Thursday, 17 December 2009

Never Mind the Dentist, Here's the Sex Pistols

article (and cartoon) by Mrs. Tami Thirlwell-Nicol

As a kid I had pretty decent teeth. My mom made it a point to put fluoride drops, which were all the rage in the 1960s, in our milk at mealtimes in the hopes that those teeth would grow strong and be free of major dental work. It was an investment. I was proud of the fact that I didn’t need braces; plus, I really knew how to floss. Smugly, I was pretty much ahead of the game.

In 1978 our 11th grade psychology class went on a weekend field trip to a facility resembling a ranch. It was like group encounter work for the budding Rogerian starter set. I only vaguely remember playing silly games in small groups and sitting in a lot of big circles. What I do recall distinctly is that on Saturday night it was my turn to help do the dishes. I was to dry them and my good friend John was to wash. While acting out some comedy shtick he turned suddenly and passed me an industrial-sized cooking pot, which I caught with my mouth. My teeth had their own group encounter as I watched shattered bits fly up in the air. It took me a moment to realize what had happened. 

When I arrived home from psychology camp my mother saw her investment in a jagged state. She was not a happy camper. If I had learned anything from that weekend retreat maybe I could have offered her grief counseling with my newly acquired teen empathy skills. I was to have prosthetics, two fake front teeth. And she was to have a very large dental bill. I easily accepted my fate, but a part of me always wonders how great my original teeth might have looked today.

The punk scene gave me a much wider view and perhaps more acceptance of those who, like myself, are dentally compromised. In fact it seemed that many of my music heroes had just about the worse teeth I’ve ever seen. Take Joe Strummer, for instance. Had his teeth ever experienced the ‘sip, swish and spit’ routine outside of a nightclub environment? What about Ten-pole Tudor with his ebony and ivory smile, or Shane McGowan and his mahogany picket fence? How dashing. And plenty of Damned, Pistols and Dead Boys members may not have had a peaches and cream complexion, but they had that same canned corn colored smile. These punk icons’ teeth were appealing in the way that lipstick was on Robert Smith’s mouth-- and chin and cheeks and sometimes forehead. 

Below: Mr. Shane McGowan and his famous accessories.
One learns to equate messed up teeth-- or the absence of them-- with a punk sensibility that says my mouth smells like a composter and I don’t give a toss, thereby excusing the need to see a dentist. The same unfortunately doesn’t hold true for our punk rock sisters. Evidence of a failed dental program is reflected greatly in one's looks, ladies. It is probably one of the leading telltale signs of aging. Witness one Amy Winehouse: she looks about 59 years old and really she’s only 15, right? 
Sure, the missing teeth might look edgy for about 10 minutes, but we all know she has plenty of money to get that fixed, thus, sorry Amy, street cred: denied.

But the award for “Best Capped Secret” goes to Keith Richards, another rock hero and dental delinquent. He eventually managed to plant himself in the big vinyl recliner. Soup had been starting to look like his best friend in the twilight years with the alternative being what? If only he had the same foresight as my mom and had thrown some fluoride in that IV drip during his famous blood transfusions! Today, however, having put his mouth through rehab, Keith is sporting a set of ‘teeth’ that would make your grandmother’s Poligrip quiver with an “I want to get with that” kind of lust. 

But maybe Keith’s teeth look too good. A set of fabulous pearly whites can look a little odd when juxtaposed against a face resembling fruit leather. Has Mr. Richards turned himself into Lyle Wagner’s doppelganger or just about any TV game show host? Look out Bob Eubanks and Wink Martindale! Fortunately, loading up on plenty of nicotine and coffee ought to even things out.

Lyle and the new Keef-- can you spot the difference?

I must admit I was quite negligent about my teeth for a spell, especially while I wasn’t on any sort of dental plan. My wisdom teeth started to crumble, and gold caps were hammered over my molars faster than you can say “nice grill, homes”. And as I got older my gums decided to recede like Sting’s hairline. (Okay, maybe not that bad). While that whiny crooner probably thought it made him look more virile, my recessiveness revealed the metal under the porcelain next to my gums, alerting everyone to the fact of my caps. This was unacceptable-- finally, I had them replaced. I invested in a proper bleaching tray one gets from the dentist, not those silly white strips. Now, like Keith, I can boldly present myself to the world with a carefree smile, snarl or sneer.  

Step right up, Skool-goers! Some of you are attending, but not on our class lists. WHO will be the 50th official reader? Just click on "follow" at the right of the blog and give Google a password. Miss Brown will then send you a full-size PRIZE from the fab UK line Soap & Glory. You can also choose between a girl-treat and a boy-treat.


  1. Ha!Well written,Tami ;)

    Cosmetic dentistry has come a long way to giving people some pretty spiffy smiles..
    Non that we saw too often back in the day,
    mind who was counting?

    People's teeth give them character and
    we all know lots of those :)

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  5. Nice one, Tami! I'm so sorry for what had happened to your teeth. How's the repair? I didn't realize that even rock stars have bad set of teeth until I read this blog post. I guess when you're already famous, getting your teeth fixed is one of the last things on your mind. Reminds me of Miley Cyrus. I remember how my mother would always talk about paying a visit to our two dentists in Memphis. I don't know why mothers (and even some fathers) want their children to have the perfect pearls.

    Hmmm. Because it really makes a big difference to own a beautiful smile. That's according to my daughter's dentist. Memphis dental clinics are offering new services in cosmetic dentistry.