Monday, January 10, 2011

A Guide to Counting Teeth

I woke up a few weeks ago with someone else’s mouth in my mouth.

I wasn’t kissing someone or anything like that; it simply didn’t feel like the inside of my mouth. My mouth had changed overnight.

I should explain that I had had a few or more drinks the night before, and when I awoke, I had that feeling you have on the flip side of too much fun. The party was over and now the world seemed a cruel, ugly place of strangled emotions, creepy images and crawling skin.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s all fairly normal and I’m not complaining or anything like that. But this time it was different. This time, my number five tooth suddenly felt bigger than before and certainly much larger than its counterpart, my number 12 tooth.

Gee, John, you may be thinking, that’s very interesting, but I didn’t go to dental school, you moron, so what the hell are you talking about?

Well, my wife, Regina, went to dental school and was a dental assistant for 15 years, so she’s taught me a thing or two about dental numerology which I would like to share with you. To count your teeth, start on your upper jaw way back by your wisdom tooth on your right side (which you should have had removed by now unless you have a head like an ape). Now count right to left.

Then, drop down to the lower jaw and count from left to right. (Note to my country music loving friends: don’t forget to include missing teeth.) You may be counting your teeth right now, touching molars with the tip of your tongue while counting upwards.

Using this nifty method, you’ve probably figured out that the number five tooth is the first bicuspid behind your canine tooth on the upper right side and the number 12 is the first bicuspid behind the canine tooth on your left side. You’re number 32 aligns with number one tooth, and numbers 16 and 17 also align. Having fun yet?

(Note to readers: I originally had the term “molars” where the term “bicuspid,” is in the above text. My wife looked over the blog and made the correction. I hate her.)

As I said, when I awoke, my number five tooth seemed huge and protruded into my mouth like a warthog’s. It still does weeks later. So what happened? It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m married to someone who actually decided that looking inside people’s mouths would be a great way to earn a living for the rest of her life.

Don’t get me wrong. I honestly love my wife (except when she notices my mistakes) and in most respects, she’s a fairly normal person. But at some point during high school she figured she would like to spend eight hours a day sitting in a chair looking and sticking her hands in other peoples’ mouths. Go figure.

I have nothing against mouths. Like most bodily orifices, they can mean hours of good, clean fun, but do you really want to look into them with bright lights and mirrors? Even the healthy ones look funky. Imagine the ones with sores and rotting food between the teeth.

And guys, I’ll bet most of you have had conflicting emotions when sitting in the dental chair with that cute hygienist pressing up softly against you with her hands in your mouths, gently scraping away plaque. She sure is sweet and friendly. Do you suppose she’s interested in a hunk like you?

Are you kidding? She thinking, “Hey numbnuts, you need to floss better.” Don’t forget that you look like a clown when you get out of the dental chair after having your head sandwiched in the head rest.

I’ve known a few dentists in my life and most appear to be decent, normal people. They generally dress pretty well and smell okay. There have even been some famous and honorable dentists, such as Wyatt Earp’s buddy Doc Holliday, the Nazi “Is it safe yet?” dentist in the movie “The Marathon Man,” and the sadistic Steve Martin character in “Little Shop of Horrors,” but you have to wonder. What does looking into wide-open garbage disposals hours on end do to people?

You have to remember that their entire workspace is the size of a coffee cup, and when things go wrong as they inevitably will, whose teeth are they going to want to knock out? Not their own.

Part of my wife’s claim to fame is that she worked on a couple of famous mouths, including the late Charlie Finley’s, the famous irascible owner of the Oakland A’s baseball team of years ago. She even worked on the great home run king Henry Aaron when she was a dental assistant in Atlanta.

I’m not the world’s biggest baseball fan but I can vaguely remember seeing Hank Aaron play a few times late in his career when he was with the Atlanta Braves. I’m sure millions of people would agree that he was one of a kind. But how many do you think could tell you what the inside of his mouth looked like? Not many, I hope.

But you can imagine my wife saying something like, “Great game yesterday, Hank. But you’ve got some plaque building up here. Let me get out my scaler and take care of that for you. When the doctor comes in, we’ll both try to stick our fingers in your mouth at the same time. A little wider, please.”


  1. I should also have pointed out that a bicuspid is now called a "pre-molar." By saying "bicuspid" I really date myself in the dental world.....but for some reason I have always hated the word "premolar" and refuse to use it!!! -- Love, Reg

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