Posted by: jevcat | April 12, 2011

Nothing But the Tooth: The Joys of Middle Age

“How much time do I have, doc?”  The line was not spoken by Bette Davis, Montgomery Clift, or any other movie melodrama star.  The speaker was me, the doctor in question was one with a degree in dentistry, and the subject of my enquiry was a tooth.

This was May, two years ago.  He had just crowned – literally – the grand opening of my latest root canal and then informed me that x-rays showed I needed at least two more, although they need not be done immediately.  I had joked with him on the previous visit that I’d been seeing more of him lately than of my nearest and dearest.  We weren’t, it turned out, finished, but my insurance and credit cards were:  maxed out for the year.

So we arranged our next assignation for seven months hence, when my insurance would be back in effect and I would have had some time to work on the balance.  Unfortunately, four months later I was laid off.  His response to my question had been more questions, “Six months?  A year?  Two years?”  The answer, it turns out, was C.

For four days last week, every time I ate, and for some while after, I had a tooth ache.  Of course, as soon as I e-mailed church to ask about the dentist who had volunteered free emergency treatment for the unemployed, it died down again.  I went to see him anyway, and came away with antibiotic and pain prescriptions, to be used only if it flairs again, and a promise that he will talk to his partner who does root canals and, if a deal cannot be brokered, connect me with his brother, also a dentist and on the faculty of NYU’s famed dental school and its wonderful sliding scale clinic.  So at the moment, it’s a waiting game.

It wasn’t always this way.  My teeth were pretty good when I was younger.  I didn’t even have my first Novocain until my first root canal when I was in my thirties and misjudged the bite on a piece of almond buttercrunch (a personal weakness), shearing off a point to turn a bicuspid into a cuspid.  And I do still have all my adult teeth – including the wisdom teeth – although saying that may be a sort of technical begging the point, as most of what sits in my jaw is a set of filled and crowned shells – it’s not just the Europeans who have crowned heads.

My forties, that’s when it all really did start to go downhill.  Ah, Middle Age!  When I specialized in Medieval History in college, these weren’t the Middle Ages for which I studied.

Is it just me or does that ivory tower resemble a tooth? (image from websters-dictionary-online)

These Middle Ages, a distant and uncharted territory then, bring with them intimations of mortality, my mouth being a primary source of same [… if not of my own, then that of my teeth.]  Not long after I turned 40, a filling cracked and developed the disconcerting tendency to announce its presence by popping half out of my tooth with a sort of cheerful “Hi!  I’m here” air, although it was amenable to being knocked back into place with the aid of a pen and mirror – not a procedure to endear one to fellow lunchers at the pizza parlour near the office, although it does have some of the aspects of street fair arcade or Whack-a-Mole games:  “Knock this down in three tries and win a stuffed animal.”

I’ve been wandering in this dark wood a while now, and am still at something of a loss:  If adolescence is the Time of Knowing Everything, and Senior Citizenhood is the Time of  Never Having to Say You’re Sorry (as I once overheard a friend’s mother say, “I’m 70 years old, I can say what I want!”), I’m in somewhat of a quandary as to where that leaves Middle Age.  I certainly don’t feel middle-aged.  Well, most of the time.  Except for my teeth.  And my back.  Perhaps what another – younger – friend said is true:  “You just don’t feel like what you think Middle Aged should feel like.”

If that’s so, Middle Age isn’t so bad.  I would, however, have preferred it did not involve teeth that hurt and cost money to fix.

Somehow, I don't think these are the kind of wooden teeth George Washington had (image from


  1. I’m pushing 50 (hard) and kvetching all the way. Not liking this middle age stuff one bit, even if (as my mother always says about birthdays) it “beats the alternative.”
    The tooth stuff really is insulting!
    That and the fact that it gets harder and harder to keep my weight down to anything like normal, more and more back-aches; weird skin blotches…
    But I also call these the “take no s–t years.” I no longer care whether anyone thinks I’m cool. I do what matters to me. I wear what I like (aesthetically and for comfort reasons) and can afford. I have no time for superficial relationships or optional activities that I don’t (really!) enjoy. I have thoroughly outgrown peer pressure.
    ‘Nuff said!

    • Francesca, I know your tooth stories are as long, varied, and sad as my own. But we can still smile 🙂

  2. Washington’s teeth were made of ivory. The badly molded gum supports for the teeth were of wood. Teeth influenced portrait painting for centuries. Notice how all the people have their mouth’s closed with pursed lips. That’s because their teeth were rotted out at an early age. Todays portrait artist do the same. Not because of unhealthy teeth put the artist has the freedom to paint the politician’s mouth shut to keep him from lying. Thank God for these artists or these guys would lie from the canvas as well.

    • Carl, you’re right about the lying part. And, yes, I know about Washington’s teeth, but that’s all I could think of when I saw that photo.

  3. Oh, don’t get me started on teeth, Janet.
    I will write a post someday…
    until then, I will floss, and brush, and pray.
    blessings, dear one!

    • After a certain age, I think we ALL have tooth stories. I look forward to eventually reading yours (which beats experiencing my own).

  4. The deeper into my 40s I get, the further back I keep pushing the definition of “middle age.” With 42 looming right around the corner, that number in my head is currently right around 45 of so. In a few years, it’ll be nearer to 50. See what I did? Beat the system and found a way to stay young forever!

    • Waitta minute Mr. 427. I’ll be 62 in June and then you realize to “push” middle age to …..Dad says he’s getting old. He’s 88. He’s been old for a quarter of a century.

      • Carl, some of us are older younger than others. I am proud to say that one of my friends told me, “Janet, you will never be old, no matter what age you live til!”

    • Yes, Mark, it’s funny how that definition migrates, as we ourselves get older. Also, your text reminds me of the intro Isaac Asimov wrote to his book “How to be a Dirty Old Man.” He said that he had decided that he would never get old but, when a friend achieved this by dying young, he realized he needed to come up with an alternative.

  5. I just remembered a 50 year resentment. That tooth fairy was quite a cheapskate. The dopey woman never left me more than 35 cents. Tightwad.

    • LOL, obviously I had a much better tooth fairy than you did, Carl!

  6. I am past middle age and can’t say it gets any better. Teeth you say? I have passed 50 & 60 and heading upwards but sadly without all my teeth. recently I bit into a apple and there was a half of tooth in the apple. That led me to the dentist. After much debate and much money (no dental ins.) Needless to say the tooth that broke was right in front so when I opened my mouth to smile or talk a hillbilly mouth looked you right in the eye. I now hace a bridge. Getting older is not fun but the only other option is worse.


  7. […] it’s been around for a while, and, while there’s been some repair work over the years (see “Nothing But the Tooth”), and I think it looks good for its age, it’s certainly not what it was when […]

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