One of my first memories is of having five teeth out when I was five years old. Might have been because Mum used to put honey on our dummies. I remember coming out into the waiting room and being given a colouring book and pencils. When I opened my mouth to speak, blood poured out.
Here I am 67 years later still irked by my bad teeth. It’s not Mum’s fault but a combination of factors. Both parents had had all their teeth removed in their teens and were probably not great role models for tooth cleaning and avoiding sweet foods. We didn’t have fluoride in the water and there was no such thing as floss, interdental brushes and tooth mousses … Dental nurses had clinics in each school and cheerfully drilled and filled kids’ teeth with a sense of fatalism you wouldn’t see today.
I had multiple fillings each time I went to the dentist in Milford until I was 16 and free dental care ended. No one told me this was a sign that I needed to look after my teeth better. It was free! Having fillings was normal.
I remember the pain. The injections never worked properly in those days. When involuntary tears poured down my cheeks once, I was reprimanded by both the dentist and the assistant. “Oh Maureen! You have to be brave.” My greatest joy was when the dentist hung his drill up for the last time at the end of the session. There was a sort of motion that signaled to me that the agony was at last over.
University and no money to pay for a dentist. Started work and needed a tooth out. Stabilized teeth during 30s and 40s but then more decay again as I grew older. By the time I hit my 60s, I had lost a fair few teeth and had a number of root fillings. 67 and I had a marginal mandibulectomy of my left lower jaw and radiotherapy. Front teeth were broken in surgery. Trismus or limited mouth opening. Very hard to clean my teeth – gums and teeth in poor condition. However, I concentrated on getting through the treatment and getting over it. Getting dentures to fill the front gap. I did try to clean my teeth well, but let’s face it, I should have tried harder.
What am I left with now? A pretty appalling situation. A nice upper denture, partial metal, gives me an okay smile and you can’t really see my lower teeth which are gradually breaking up. The lower two front teeth are stuck together like two tall trees swaying in the wind roped to each other or two close-knit tombstones. The others are stumps or half teeth. There’s nothing on the left side to hold a denture properly because of the flap over the gum. Strangely I’ve got some strong molars at the back but they are causing me to bite my tongue and cheek because of changes to the architecture of my mouth after a couple of big reconstructive surgeries.
I’m trucking on okay though. As long as I can keep the bottom teeth for a little bit longer my lower lip, palsied on the left by a cut nerve, won’t get sucked in too much more. I mean, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Can’t have the lower teeth removed unnecessarily anyway because of the threat of osteoradionecrosis.
A lot of this sad story is because of the oral cancer and treatment but I do believe I could have lessened the damage if I had looked after my teeth more religiously. That’s what I’d advise other head and neck cancer patients to do. Don’t do a half pie job. You need to go above and beyond to look after your teeth after radiotherapy.
I’m very comfortable sitting here at my computer and I don’t want to get up but heck, I think I’d better go and … clean my teeth.