Some people never realize, until they reach adulthood, just how poor they were as kids. When I was a kid I thought I got plain noodles every night because I was lucky. I didn’t know that was all we could afford.
We sure couldn’t afford dentistry, so it was a huge deal when I chipped a front tooth and saw a dentist. I was probably ten years old, and bit someone during a fight (over what I don’t remember) and I remember feeling it crumble in my mouth and wondering if that was supposed to happen. I don’t remember anything about the visit, but I’ve had this deep visceral fear of dentists for much of my adult life. I’m probably one of the most difficult patients a dentist could have. I’ve been booted from practices. I’ve woken up from general anesthesia, to the point of routinely being restrained during surgery. This is probably the only truly extreme phobia I have, so I’m very fortunate that I don’t really need much work that’s not cosmetic. If I were a kid who needed braces growing up, I wouldn’t have been so lucky.
I’ve noticed one thing that a certain class of really horrible people have in common – nasty brown teeth. These horrible people can be described, most aptly and politely (not easy to be both here) as godawful subhuman trash white supremacist slack-jawed knuckle-dragging racist morons who scream about Jewish people and usually live in their mother’s trailer or in some kind of transitional housing, but brag about being a superior race. It’s hard to understand why they would not, then, take more pride in their white teeth?
Some people have reminded me that not all can afford good dental care, and of course this is true. Dental care is seen, strangely, as some kind of luxury. If people don’t have disposable income, they will probably not have dental insurance.
But then I got to thinking about much of the people I work on and the families I work with. I serve a large Mexican migrant population, and many of my death certificates will only report a 6th grade education or less. Their families speak almost no English and are pooling funds together from dozens of relatives. They are usually farmers, construction workers and mechanics. Sometimes I do the funeral arrangements in trailers, or in food stands that they own. Sometimes the whole service is on their farm, with chickens walking around.
But the cases all have great teeth. White, clean, strong teeth. It’s absolutely not true that all lower income people just plain have to accept bad teeth. They can always, I guess, do something about it?
It’s also absolutely true that many dumb skinheads and other racist trash people use a lot of meth, and also are frequently obese, often existing in front of computer screens at the public library while eating hot dogs, chewing tobacco and swilling Mountain Dew, and apparently not brushing. This is why their teeth are bad – not because of how they grew up.
I did have one case who was an exception. An older lady, I discovered she had only three teeth. I would have to construct a natural mouth closure using a specially designed plastic mold. It’s one part of the embalming process I’m not really the greatest at, but usually with a few tries I can create something that looks right.
This lady had only a second grade education, and had twelve children. She never had a job. In talking with her family, I learned she had never learned how to drive or how to read beyond children’s books. She got married at fourteen, had a huge family and lived to be very old. She never really had to leave the farm.
The funeral lasted for three days and each day was packed beyond capacity. No room to sit, no room to stand, no room to park. An endless day of telling people where the bathroom was. This lady, by all accounts, did “nothing” with her life but have kids, and literally thousands of people came to pay their respects. Tamales and Mexican hot chocolate for days; overlooking the group taking shots of tequila; Mariachi band – the works. She barely left the house and this many people are sad she is gone. To outsiders, she had “nothing,” but I know she had far more than I ever will, than many of us will.