White as freshly brushed snow

Okay, I’ll admit they won’t blind you when I smile, and I no longer need sunglasses when I look in the mirror in the morning. But at least they’re mine, and they don’t slip when I try to eat an apple, or clog up when I eat chocolate, like that little screen in the drier does if I leave some Kleenex in a pocket. I’m able to chew gum like a teenager, and don’t live in fear of knocking the glass off the night-table if I find myself out of bed on a quest in the dead of night. These are all good things, right? Plusses.

The reason I ask, is that a friend offered me some of her left-over whitening strips. I mean, she said she hadn’t used them, or anything -she had just bought too many, I suppose. Perhaps I should have been gracious and accepted her offer, but for the rest of the evening, I found myself re-practicing the toothless smile I had perfected so many years ago when I was shackled with braces. Then, of course, it was self-defence –a smile risked lacerations both to myself and anybody else who was fooled by my deception. I hasten to add, that I’m not referring to any bussculatory activities, however –I never even got close to lucky until I was around 14, and then it was by mistake with some popcorn in a movie theatre. Teeth were the last things on my mind.

No, after my friend’s generous offer, I hastened to my bathroom mirror as soon we’d driven home from the restaurant. Well, actually she drove me home –I’d taken the bus to get to dinner. But then she left without getting out of the car –something about her cat and needing to change the litter-box, I think. Anyway, I was anxious to perform a private dental assessment, so I was happy she was so attentive to the needs of her cat. You don’t find many people that dedicated nowadays, although I was beginning to feel that way about my teeth.

As soon as I hit the bathroom, I turned on all the lights, and got out my special military grade tactical flashlight that I bought online –you know, the ones that can illuminate an entire high-rise from a mile away, or blind an attacker before he has time to shoot. Actually, I have to confess that mine never works like that, and anyway, I forgot that I can’t seem to get it out of its useful-at-the-roadside flashing mode. I suppose I should write a review panning it for dental work –although maybe it could actually spot teeth from across the street. I guess that might be useful in combat.

Even under the glare of overhead lights, there were far too many shadows in my mouth to make out much. I mean, I could spot my teeth pretty easily –although I was momentarily fooled by a strand of carrot from the salad that seemed to be standing in as a proxy for one of my canines. But that can happen to anybody, eh? Let’s face it, how often do you really look at your teeth, even when you’re brushing them? Personally, I do mine by feel. Same when I’m flossing –I sort of know which spaces I can squeeze the little string through without shredding it or pulling off an old filling thinking I’ve snagged a motherlode plaque bump.

And yet, despite my vigilance that night, I couldn’t be sure if she’d actually spotted something other than the carrot. Okay, there was a bit of lettuce, but that was way in the back… Oh, and maybe a smidgen of parsley, but I usually save that to eat on the way home, anyway. Clearly she had seen part of the dinner to which neither I nor my tongue had been privy. I think it would have been better for her to have pointed stuff out rather than just offering me her best-before strips, but we all do the best we can under duress, I suppose.

It did awaken me to a sea-change, however. I decided I could no longer take my mouth or its denizens for granted, and a horrid thought occurred to me that night: maybe it wasn’t just my breath that made people turn away as they said goodbye on the bus, or roll up the car windows if I walked over to the driver’s side to thank them for the ride.

A quick tongue-over, I decided, was simply not enough for my teeth. There would have to be a daily inspection, a flashlight tour of the back parts, and a spit and polish drill for the soldiers on the front line -even the for the doddery ones that needed to lean on their companions to stay upright. No exceptions.

The decision made me feel better. My veterans might not stand as straight or polish their buttons as brightly as my friend’s battalion, but they would stand their ground proudly until the last skirmish. Dignity is important in a mouth, and I simply would not allow them to be afraid to stand tall and confident as my tongue waved over them in a polite, but eloquent refusal should the subject of strips ever come up again.

I bought one of those little mirrors the dental techs use whenever I have to go in for scraping. I got it for quite a good price at a Salvation Army depot, too –one of the clerks had found it hidden under a mound of Kleenex in the bottom of a donated purse, apparently. Hardly a scratch on it, either. Anyway, my routine was simple. Every morning, I’d line up the troops, and inspect the front fence to see if there was any paint missing. Then, with an ordinary, non-combat flashlight, look at the rest through the little dental mirror. At first, I had no idea what to look for, or the duties of the individual teeth, but eventually I got to know them quite well, and even gave them names after a few weeks. But, let’s face it, you know when something changes, eh? And you can spot holes and stuff. I got quite good at finding little hidden caches of food in the back, especially if I’d sprinkled nuts on my salad –sunflower seeds are almost as bad as parsley for crouching quietly out of sight. Mind you, there was nothing to snack on after I’d gone to bed, but I figured my tongue would probably think it was like going to sleep on clean, unrumpled sheets.

I went for dinner with that friend again last week. I hadn’t seen her for a while and I thought I’d see if she noticed a difference in my teeth. Hers, of course, were picture perfect, but I tried not to look. Anyway, comparisons are never helpful between the sexes: our teeth age differently –they say it’s hormones, or something. But I smiled at the slightest provocation –arrogant, tooth-filled grins. And once, when she seemed to be staring at me curiously, I even did a difficult back-molar smile –just to show off, I guess.

And yet, not once did she mention whitening strips. It was as if I had improved so much, even to say the words would have been anathema. But I couldn’t let it lie fallow; I needed praise –mouth honour, breath, which the poor heart would fain deny and dare not as Macbeth once said, when he caught Seyton staring at his teeth. Anyway, Sandra, seemed to have forgotten all about the strips, so, bold as brass, I asked her if she still used them.

A wary expression stole over her face, and she stared at me for a moment. “Are you trying to tell me something?” She sounded almost hurt, as she wiped her napkin carefully across her teeth.

I blushed, of course, and checked my own fronties with my tongue for scraps, just in case. “No, not at all, Sandra. It’s just that the last time we went out to eat, you offered me your old strips.”

I realized my blunder as soon as she scrunched her face up in disgust. “I didn’t offer you strips, G –I was just wondering if you’d ever used them?”

“I must have got it wrong…” I blushed again. “Sorry, I thought you…”

She lowered her head and stared at me sternly, as if she were looking over a pair of glasses. Then she began to laugh –well, giggle. “I haven’t needed them for a few years now…I suppose you were trying to compliment me, though, eh?”

I cocked my head. Sandra spoke in riddles sometimes. “Uhmm, well…”

‘Just keep brushing, G,” was her cryptic advice as she stopped in front of my house and touched one of my front teeth with what, even in the darkened car, I now think was envy, not brushing off the bit of spaghetti I was saving for later.


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