Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
The day I stopped talking (and eating)
Back when we lived in the apartment building on Charles Street, my mom used to take me to see the dentist quite often. His office was over on Main Street. The reasons for this were twofold.
It seemed like all I had to do was look at a gumball and I'd sprout a new cavity. I believed the cause to be my "Indian teeth" inherited from ancestors who snacked on pemmican, not chocolate bars.
I blamed my mom for the other frequent trips. She had a sweet spot for our dentist, and she wasn't alone.
She and my auntie Jeanie would drink coffee and gush about him after they'd been to his office. They thought he looked like The Fonz from the TV show Happy Days.
Once my appointment was over, I'd get to dig into a little treasure chest of toys for my good behaviour and my mom would be all chatty with the dentist. I was no fool. I was around 10, but I knew about crushes.
My dentist was nice enough, but I didn't see the appeal. He had kind eyes that peered into my mouth. He explained his work as he excavated, drilled and filled cavities. But I was still afraid of going to the dentist because of the needles.
After one visit, I was told I would be fitted with something called a space maintainer. If I didn't get one, I would end up with really crooked teeth.
The problem with the space maintainer was it went around two top back molars, then two metal wires joined together into a plastic blob at the roof of my mouth. It was kind of like a retainer inside your mouth, except it wasn't removable.
I was told the maintainer might bother me a bit, but after a while it'd be like it wasn't even there.
I hated my new hardware. I rubbed my tongue along it constantly. After a month or two, I couldn't take the annoying feeling anymore. I decided to pull the darn thing out.
First, I tried wiggling the metal wrapped around my back teeth but it wouldn't budge. Then I decided if I could just get the plastic off the roof of my mouth, I'd be happy. So I slowly pulled the plastic down towards my tongue and tried twisting it loose. But it still wouldn't come off, so after a while I gave up. But now I'd made things worse. I couldn't get the plastic part pushed back into place and realized my mom was going to murder me.
I was stuck with a space maintainer hanging down from the roof of my mouth, pushing down on my tongue. It made both eating and talking very difficult without sounding like I was hiding a golf ball in my mouth.
So I decided to give up talking. I also gave up eating with people around me.
It was two weeks before my mom noticed. Our household was so boisterous that one voice missing wasn't a big concern. To this day, I still don't know what tipped her off. Maybe she got a call from school by a concerned teacher.
She started by asking me why I wasn't eating. She received only silence or the odd nod and shake of my head to her questions. She became increasingly high-pitched. Finally she asked the question I'd been dreading.
"Why aren't you talking?"
I could only look forlorn and hope for the best. Then it all came out: She demanded I open my mouth and was shocked by the tangled mess that was once my space maintainer.
The next day a special trip was made to the dentist's to remove the maintainer. Much to my relief, the maintainer never came back into my life. I guess it was mangled so bad it wasn't fixable.
Our visits to the dentist tapered off a bit after that. I'm sure my mom's embarrassment over the incident may have had something to do with it.
But it sure was nice to return to the real world of talking and eating good food. And despite the loss, my teeth didn't turn out too bad.
Colleen Simard is a Winnipeg writer
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 6, 2012 J11