This teeth story actually involves a queen, a court, and my gums. When I was growing up in Maryland, my mom was very involved with the Filipino social scene. You could say that she was the Paris Hilton of the Filipino niche in our area, which was predominantly African-American and Caucasian — in that order — but also had smatterings of the various Asian nationalities; also, and I may be biased here, but my mom is a saint compared to that Paris Hilton woman. For example, the reason why my mom was so heavily involved with these Filipino groups wasn’t just because she wanted to make friends, but also because those groups were also a way for Filipino émigrés to connect with each other in new surroundings. Like my mom and dad, many of the Filipinos who settled in Maryland did so because of the US Navy, where my dad served 20 years. Also, those groups provided aid back to the Philippines by way of things like sending care packages, monetary donations, even scouting for the most affordable airfares so that we could all be more frequent “balikbayans” — overseas Filipinos who made frequent visits back to the motherland.
To stay afloat, those social organizations needed, of course, money. To raise money, the organizations would hold elaborate fundraisers in the form of beauty pageants — my mom was a kind of Mrs. America (the pageant for married women, broadcast only on niche TV networks like Pax or TLC, as opposed to its more popular counterparts Miss USA and Miss America). Instead of America, my mom represented her two home provinces back in the Philippines, one province each from my maternal grandma and grandpa. The winner of these Filipino beauty pageants was not determined based so much on beauty itself as it was high fundraising and, to that end, my mom campaigned like crazy. She coordinated bus trips to Atlantic City, and I remember spending entire weekends helping her cook huge trays of food that were not meant for us, much to the disappointment of my growling adolescent tummy, but for all the people who had signed up for the trips and thus also contributed to the organization. In addition to bus trips, plus fundraising parties, another way to raise money was to sell ad space in the souvenir program for the coronation.
In the two coronations that I remember her winning — there may be more or less, as distant childhood memories are unreliable and prone to confabulation — my mom was always the winner or, as it was the case, she was the Queen. To boot, she even had a “court” that consisted of two other runners-up, even a consort who would march her through the court and onto her throne. My dad was her escort in at least one of these pageants but, like me, he loathed participating in them, and even putting on a tuxedo was too much for him — he preferred donning a regular suit, and rather than the consort of a Queen, he looked more like he was going to church or attending a conference call for a small business just starting up. He did not share my mom’s aspirations, of which I only inherited half, while the other half of my aspirations are as decidedly blue collar as those of my dad.
These ceremonies were brilliantly executed microcosms of what the Astors, the Gettys, and the Hiltons have splashed across the society pages for decades; though the ceremonies would have most likely been beneath Liz Smith (or, for that matter, the “Gossip Girl” narrator”) their mimicry was convincing. My own participation was as similarly limited as my dad’s; the pageants occurred when I was in middle school, a time when I was too busy stressing out over issues like being horrible with Algebra and not fitting in with the other boys, who could draw well but saw my own sketch of the USS Enterprise and declared that it looked like a sock, a commentary that promptly and permanently cast me as a social pariah. My sole contribution to my mom’s social aspirations and, by extension, the local Filipino community at large, was forced: mom, all charm and beauty, had managed to corral a local dentist into buying ad space in the souvenir program. The dentist had promised big bucks for the ad and, in return, I was to become his newest patient.
I was livid. For starters, I was 13, so anything that didn’t align with my narrow personal interests tended to piss me off. But I was also quite attached the dentist I already had. He was a congenial family man who, when I was in the sixth grade, had snapped a Polaroid of me and pinned it on a waiting room board that I still clearly remember to this day: the board contained a modest smattering of other Polaroids, and it was decoratively headlined with a banner that proclaimed ‘THE NO CAVITY CLUB’. Flash forward: when your kid is a pre-teen, hormones raging, do not ever — ever — separate him from his beloved dentist. But my darling mom had her eyes on the prize. Abruptly, my next scheduled appointment with my long-term dentist was canceled, and I was gloomily re-routed to my new fate. I still remember that car ride: my dad shared in my sadness because he also adored our dentist, who also took adult patients, of which my dad was one of the loyal clientele. For mom, however, this was a life transition that she easily dismissed with an effortless wave of her hand.
The dentist was an Asian man whose specific nationality I was never able to pinpoint, although my mom’s generalization of him was that he was a “mayamang inchik” — wealthy Chinese guy. Though I was still reeling from suddenly being written out of the life of my long-term dentist, deep down I really wanted to give Doc Wealthy a chance because it meant so much to mom. But that thin veil of altruism was instantly shattered the moment we pulled into the parking lot of his office. For starters, Doc Wealthy’s parking lot was actually a driveway, and it was the driveway to what looked less like a medical park — the kind where my old dentist was installed for many years — and more like a regular house. Dad pulled into the driveway, cut the engine, and with a heavy stomach I unhitched my door, alighting on jelly legs. Besides being bitter over switching dentists, I was consumed with curiosity about what in the world we possibly had to do at Doc Wealthy’s house before going to his actual office.
The procedure that had given mom the reason to offer me as business for Doc Wealthy involved an extraneous frenulum, that little flap of skin connecting your upper lip to your top gums, except that I had too much of it. I couldn’t probe my upper mouth without my tongue getting caught in the wall of skin, and it also made chewing an interesting, albeit not particularly mortal, challenge. I didn’t like the extra skin, and my old dentist said it was a procedure that could be easily corrected. I’d wanted him to do it. Instead, my dad and I were now entering the home of Doc Wealthy, a modest one-level rambler that did not, at all, look like the office of a well-to-do physician of any type, let alone a dentist. But when the weary receptionist let us in through the front door, I found myself staring flabbergasted at where the living room should be. Instead, behind windows curtained in a fabric design that could be part of the domestic displays in any department store, was a full-scale replica of the kind of office that I had been so accustomed to seeing with my old dentist: where you might imagine a divan, instead was the dentist chair, surrounded by all the requisite medical tools. Yet, to my horror, there was a TV set in the corner! (In today’s world, many dental offices now offer flatscreen TVs, complete with cable access, for you to watch while undergoing your procedure. But that situation is different from the context of a displaced dental office and the livid 13 year-old patient who wandered inside…)
To me, the displaced office was a bucket of bolts, a jury-rig; in the youthful colloquialism of the day, it was “ghetto”. Making things worse was the fact that I smelled food cooking from the kitchen and, to me, the food smelled distinctly similar to the scents I had absorbed eating at so many Chinese restaurants. This wouldn’t have been such a terrible thing — except I knew that I was supposed to be at a fucking dentist’s office! Instead, I was in this Frankensteinian mockery and tragedy, all because my own mother bartered her kid’s dental hygiene in the name of fundraising!
Dad was diplomatic. He shook hands with Doc Wealthy, though they had never met. Mom had set up everything, and despite the fact that I never saw him flip through a medical chart or otherwise acclimate himself with my history, Doc Wealthy directed me to the chair. I must have glared at him, or at least shot him a dirty grimace, but he probably just interpreted that as a kid’s fear of the dentist. Well, I thought to myself, guess what? I stopped being scared of the dentist a long time ago because I used to go to a REAL dentist! Now I’m stuck with you, you jerk!
Out loud, I modestly described my condition, even going so far as to smile and laugh. I have always hated that about myself, that no matter how intensely I was feeling inside, especially toward another person, my default position was always to be polite. While I was lacking in my mother’s charm and beauty, I brimmed with my dad’s hospitality. Doc Wealthy was now under the mistaken impression that I approved of his existence. He reclined the seat and I resigned myself to the situation, reasoning to myself that there was nothing more that could be done except seethe privately, which I did in abundance. My heart raced with an anxiety for being in the dentist chair; it was an anxiety that I thought I had long-since abandoned. Now, not only did I have to subject myself to a new dentist, but he was also one who struck me as a big fraud. As Doc Wealthy tinkered with his equipment and donned a mask, I held my breath and told myself to dive in for family, for country, and for getting this overwith as soon as fucking possible.
The needle was what finally made me implode. Whatever hatred I had for Doc Wealthy and whatever anxiety I had about being in the chair, all were devastatingly decimated when he came at me with the syringe. Surprisingly, I shut my eyes and forced myself to patiently take in the sharp pain from the point of injection, which was my mouth; instead, what stunned me the most was the effect of the local anesthetic. I had hoped that Doc Wealthy would administer a regular anesthetic that would knock me out. Even though the procedure of removing the excess frenulum did not demand something so elaborate, I would have preferred to be knocked out. Instead, the local anesthetic was disconcerting in how it made numb the entire region of my mouth and, yet, everything else moved along normally. I may as well have been sitting fully paralyzed: so consumed was I by fear and loathing that I my whole body was braced, my fingers cemented around the chair arms, my jaw shut by invisible wiring. Then Doc Wealthy took his fingers to my mouth, which he was able to easily negotiate because I had lost control of my lips. It was mortifying because my mouth had become a puppet that he could move open and shut against my will, and Doc Wealthy was the last person on earth who deserved that power. He was an interloper of the worst kind — the kind brought into my life by a decision that I resented. By the time he applied scissors to my lip, I had tuned out my heart, which jackhammered against my chest. I guess my anxiety still managed to intensely manifest itself by means of racing my heart, but my brain had become numb, and I was actually breathing easily despite my rapidly beating heart. As Doc Wealthy snipped away at my mouth, I had achieved a kind of half-assed Stockholm Syndrome: I wasn’t sympathetic to my captor by any means, but I was so fed up with resistance that I might have let him hack away the rest of my face.
At the end of the procedure, the ensuing bleeding was heavy. As we walked out the door, I pressed against my mouth a thicket of gauzes — this was Doc Wealthy’s brilliant solution for treating the bleeding. To tell you the truth, I’m ignorant enough about medical practice to know if there was a better solution, but I hated him so much that I lumped in the application of gauzes with the rest of his “ghetto” setup. My mouth remained numb and bloody during the car ride home. Years later, and from an outsider’s perspective, the fevered mumbling that I gave my dad seems comical, but at the time I was furious.
“Mmm want Doctor mmm-hmm back!” I cried through the blood, gauzes, and persistently lingering anesthetic.
To that, my dad just nodded slowly, his eyes welling with sympathy. “I know,” he said, his words bloated with defeat.
It was little consolation that, eventually, the bleeding stopped, the procedure was otherwise successful, and that Doc Wealthy took out a full-page ad in the souvenir program. Now, when I probe the empty space in my upper mouth, the memory of that time rushes back to me with the reliable persistence of an interloper not unlike Doc Wealthy.
~Joe R., 27, CA
didn’t remember that i had it ’till halfway through the day, but last night i had a dream where i was.. not really brushing, but definitely cleaning my teeth with a strait razor. you know, those big old-school ones barbers use.
it didnt get as gruesome as you’d expect; it was pretty lucid, though very surreal. i was in a bathroom and noticed some plaque build up or something deep in my mouth. there was no brush, but this razor. so, looking in the mirror i started to try and stick this thing down into my mouth, and though i normally wouldn’t be able to see shit, my point of view was almost as if i was in my own mouth. anyway, i feel like the razor started to transform into a hunting knife or something, and i dunno, but something about those details made me think, ‘what the fuck am i doing?’ and gain more control.
so i stopped before it got nasty. no blood, no loss of teeth.. but very, very odd… and teeth related.
Kent Estabrook, 24, MA
when i was a kid and my two front teeth fell out and the adult teeth weren’t growing in my dentist realized that I actually had 4 adult two front teeth. there should only have been 2 adult front teeth so the dentist refererred to this as shark teeth. my mouth was a pretty big mess at the time because in their impatience to get braces on me, they’d put the braces on without the two front teeth. they also had to pull out about 6 baby teeth because they refused to come out. a gross plastic tube went where the two front ones should have been and connected to the braces. the four adult two front teeth were all fighting for who was going to be the front two, and it seemed that none of them were showing up. eventually they referred little 4th grade me to an oral surgeon who was to do an operation to remove the extra teeth. my dad took the day off of work and brought me to the doctor. they let me hold a stuffed pound puppy dog for the operation which i was really excited about because my parents were really against “fad” type name brand toys. then they gave me a huge dose of laughing gas which is probably the first time i ever tripped on anything. i rememeber if being fantastically horrifying. the gas made me think vampire like chamber music was playing in the tooth operating room. i thought that the nurse was laughing maniacally over the decision to kill me or not. but by fourth grade operations were old hat since i’d already had eye surgery and been a guinea pig for the early lyme disease research. i toughed out the crazy tripping laughing gas experience and made it out of there alive. my dad took me out to ihop afterwards because he’d forgotten i probably couldn’t eat anything. i had a milkshake and then we went home where i slowly came out of my fog and watched the movie Captain Ron staring Kurt Russell and Martin Short. its still one of my favorite movies. the two front teeth came in shortly after which was cool because i’d just started a new school and the plastic tube in front of my mouth was really killing my social life.
Caitlin MacBride, 26, NY
I think I believed the tooth would dissolve suddenly and spectacularly…
Anson Smith, 7 when this was written, now 38, CA
so you want some teeth stories huh?
Well I got a couple that will crack you up…
A long time ago me my brother, and 2 friends went to the beach in gloucester to get drunk and hit on all the women, well, after awhile we started walking the beach that ended and turned into huge rocks and huge ledges then one of us spotted a few bouy’s floating pretty close to the shore, we new there was lobsta pots tied to them so we started to hook one with a big stick which didnt work so i jumped in and tried to drag it close enough so the guys on the 10 foot ledge could drag it up, I could’nt get it close enough so the guys jumped in and we made like a chain from the bouy to the ledge and started draggin it in, I was the the 1st guy in the chain and i had a real good grip to the ledge so there we were , shitfaced also,
Well because the lobsta pot was so deep (we were way ova our heads , the ledge went like 20 feet unda the surface to the floor of the ocean,)
So as we’re pulling, the tension of the rope and the depth of the pot started to tighten and pull us unda the water, The guy furthest out went under the most ya no?
Well , Were laughing our ass’s off, the huge waves are smashin off the ledge wall, we’re hand to hand stretched out and pracktically drowning , I’m laughing so hard and swallowing water my top dentures come flying out and start sinking to the bottom, so i let go of them and they’re trying to swim around me to the ledge, the waves are smashin, total caos, Losing them would have ruined me, so I could just barely see the glare of the sun reflecting off my teeth, so i take a deep breath and make a swim for them,
I remember opening my eyes and seeing them, they were so far away , im thinkin theres no way im gonna catch up to them before they disapear unda a rock or something.
I’m completely out of air, I was rite at the point of drowning , I had to cover my mouth wit my hand so i would’nt breath water, i’m like 15 feet down, the teeth are like 2 feet from getting lost in the rocky bottom, I could’nt make it, so in one last desperation attempt i stretched my arm out as far as i could, closed my eyes and reached out and the split secong that they went between the rocks i rememba closing my hand and feeling them in it… I couldn’t believe i had them,
I rememba breathing in ocean water on the way up, So i get to the surface chokin and pukin sea water up and them guys (who had no idea i had lost my teeth) just sat there laughing histerically over what we had just tried to do not no’n i almost drown.
Well we gave up on that pot but found some other ones and ended up with a lobsta each
I rememba messin with my girlfriend one time when we were walking side by side when rite before i was gonna sneeze i looked towards her so my sneeze juice would land on her, Then when i sneezed my dentures came flying out and bopped her rite on the cheek, lol so im in emergency mode trying to pick them up before one of us stepped on them
she started whalin on me cuz she didnt know it was my teeth that bopped off her face, she thought i finga flicked her… it was pretty funny,
ok this is the best one…
bak in the day me and my friends of like 10 of us that hung out togetha all the time… always prankin each otha and havin fun,
well one nite we filled a cooler with all kinds of booze and fresh fruit so we had to drink out of plastic cups, 5 of us were standin in a circle messin around and i managed to sneak my top dentures into laura’s cup without her knowing, so i whisper to dave and brian what i had done and i challenged everyone to see who could suk down there drink 1st, I thought i was gonna pull the funniest prank eva on her and we started to suk them down lookin over the rim of the cup to see her reaction when all of a sudden she flung what was left in her drink into the woods behind us and said, “whew, I can’t finnish it” and i’m like, no way… my teeth were in your cup and now they were somewhere in the woods,
Instead of freaking out when she noticed my teeth while she was sukkin it down she decided to turn the prank around and play it on me…. and boy did she eva, it was dark so it took me like 2 hours of searchin on my hands and knees with a bic lighter to find them… lolol
~Tom Welch, 47, MA
I had two grandmothers. My favorite grandmother had a false tooth that bit me when she kissed my cheek. I would always plan to try to avoid getting kissed by the “biting grandmother,” but I always forgot which one it was, so I was always getting bitten! (I loved her very much anyway).
Naomi Pierce, 45, MA
I like the sound of a horses teeth being filed down. Reminds me of stone carving.
~Maria Rott, 26, MD