Apparently, it was all of three quarters of a century, including every single one of its many, many momentous moments, before I learnt to clean my teeth properly. That’s according to the raven-headed hygienista from Spain who came to work at my dentist’s. This feisty young woman was, as you might expect, a bit of hygiene-Nazi, who took, I suspect, some not entirely innocent pleasure in bullying old fools like me into better ways.
At my first appointment, before she did the power-jet thang between the molars (that’s the one that nearly makes you gag because the water suction extractor, hooked over the corner of your mouth, is never in quite the right place), she announced I must learn to clean my teeth properly. Make an appointment and bring your toothbrush, paste, floss, and interdental brushes, if any. It’s free, so why not? A fortnight later, I poled up with the kit and gave la hispañola a demo. She became more conciliatory, seeing, to her ill-concealed surprise, that I wasn’t irredeemably clueless.
Normal adults are supposed to have 32 teeth, 16 in each jaw. I’ve only got 25. Now, with just this number you’d suppose that when I smiled you’d be confronted with an erratic array of pegs worthy of a nineteenth century Macedonian goatherd in his declining years, but you’d be wrong.
You know how many ears, noses, throats, not to say toes you have, at least I hope you do; but do you know how many teeth? I’ve only twelve top teeth. I’m short of a rear molar and pre-molar on both sides. The mandible also lacks its third molars and one lateral incisor. I’ve a dental plaster cast with a fixed grin, that shows all this. Orthodontics, when I was a boy, account for some of the missing, and lack of space, when I was older, the rear molar extractions.
Prima facie you’d think that a mouth too small for a full set of teeth could claim the advantage of restricting the amount you’d eat, a sort of oral equivalent to the gastric band, but if that was so, I’d have a sylphic silhouette. Nevertheless, consider this: the 2 minutes brushing your teeth, the longest interval bookending the waking day, recommended by professionals, must be based on the full complement of 32 gnashers, tearers and grinders. Well, I’ve only just over three quarters of that, surely entitling me to a pro rata discount on that dental eternity. So now it’s 1 minute, 40 secs, and a clear conscience.
Anyway, the señorita’s critique put me right. I begin with the floss. I use the “Glide” floss picks from the oligopolistic Oral B, which are perfect for poking around in even the most inaccessible interstices. My inquisitress approved. Now we have the interdental brushes. These she insisted must be the tightest fit possible. Have you come across Tepes? (Pronounced, I believe, wigwam.) She gave me a sample of grey, purple, green and yellow sizes, massive to tiny. Well, I’ve flirted, if that’s the word, with interdental brushes before, and now I use them frequently enough to wish the supporting wire didn’t get bent and go rusty after only two or three uses.
Preliminaries over, it’s time for the brush, electric Oral B, and paste, Colegate Total Something Or Other. The bead of paste on the brush head and we’re off; but, starting at the back, I’d hardly progressed from mandibular molar 2 to 1, when, readily exasperated, Iberia intervened. No, no, no, no, no. I’m supposed to rock the vibrating brush around each tooth four to six times so that, at the extremity of each rock, the bristles penetrate the gaps. Various brachial contortions, too elaborate to elaborate, and only perfected through daily practice, are needed to clean around the outside then inside of both rows. The exercise is polished off with a run down the grinding surfaces of pre-molars and molars top and bottom.
Don’t neglect to brush your tongue by means of rows of straight strokes from back to front, so the whole surface’s groomed. And by the way, the dentist has prescribed you this toothpaste, which seems to be more or less neat fluoride and costs only £12 per tube, which you should always use, and remember: after you’ve spat out, you must under no circumstances rinse your mouth.
I think: I’d rather risk the occasional filling.
One cause of the most noisome halitosis is said to be chronic consumption of Champagne. The same would probably be true of Prosecco. Pip, pip, Pop, pop.