As old as my tongue and a little bit older than my teeth," was the smartypants reply we used to get from our teacher if we enquired about her age. Thus spake a woman with a fine set of gnashers. During secondary school, pupils work hard at sorting out their growing teeth, and for some the idea of wearing braces demonstrates their commitment to good dental health. Not so for Amanda; after working her way through numerous dentists and consultants she stoutly declared she couldn't possibly have a brace because she was off to a Bon Jovi concert soon.
My latest contribution to the annals of research is to dental science education. It began a while back when I had a fall. In casualty, they refused me a mirror, so I turned one of those shiny kidney-shaped bowls upside down, rubbed it on my jumper and had a look at my face. Then I understood why they had withheld the mirror. In full colour and convex vision, the gap was enormous; I'd knocked out a front tooth.
My dentist was a bit of a sixties whiz-kid, desperate to try out new techniques, and aware that such learning opportunities come seldom. I agreed to have a strip of gold run across the roof of my mouth, and was regularly invited to dental conventions and displayed like a freak of nature. It was the latest thing in spring cantilever bridges, would you believe, and paid for by the National Health, but perhaps only a few of you remember that concept.
Our sons had ideas about this oral fortune of mine, and when they were feeling hard up, they'd fantasise about the value of the gold. Once, the six of them plucked up the communal courage to ask if I intended to be cremated. On hearing that it might be an option, they asked if the gold could be retrieved from my ashes. Filial affection knows no bounds.
This week, my nineties dentist asked if he could show my bridge to his assistant, who is learning all about dentistry. "And here we have a fine example of a bridge. This is how they used to do it in the old days." If my jaw hadn't already been wide open it would surely have dropped. I'm a freak again, but no longer illustrating how the future might be. Instead my gold and I are relics.
On his advice I've had the thing removed, and become a guinea-pig for science once more. Just like his sixties counterpart, he had been looking for a willing victim to try out some new instruments. So instead of my normal techno-pursuits of beta-testing software, I have been evaluating the client effects of a dentist's manual and electronic pneumatic drills. I'll spare you the details.
Because of all these toothly escapades, I have empathised with those who lose teeth suddenly, especially since they are usually aged six or seven and quite charming. Hamish down the road is nearly eight and boasts a magnificent gap, just waiting for a new tooth to appear. He has not let on yet whether it went below the pillow or under an eggcup to be transformed by the tooth fairy into hard cash, but I must warn his mother of potential scams. For some unfathomable reason, many parents reclaim these tiny teeth from the fairies and stash them away. It has been known for children in large families to filch the odd one from the family store and claim it as their own. Parents need to be aware of this potential for tooth fairy exploitation.
I suspect nothing of this sort of Hamish and his brother Magnus. Magnus, at only five years of age, is far too honest. On comparing my current toothlessness to his big brother's he declared the obvious: "Yours doesn't look as much fun as Hamish's. That's because you're old. But you do look like a good pirate."
Shall I tell him about my pot of gold, or just run off as planned to the jeweller's to have it turned into earrings before my sons get their hands on it?