The Green Tooth (An Abridged History)

I’d forgotten about my green tooth. 

How did I forget? It was right in the front of my upper set of teeth. Dark green, it beckoned others’ curiosity, disgusting them. I saw that in their expressions.

The tooth was a product of playing blind man’s bluff in our Pittsburgh cellar in the dark. The cellar had a few steel support poles. I ran into one in the dark and broke off the bottom half of my tooth.

That was fifth or sixth grade.

We were a lower middle-class family struggling to get by. It took a few months to get my tooth repaired. Meanwhile, I walked around with half a tooth in my grin. Already a little shy, retiring, self-effacing, and insecure, I took to smiling and talking less. When I spoke, I mumbled, to avoid showing my teeth. Eventually, though, I received a nice fake white tooth on a post.

Then I knocked it out.

It was replaced.

I knocked it out again.

This happened several times. Eventually, that fake white tooth turned green. Nothing I could do about it. So I endured, thirteen years old, with a green tooth. A perforation developed in my upper jaw bone. The summer I became fifteen (the year I met my wife), my upper gums became swollen and infected. I solved that by thrusting sharp objects into my gum and squeezing until the pus burst out. It was a little painful and bloody.

Did I mention that I’m not too bright? That’s pretty evident by now.

I moved in with my father that summer. The perforation remained. My gum would become swollen and infected about once a year. I’d heat a steak knife, cut it open and drain it. I got pretty good at it. Yes, I know how lucky I am that the infection didn’t worsen and kill me.

I did this alone because my adventures with my tooth upset my parents. They were exasperated that I kept knocking it out. That exasperation spread to me. I also became aware of being studied and judged. I didn’t like the judgement I heard. I became overly self-conscious, and secretive about my tooth and what was going on with it. My mumbling increased.

Eventually, I joined the Air Force. Uncle Sam replaced my post with a pink, plastic denture. That lasted about ten years. I’d break that tooth off, too, then glue it back into place. I struggled to eat with it, so I’d take it out, usually wrapping it in a napkin so that others didn’t see it. Of course, that left a tooth-sized gap in my smile.

My wife would sometimes need to remind me not to forget it after I’d taken it out.

A metal bridge replaced the pink one. Also uncomfortable, held into place with little silver holds that wrapped around my bicuspids, Seeing those metal things, people would ask, “What are those silver things on your teeth?” I’d explain it was my denture, and offer to show it to them.

It was pretty flimsy. The bridge would end and twist. I’d try fixing it. Eventually, a new fake tooth on a new post was installed.

Naturally, I broke it off. While eating a hamburger, in fact. I glued it into place. It broke off again. That became my regular thing: glue it into place, and then break it off while eating.

After years of going through all this, I had a new, permanent bridge implanted. It cost me thirteen thousand dollars, but it was worth it. By then, I was fifty years old.

It’s interest how such a trivial matter affected me and my life, and how much of it I’d forgotten. Most of us have something like this that shapes us.

When I think of all the things that others endure, I’m fortunate that it was so trivial.

But I still mumble.

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