The Best Time I Spit My Fake Teeth Out in a Bar

Learning to live with a head half-full of teeth.

Photo: Navy Medicine/Flickr

This is me as a child: curly hair, freckled face, lanky limbs, gap teeth. When my two front teeth first grow in, there is a space the size of my pinky finger between them. When my two front teeth fall out and then grow back in, there is still a space the size of my pinky finger between them.

Like many adolescents, I had braces; unlike many adolescents, I was ecstatic about it. Lara Stone and Lindsey Wixson had not yet been discovered; having a gap between your front teeth wasn’t a trend piece yet. For me, without Lindsey or Lara’s pillowy lips and cleft chin, the gap was a cause for ridicule, and the attendant sadness and self-esteem issues. Braces were the first step to changing all that. Watching my front teeth edge closer together each day, as I had often imagined they might, was transformational for me.

I had high hopes for the beauty I would become once the braces were removed. This turned out to be slightly off the mark. When my braces came off, most of my baby teeth came out along with them. When I returned to school that afternoon, it was without some eight or nine of the fourteen teeth a normal human has in the top of their head. I had my two front teeth and just a few scattered molars. If you’ve ever been in middle school I don’t need to tell you how inadvisable it is to show up with a third of the recommended number of teeth.

Nevertheless, it was time to take the next steps. First was gluing a tiny bit of wire to the back of my two front teeth to keep them together; next, once I had some more teeth to work with up top, was a clear plastic retainer. Then came a regular wire retainer with two little white teeth like ghosts floating on the wire to stand in for the ones I was born without. I could easily pop it in and out with my tongue, and this is where the fun starts.

I used this retainer for its most logical purpose: scaring children. Into submission. For money. You heard it here first: being able to remove your teeth from your head is babysitting gold. One child I babysat would make a big fuss at bedtime, refusing to go to sleep, get in bed, or even go upstairs. Don’t want to go to bed? What about if I show you how I can take my teeth out of my mouth? No, you can’t see until you get in bed. It worked like a charm.

The final “permanent” solution was a bridge: two porcelain teeth with little wings that fit into divots drilled in my real teeth. I was sixteen, and for the first time in my life I had what appeared to be a full set of teeth. They were beautiful, and perfect. Until they weren’t. I was with my first long-term boyfriend, eating in a mall food court, when my bridge broke for the first time. Keeping the partially chewed food in my mouth, I ran to the bathroom and shut myself in a stall, spit the food into my hand, and picked the tooth out. Reinserting it was precarious: it fit back in place, broken and jagged, an imperfect puzzle piece. I had to hold it in place with my tongue and speak carefully. The evening was uncomfortable and nerve-wracking after that. You know that classic bit about losing your gum while making out? It was like that, but with a tooth instead of gum.

My dentist fixed my fake teeth with some sort of bonding agent, and then I broke them over and over again. I remembered being instructed to be very careful when playing with my porcelain dolls as a child; now I was supposed to be biting into food with teeth made of the same fragile substance? The square chiclets painted into the dolls’ mouths were far more secure than mine. The situation wasn’t permanently fixed by the time I moved to Texas for grad school, but like a construction site, it had been X number of days since our last incident.

The square chiclets painted into the dolls’ mouths were far more secure than mine.

Then one day, it happened again: eating a sandwich while out to lunch with a new friend, that sickening crunch. The fear of swallowing the tooth. The anxiety accompanying not yet being comfortable enough with that friend to spit out the sandwich and sort through lightly masticated ham and cheese and say “hold that thought, I gotta find my tooth.”

I was hundreds of miles from my dentist, and it somehow never occurred to me to go to a different dentist. The teeth — both of them — came loose repeatedly. At one point, I bought a denture repair kit from CVS; to me it felt more embarrassing than buying condoms. There I was, sitting at my little particleboard desk in my dorm room, mixing up the adhesive, mouth-breathing with my lips curled back while trying to keep my teeth dry enough for it to stick. It didn’t work.

The denouement of the whole saga occurred one night while I was out with friends at a cool new bar with lots of taxidermied creatures on the walls. While I was talking loudly and gesticulating wildly while telling a story, my tooth flew out of my mouth and into my lap. Time stopped. No one said anything, either out of politeness or perhaps out of fear, but there was plenty of uncomfortable shifting. It was especially ill-timed, as I had been trying to sound cool while recounting a sexcapade. As we were leaving and beginning to walk home, saying our goodbyes, out flew the troublesome left incisor, and it landed in the street gutter. What choice did I have but to get down on my hands and knees and search it out among the detritus, like a missing earring? What choice did I have but to dust it off and put it back in my mouth? Surely the five-second rule must also apply to fake teeth?

On my next spring break, I flew home to Michigan to get new teeth — these ones will really be permanent, really fix the problem, my dentist says. But I miss the jaunty, jagged look my broken bridges gave me. I also miss my real front teeth and canines, which I had to sacrifice to the grinder in order to get this new dental piece. Like a fancy celebrity or your grandma, I now have veneers. As they say, we must sometimes leave a piece of ourselves behind in order to move on, and sometimes that means having your teeth ground down to tiny chupacabra nubs. I guess in the end it’s worth giving up a few more teeth for the security of knowing you’ll never have to pick your teeth out of a gutter again. Probably.

Anne Petrimoulx lives in New York, and is now very good at keeping her all teeth inside her mouth.