Left: my chipped tooth, before; Right: a cast of the newly-crafted fang.
A friend and I have been emailing one another about teeth. Not sure how we got on the subject, but she's been trying to convince me that Americans are too obsessed with the perfect grill. Mine are a tangled mess, the result of ancient lines of screwed up mouths from Ireland and The Netherlands. It doesn't seem fair to be a citizen of the most highly developed civilization in history and have such a jumbled mouth.
Some people wear it well. The actor Tom Hardy, for example, has capitalized on a solitary bad tooth, a diamond in the rough which exudes flashes of brilliance when he cracks a smile. A rare glimpse of his snaggletooth is somehow intensely gratifying.
When I was in eighth grade I was playing football in the neighborhood and got kicked in the teeth by another kid's heel when I grabbed his legs to tackle him. While a tiny chip on the back of my front tooth thinned it a little in that spot, making it somewhat transparent and brittle, the shape of my tooth didn't change at all.
Over the years more kicks and misguided chomps took a toll on this poor tooth, and one dentist I knew in my twenties made a night guard for me—a rubber mold of my mouth which was supposed to protect my teeth from further damage due to nocturnal grinding. I quickly learned that dogs love night guards, since mine was licked clean and devoured by a dachshund named Helix less than 24 hours after swimming in my saliva for the first time.
The fatal blow to this tooth was exacted by my daughter Grace in the CompUSA parking lot on Route 2 in Warwick, Rhode Island when she was about six years old. I lifted her to my shoulders after parking the car and in her excitement she clipped me on the chin with both knees. It's taken some time but I have forgiven her.
My mouth clapped shut, the tooth snapped off, and that was that.
Several years later, my dentist—an elderly Rhode Islander with eczema and the mouth of a sailor in a tattoo shop, who worked out of his house and who threw every ounce of his body into assaults on my gaping mouth—suggested that he could fix the tooth with a simple crown. Eager to regain my 8th grade mouth, I consented. I had no idea what I was in for. This was exciting.
While the details are hazy, I do recall that at some point he took a mold with the aid of a woman whom I assumed (for some reason) was his sister-in-law. Calling her away from "The Price Is Right," he asked her to keep the putty in constant motion to prevent drying while he did something else. Gloveless, she grabbed the glob from his hands and played patty-cake with it, all the while chewing gum and ducking in and out of the room to check the Showcase booty. After the mold was finished he cast my upper teeth in plaster and—for some reason—gave it to me as a keepsake, which I have recently put on display in a well-lit glass case in my living room, along with two full sets of my deceased father's dentures, a wind-up Wonder Woman figurine which revolves to the tune of "Jesus Christ, Superstar" and a bunch of odd things I've collected over the years. With the extra putty, the dentist also cast my middle finger, poured plaster into the mold and presented me with "the finger"—a freestanding"fuck you" made infinitely more offensive, considering I was doing it to myself.
Hygiene aside, the most unsettling part of this adventure came after he'd whittled my tooth to little more than a diminutive fang, gave me a sample crown to check if the color matched, and handed me a mirror. Make no mistake: nothing compares to the horror I felt in seeing what was once my front tooth, honed to a bloody stump. I beheld in the mirror the visage of Gollum, smiling meekly, heart dropping to the floor with a thud. My Precious was lost forever.
Few events in life afford glaring self-awareness, and this was one of those critical junctures: a moment when I realized I had been forever altered, having caved to vanity. With any luck, the crown will stay in place until the day I die, but I truly dread the moment that my ruined, wicked, nub-of-a-tooth will be revealed to the world—alarming some dinner companion, its porcelain costume falling onto my plate, leaving me to once again lament that I should have left well enough alone.