This too shall pass

In a bid to save my lowest incisor from falling out, the periodontist recommended a third skin graft. A third, I say, and the worst one of all.

This time the good doctor needed to wrench out my lower lip and press hard against my jaw to hold the small flap of skin he’d taken from the roof of my mouth and attached at the gum line.

Not a pretty procedure.

Every time I tell people about it I see them wince.

Bodies are such fragile things and when it comes to our own we take comfort from giving all the grisly details to anyone willing to hear. That way we share some of the discomfort.

In every grimace and groan there is a sense of the unspoken: ‘You poor thing, how awful. I’m not sure I could have tolerated that.’

And now the only discomfort left is the gathering of stitches at my lower jaw, still holding the slip of skin in place, though hopefully no longer necessary, assuming the graft has taken.

It’s been ten days now and there are no signs to the contrary but these stitches, the non-dissolving type – presumably because they’re in my mouth and saliva might have eaten away too soon at the dissolving type – remind me of a fish caught on a hook, the same stinging sensation every time I move my mouth around to talk and to eat.

If I write long enough I will forget the insides of my mouth and move up to the insides of my mind.

I have a photograph on my desk of my siblings, all nine of us, posed together for the camera in 2009, the last time we ever came together as a complete group.


We meet in snatches, one or two sisters, brothers, a brother and sister here and there. A large family fractures simply because of its size, I wrote many years ago. Ours did. We could not sustain our mother’s wish that we be together in harmony forever more.

It may well be that we never come together as a group again. We are reaching the stage where one or another of us is likely to die soon, given we range in age from the mid fifties to the mid seventies.

For almost twenty years – no longer – my mother gave birth to babies. She started at twenty-three years of age and her last baby, conceived in her forty third year, was still born. I was ten. Her first daughter died too, as a five month old during the war. My mother had eleven children all up and nine of us survived.

I write about these numbers often. They are a testament to something. My mother’s greatest achievement, my father’s greatest burden, at least he argued that way.  All those children, he complained. ‘I should have taken the pill’.

There was no way known my mother would take the pill.  Good Catholic she was, contraception was out of the question. And so it was my parents had many children and my mother relished every new arrival, mourned the lost ones and my father’s resentment multiplied.

The rough end of the stitch cut close to the wound points out and scrapes against the inside of my mouth. Not painful but irritating. And I must wait another week before the doctor will remove them.

I can only imagine the relief now but it’s a comfort to think that soon enough it will come.




My periodontist has recommended I endure another gum graft on one of my lower teeth to prevent further recession of the gum.
I have already endured two of these procedures.  I would prefer my teeth were able to stay in my mouth, those that remain, and given I have a full lower jaw of teeth it would be good to keep it so, but the thought of another graft leaves me cold.
Two factors: for one the cost, but that’s not the overriding concern.
The overriding concern is the cut and stitches and having to hold my mouth still for several hours after the procedure; having to avoid hard food for weeks; and on that first day and the next, eating only soft foods, luke warm, to give the graft a chance to take.
It’s almost a miracle to me that a doctor can peel a small portion of skin from the roof of my mouth and then attach it to the section of my gum that is receding just above the root and over time and with care the skin will attach itself to my gum to form new healthy tissue that will then attach to my tooth and stop it from falling out.
I managed to put off the procedure to early next year, during the summer when the weather makes the thought of such assaults on my body less awesome.
It’s hereditary, my sister tells me, a legacy from our father.  His teeth fell out with gum
I would have thought they fell out through neglect.
These were the days when people had their teeth extracted and full dentures inserted as a wedding present.  The days before fluoride.  The days when teeth rotted in people’s mouths
and no one looked askance.
My father never complained of toothache, at least not within my earshot, and so I’m left wondering about the story of his teeth.
I never went near enough to my father to remember this time when his teeth were still his own, if only they dangled precariously from receding roots.  Perhaps they fell out
before my time.  But my father was only thirty-six when I was born, he must still have had his teeth then, or did he leave them behind in Holland?
I grew up hiding my teeth; terrified that someone might notice they needed attention and drag me off to the nearest dentist.  The dentist might then look into my mouth.  And the look on his face…
I dreamed of going into hospital, of sleeping the sleep of the anaesthetised and of waking up with a full set of dentures, and the fantasy of never having to worry about my teeth again.
My dreams did not come true, instead I kept most of my teeth and my worries, and I now have a periodontist to keep them all – teeth and worries – in place.