All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth (plus a bedside performance by Alvin, Simon & Theodore!)
I wake up coughing, choking on the something that is scratching the back of my throat. I throw the covers off and the light on and in my hand is blood and a piece of a tooth.
I think of the dreams, the countless nightmares I have had about losing my teeth, and how they are all coming true. And how somewhere in the midst of that unconscious knowledge–I knew I was losing teeth before I woke up–I bled before I woke, I choked before I could see.
It is almost Thanksgiving, and then almost Christmas. But I cannot think of turkey without thinking of the pain that would accompany each bite.
The next day, I see my dentist. A buzz fills the room and then a pause in the action. She is thinking. The dentist tells me to open my mouth wider and I am trying as hard as I can. I feel my lips stretch and break and I wish for Vaseline. She says I can close my mouth and the dental hygienist wipes my spit and blood.
The dentist draws all the air in the room as she looks at me and says that they need to go.
All the teeth need to go.
One, two...8 teeth, all on the top. She gives me the name of an oral surgeon. Eight teeth will be removed on December 19, the surgeon says, and the denture will come in on Wednesday, and we'll try it on to make sure it fits. Your Christmas food will need to be puréed, he jokes.
We are living older now, I think. We outlive our teeth. At some point, many of us will face the possibility of dentures. It will strike in the oddest of ways, sting you in a way you did not predict. Your health will fail and your teeth will rot.
I don't have a wrinkle yet, or a 401k. I have no plans to age.
I leave the office, my head pounding, my left eye threatening to jump ship. The pain in my left temple is as sharp as the craggy teeth still left in my mouth. What will it be like when they are all gone?
Dentures at 28. I don't wonder how this can be; I know. Twenty eight years of medicine and chemotherapies and radiation and steroids. Osteoporosis, and gum disease, type one diabetes, chronic candidiasis, lupus, scleroderma, thyroid cancer. Each disease a sandpaper rub to my system, each disease burning me off, a little at a time. I look at the elders in my family and I covet their health.
I don't fight anymore. I don't scream. I take medicine to suppress the darkness of physical decay.
I get home and I lie in bed, in the apartment above my parents' garage.
When I thought of all the ways my body could destroy me, I did not think of my teeth. I relied on my teeth. They are bone. They are there, and they should stay there.
I did not expect this.
There is no Tooth Fairy visit for the 28 year old spitting pieces of molar into a sink. A gummy, toothless smile is not so cute when you're dressing up for Tinder dates, pulling down your lips when you smile. My body has learned to hide its flaws. My smile has changed.
I am giving up my teeth. I'm no organ donor; I'm just contributing to medical waste. There is no glory in this. There is no guts to admire in me anymore.
I ache thinking of the pull. I have lived this before. He'll take his eight teeth, and they won't grow back. I'll get my denture. I'll hope my bottom teeth don't spoil too.
I want to fight for these teeth. But it is no use. There is no way to salvage these bones.
I am so angry. The feeling surprises me, and it breaks me open, and I am flooded with the emotion I usually stow away.
I cannot fight for these teeth now, and I know now I never really did. The advice given to me ten years ago went unnoticed, and I carried on, knowing I was high risk and forgetting to floss most nights anyway. I was 18 and in college and passed out smelling like beer and cigarettes most nights.
These teeth never had a fighting chance in a mouth like mine.
I am giving these teeth up so that I can go on. Maybe these sharp pieces of bone, soon to be removed, will remind me of what is left of me: what is left to fight for, what remains at stake. They are a small part of a body that needs serious maintenance.
We are not invincible. Our strongest bones will one day break.
I didn't expect this fight so soon, and I am tired and weary. It wasn't my fault and it wasn't not my fault. Death comes for all of us, one tooth at a time.
The teeth are going, but I am not toothless, not yet.