror story.

(Eventually it went away, of course, but not in any sort of immediate manner that would lend credence to the quack’s diagnosis. Pa suffered with it for another couple of months, with the added inconvenience of having to gum his food in the meantime. Amazingly, he didn’t sue the quack. As a matter of fact, I believe this idiot remained the family physician for decades. It was, as I said, a simpler time.)

(There seems to be a general reticence, among the Sullivans, to seek compensatory damages. I had a great aunt who, in the course of an eye examination, somehow had ether poured into her eye. It blinded her in that eye instantly. Forever after, the iris of that eye was a pale milky blue, a source of great wonderment to me as a child. That guy didn’t get sued, either.)

My grandfather’s loss of his teeth is a pretty horrifying story, but my own father’s story wasn’t much better. He eradicated HIS teeth without any advice from a physician. He just decided, one day, that he had had enough of them, so he had them all removed surgically, opting for a lifetime of dentures.

This all happened either when I was very young or before I was born; I’m not quite sure which it was. However, in photos I’ve seen – none of which would reproduce well here, otherwise I’d show you - they weren’t outstandingly pretty. They weren’t hideously ugly, either, but they very much resembled my teeth at a similar age, which means they were likely headed to the state of mine in the photo at the top of this page, which is hideously ugly. I don’t know how bad they were, insofar as pain might be concerned, but I would have to suppose it was more than just cosmetic. Anyway, he had it done - and regretted it almost immediately.

One time, when I was discussing my own dental woes, he told me that the decision to have his teeth removed was the biggest mistake of his life. He related how, soon afterwards, he sat in his bed with his mouth aching, able to eat only a soft piece of bread soaked in spaghetti sauce, and wishing to God he had the ability to go back in time and not have done it.

(One of the things he did get from having the procedure done so early in life, and what he had done it for, really, was a mouth that took the dentures beautifully. He was a sure speaker and utterly fearless with the things, for the most part. They fit snugly and I don’t ever recall seeing him have a problem in public with them. They were good looking teeth, and he never suffered the facial deformity – sunken cheeks, protruding lower jaw – that many people with dentures [Pa for instance] acquire as they age.)

All of my other older Sullivan relatives – every uncle and aunt; every granduncle and grandaunt; also my grandmother – had false teeth. You couldn’t walk through a Sullivan household without sooner or later spotting at least one glass full of water with plastic choppers soaking in it. Given this, it’s likely that both my grandfather and my father might have eventually gone the route they did, anyway, so that softens the tragedy a bit.

Anyway, I grew up knowing there was a good possibility that my own teeth might not last. It was not a pleasant thought. Combine that with my Dad’s story about so strongly regretting the loss of his own teeth, and I was fairly much haunted by the prospect.

I’ve thought about it at length and I don’t know if how I’ve treated my teeth had something to do with a subconscious realization that they were going to go sooner or later anyway. Growing up, I didn’t do much to make it any less of a probability. I regularly ate copious amounts of candy. I more-or-less soaked my teeth in sugar for much of my childhood, having a fondness for butterscotches, Canada Mints, bubble gum, Sprite, Pixie Stix, Sweet Tarts, and many other despoilers of dentifrice. And, while I made brushing of my teeth at least a twice-daily occurrence – sometimes a four or five times a day thing, in my 20’and 30’s - I would often have something to eat or drink before bedtime that made the ritual useless, leaving a corrosive coating on my enamel for the 7 or 8 hours I slept.

My visits to the dentist always resulted in drilling and filling of cavities. The cleanings were regularly accompanied by stern lectures – none of which had much effect other than a day or two of half-hearted flossing, followed by a return to the candy counter.

Another mitigating factor in my failure to truly take care of my teeth may have been the fact that my dentist let me administer my own nitrous oxide, otherwise known as laughing gas.

I’m not kidding. He actually let me hold the bulb that, when squeezed, released another dose into the tubes that led from the tank into my nostrils. He told me that anytime I felt more pain, I should have another pump or two. As you might expect, I often felt more pain. I always got wasted in the dentist’s chair. Unlike most of the populace, I looked forward to dental visits.

My teen and young adult years were filled with toothaches, and the toothaches were followed by extractions. I had something like eight or nine teeth pulled between the ages of 14 and 40, all molars. Each extraction was preceded by days of hideous pain, often accompanied with overdoses of pain medication and/or destruction of household property.

I once took an entire bottle of aspirin in an attempt to alleviate a toothache. I didn’t just shovel them all into my mouth at once, of course. I took a couple and they had no effect after a half-hour, so I took a couple more, with the same result. I was insane from the pain, so I then took three more. Then four more. Then a handful, and another handful, crying all the while. I don’t remember passing out, but I certainly did. I woke up about two hours later, on the floor of my father’s bedroom, dizzy and nauseous – and with my tooth still agonizing me. I eventually got to a dentist. I was lucky I didn't end up in a box.

MY WIFE could tell you, with some embarrassment (which I have much less of) about the time I took a door off its hinges in the throes of a toothache. I accomplished the door unhinging via the expedient of punching it with all my might. I put my fist halfway through it – it was a fairly solid wooden door - and it tore the hinges out of the doorjamb, the door flying into the bedroom and crashing to the floor. I’m sorry to have to report that this experiment in pain relief didn’t work. It did take my mind off of the pain in my mouth for about, oh, fifteen seconds, but it was hardly cost effective.

At other times, I tried - I kid you not - to extract one of my own teeth via such implements as a spoon, a pair of pliers, and even one memorable attempt at replicating a Three Stooges routine, wherein I tied string around my tooth and then the other end around a doorknob. I slammed the door, with the result being what a sane person would have expected. The tooth remained intact, while the doorknob was neatly extracted from the door.


Well, I've given you a couple of interesting stories, and also shown you why you should be extremely grateful if you have good teeth, but that’s hardly telling you about how my old rotten teeth exited my mouth. I promise I’ll get to it tomorrow. See you then!

(Go To Part Two)


lime said...

egads, i am wincing as the various tooth related maladies your family has suffered!

Rhea said...

Man, am I lucky I have good teeth. Did ya get the videos? said...

My dad had terrible teeth and problems as well. He suffered from gum disease...the whole bit!

Doctors told him later they needed to come out and that they had already effected his health in irreversible ways. Just a few years later he developed heart disease and bladder cancer. Outside the Camels, I think a lot of it was attributable to this teeth.

Thus far, I still have my own and only 4 cavities and missing 2 wisdom teeth. I got my genes from my mom who is 80 and still crunching ice with her own teeth!

Suldog said...

Lime - They're almost all dead now, so the hope is they've been given new pearly whites at the pearly gates.

Rhea - Yes, thank you very much! I'll enjoy them immensely!

Mushy - As I'll explain in part 2, my own health improved appreciably when I got my new teeth. There is a lot to teeth affecting your health (aside from the quack's bad advice to my grandfather.)

kuanyin333 said...

Congratulations on your new teeth! They look great. Are they veneers? If so, they cost plenty, but are well worth it! Nothing worse than tooth pain...I have my own painful stories!

Buck said...

Aiiieee. I can SO relate to all this. I have the "Bad Teeth" gene, as well, and am embarking upon what will ultimately be an 18-month process to get four new molars implanted, along with bone grafts and other such time consuming and pain-filled stuff. It ain't gonna be a whole helluva lot of fun.

Not to mention the frickin' expense. So... I won't.

I sympathize, Jim. I really do.

Suldog said...

Kuanyin - No, not veneers. More expensive procedure. All will be revealed tomorrow.

(By the way, I've had these for close to six years now, so no need for congratulations, although I do appreciate the sentiment!)

Buck - Expense? Indeed. And implants, to answer the curious like Kuanyin (or possibly yourself.) That's what I have. So, tomorrow may be useful information for you.

David Sullivan said...

Being from the same blood line I too had some dental issues in my early teens, but had enough dental intervention that I've never lost a tooth (except wisdom teeth and a few to make room for braces in my thirties). The propensity for decay is there so I am obsessive about my teeth. I drive with a rubber pick in my car and stimulate my gums while driving. My wife is obsessive about my kids teeth so maybe we'll break the cycle. My mother's side (Norton) has horrible teeth. My mother had dentures at 20 as well as most of her syblings. My Orthadontist did his residency in JP during the 60's and said his whole caseload was poor irish.

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

Wow. I don't have the words. I'm going to go right now and floss, rinse, brush, and admire. Whew. Glad you're happy with your "new" teeth and they do look great!

Melinda said...

I have hated the look of my teeth for years, but have yet to do anything about it (maybe before my wedding I will). My worst tooth story is having to get my healthy wisdom teeth shattered with a drill then pulled out "just in case" they developed into cysts like my father had. Woke up with a mouth full of blood and not being able to feel anything from my chest to my eyebrows. Definitely not my best memory...

Jeff B said...

Great! Now the next time I sit in the dentist's chair this post is going to come back to the frontal lobe.

That's quite the history.

Craver Vii said...

"Pearly whites at the pearly gates." Clever!

Unknown said...

I would say thanks for linking me back to this older blog of yours but you had to talk about teeth and eyes -- the two scariest places on the human body to have freaky things happen. I am still cringing.

My aunt & uncle both voluntarily had all of their teeth pulled & implants put in (metal posts drilled into the jaw bone then porcelain teeth screwed onto the post). Nightmare.