Each month, Esquire commissions an unsparing inspection of Will Self ’s body. This month: teeth
The award-winning writer’s monthly anatomical survey brushes up on teeth
where to start with the teeth? I mean to say, while they aren’t with us (usually) from the very beginning, they have a nasty way of outlasting us at the end. Yes, yes, I know they’re made of dentine not bone, but they do nonetheless seem like the bits of the skull that have thrust their way through our skin. And — not to piss on your miserable, fleshy parade or anything — as a man grows older, his gums begin to recede, almost as if his skull were emerging into the full white light of his own bodily dissolution.
So, I’d better begin with my mother’s teeth, which were an absolute puzzle to me as a child. From time to time, and without warning, she’d push out the bottom row of her teeth. That’s right: she’d push them out so that they distended her lower lip, as if she were wearing some sort of tribal lip plug. We children would recoil, shocked, so shocked, we dared not ask her what the fuck was going on; we had to piece it together over the years — spotting something lurking in a glass on her bedside table, and tubes of something called Steradent in the bathroom cabinet — until we were old enough to realise that, gulp, she wore dentures. When I was much older, mother told me her teeth had all been taken out when she was in her twenties, and that this was not unusual for the Forties, when a dentist would often say to a patient: “Listen, your teeth are dreadful, and it’s going to be another half-century before there’s genuinely effective and painless dentistry. So, why don’t I just ether you up to the gills and whip ’em all out?”
Frankly, I wished they’d whipped out my father’s teeth as well. Jesus! They really were appalling: little greenish-brown nuggets of decay set at crazy angles in his crumbling gums. He would’ve qualified many times over for that volume beloved of The Simpsons, The Big Book
of British Smiles; yet I never remember him complaining of pain, or difficulty chomping and, of course, I never remember him going to the dentist. Mum took us to the dentist, which must have been like an Orthodox Jew visiting a pork butcher so far as she was concerned. Our