It seems that I’m going to write about my new teeth. Some may think that I’m telling them more than they really want to know. But I wrote about it when I got my new hearing aid, and hearing aids and false teeth are part and parcel of the process of growing old for many oldsters.

My daughter Mary tells me that she used to think that all old people had dentures until she met a woman in her 80’s who still had her own teeth. She now thinks such a thing is achievable and is determined to take better care of the teeth God gave her. In my case, I recall no dentistry until I was 17 and got a job that offered free dental care! What a blessing! I promptly had them taken care of and when I was in college a fellow student asked me if I had false teeth! At the time I couldn’t imagine why she would ask such a thing. In retrospect I now realize that she probably did not really like her own teeth and therefore paid extra attention to the teeth of others. Mine were white, straight, and even, like false teeth. That was then — 65 years ago.

It seems that most of us do that comparison thing. If we have acne, we pay more attention to the clear skin of others. If we want to be pregnant, we notice all pregnancies. If our hair is thinning, we note the full heads of others. Believe me, I note which of my peers walk better than I do and which walk worse, which are losing their memories, which have stopped driving, and so it goes. (Elizabeth Taylor, for instance, nine years my junior, has been confined to a wheelchair in recent years. Art Linkletter, now 96, wrote Old Age is Not For Sissies at 76. Early this year he is reported to have suffered a mild stroke.)

Then we are brought up short by something like the e-mail I received today. It requests prayers for a little girl of about 3 with a large, painful malignant liver tumor which cannot be operated on until it is shrunken by chemotherapy. She is getting a port-a-cath so the chemo can begin. How can we who have been relatively healthy into our eighties complain of a few inconveniences along the way?

Back to my teeth. I got my first partial denture about five or six years ago when I had lost enough upper teeth for it to be noticeable. Unfortunately, my mouth does not tolerate foreign objects well. I will gag if I hold the end of a string in my mouth in order to tie it. Or a piece of cloth or paper. This intolerance seems to run in the family as some of my children have it. I wore that denture as little as possible and would remove it as inconspicuously as I could when I’d feel like gagging. Most people didn’t notice when my denture was out because I have the kind of mouth in which my upper teeth hardly show unless I laugh. (I’d study the talking heads on TV and noticed that there are people whose upper teeth you hardly ever see and others in whom missing upper teeth would be terribly obvious. As I explained above, we notice in others what we have problems with in ourselves.)

Finally I popped my denture out once too often and put it in my pocket. The next day I couldn’t find it. Anyplace. After a week I asked my dentist to make me a new one. Now, some weeks later, the new one is completed and is in my mouth. It is both prettier and smaller than the old one and I tolerate it better. Pray for me. It’s hard for us old dogs to learn new tricks. I have determined that I’m going to adjust to this thing. So far I find it easier to forget that it’s in place. And aside from the cosmetic advantage, it is also easier to eat!

Taking advantage of the wonders of the world wide web I found a helpful website that deals with dental phobias–among them the fear of gagging (and subsequent vomiting). It turns out there are people who can’t even brush their teeth because of gagging. The site offers hints to prevent gagging and even treatments to lessen it, some of which I wish I had known about before. One patient reported that using the snore relief spray from Breathe Right before dentistry controlled his gag reflex. Another found help with the numbing action of Vicks Ultra Chloraseptic Throat Spray.

So there you have it. It’s a wonder I ever leave the house with all the things I have to gather together before I go out the door–eyeglasses, hearing aid, teeth, not to mention the usual cell phone, credit card, Kleenex, and identification. And it’s good to be clothed.

I wonder if I’ll write about my experiences when I start wearing Depends. It’s beginning to look like I might. After all, if I’m supposed to be ‘growing old online’ I might as well do it honestly.

P.S I recently found my old denture on a closet floor. Goodbye, good riddance.