You never see a rich person with bad teeth. However decrepit they become, however their skin loses elasticity and peppers with liver-spots, however much their necks resemble a vacated ball-bag, those brilliant teeth leer out of them, incongruous as a car-bumper on a crab-apple. And when rich people die, and eventually even they die, they fill their coffins with the immutable additions they’ve made to their bodies. Dig them up in a hundred years, exhume the rich, and you’ll find a skull with a weave, two bags of saline resting on a rib-cage and a perfect gob smiling coquettishly up at you.
‘Cause we can do teeth, we human-beings, or near enough as makes no difference. Wigs are hilarious; plugs look desperate and breast enhancements can be comically obscene, but a big beaming smile, even one as freakish as Simon Cowell’s full-beam oral assault, is to be admired and envied. A white smile flashed freely puts people at ease. It suggests friendliness, openness and warmth. On another level it tells you that the person waving their pearly-whites around is trustworthy and materially successful and understands the value of good dental hygiene in a modern society. And on another, final level, it tells you that the person is not intrinsically evil. Because tooth decay is an early signifier of moral collapse.
Look at witches. Not the benign modern ones with their vague notions of an earth mother and their shop-bought spell-books, printed on purple paper in a font designed to look like hand-writing, no I’m talking about proper, fairy-tale ones; snaggle-toothed crones to a woman. Vampires are indicated chiefly by dental anomaly. Werewolves less so, but a toothless werewolf will never be the leader of the pack; if you cant rip out the hitch-hiker’s throat then what the hell are you doing in all that hair in the first place? You’re wasting your time. And if a toothless man is bitten by a were-wolf does he grow teeth? What about a toothless man with alopecia? Does he change at all? Or is he just sticking raw steak into the blender and howling at the light-fittings in his kitchen?
But I digress; in society bad teeth are the externalisation of an internal malaise. It makes sense; the mouth is one of only three entrances to the body and therefore a far more effective “gateway to the soul” than the eyes. The other viable options, the vagina or anus, are also traditionally portals of disease and also treated with fear and horror. And of course there is the vagina dentata. Various cultures have stories about women with toothed vaginas, frequently told as cautionary tales warning of the dangers of sex with strange women and to discourage the act of rape. I’ve yet to hear a story of toothy anus but surely there’s scope for that in the modern world. Unless you count the Sarlacc pit in Return of the Jedi which looks like nothing more than a big chewy bum-hole.
But I digress…again.
I’ve lost another piece of tooth. Over the last five years my teeth have been blasted like a quarry. I keep expecting to find Tom Baker dragging his scarf over the rubble of my gob; a BBC location scout camped out permanently in my philtrum. Do I get a credit? It’s lip-service, at best. I had a clean bill of health just six months ago. Fillings were re-filled, teeth were whitened. It was no longer the dazzling object of my youth, where I couldn’t smile outside at night for fear of being smothered by confused moths, but it passed muster. I felt I could use it once again for the purposes of charming rather than propagating nightmares in the young. It didn’t last. It didn’t last the day. On the way home I left a filling in a cheese soufflé. The front tooth’s veneer fell victim to an onion ring. Later it broke still further tackling either a boiled egg or a banana. These are not the traditional enemies of the crown (hah!): the egg, the banana, the soufflé. No steaks, toffees and French bread for me: this is the diet of a man who has had to make sacrifices for his teeth, only to have the quisling little bastards leap suicidally into soufflés! Souffles! Who loses a tooth in a soufflé?
I suffer from bruxism. That’s the ugly scientific term for teeth-grinding. It means that every night, and sometimes in the day unless I catch myself, I grind my teeth into shingle. As a consequence I have to wear a gum-shield in bed at night, like some sort of erotic pugilist.
It’s my own fault. These are monkey teeth; practically the same mouth cutlery that our hairy ancestors had to make do with and certainly the same gob furniture that Cro-Magnon man had to suffer; gnawing through half-cooked mastodon steaks and smacking each other round the chops with big sticks. No wonder they didn’t live past thirty. I have and therefore I’m wandering around with some serious built-in obsolescence. Who knows how long science can keep me alive for? Alive and paying for teeth. Am I being paranoid? Have I gone Jim-Corr-conspiracy-crazy or is it not likely that the drug companies are keeping people alive for longer because they’re in cahoots with the dentists? While they’re sugaring your pills who’s feathering their nests? The same people who are filling your teeth. It’s not hard to believe in the evil of dentists. The sterile smell, the powdery-latex gloves, the masks, the weird swivelling and reclining chairs, the smell of your teeth burning as they drill into the bone of your skull – they’re monsters. When they give you the mouth-wash at the end, the mouth-wash that you dribble out of the side of a gob that feels like someone has parked a sofa in it, it may as well be Jim Jones’ Kool-Aid.
And that’s why I do my smiling in the rain.