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Teeth on Edge

A young man needs a lover, a middle aged man a housekeeper and an old man a nurse. Sexist but true. Well to be fair I didn’t do much of the middle bit but because we reversed roles but I’m doing plenty of the latter now to make up for it.

Last week, chauffeur’s hat on my head, I had to take My Loved One to the dentist for a filling and to see the hygienist. I took him into the waiting room and handed him over – the staff are very understanding – and repaired to the café over the road with my pencil and the book I was reading to review. Work never stops.  When I returned to collect him I was informed that the hygienist wanted to see me because she didn’t think MLO had processed what she’d told him.

A flashback: When MLO was a young lad he came off his bike, smashed his front teeth and in those bad old days of primitive dentistry lost the lot. He has worn a denture ever since. Is there a worse turn-off than false teeth?  I am mildly phobic about them anyway.  I find them utterly revolting to see or even think about. When he and I first became … err .. intimate (and that was a jolly long time ago too) he promised me with ardent fervour that I would never need to see or have anything to do with the horrible denture.

And so it has proved. In half a century I have almost never seen MLO without the repulsive thing. Even when a nasty ladder accident and foot reconstruction surgery put him out of action for months in 2002, and I had to do a lot of things for him, he still looked after his own teeth – thank goodness.

Until now. What the hygienist wanted to tell me was that, presumably thanks to Ms A, he is not cleaning any of his teeth – real ones and false ones – properly. He’s heading, she says, for fungal infections and there are already signs of problems. So we have to adopt a new procedure. And I have to supervise it. Ugh! I promised a lot of things in my marriage vows and I’ve kept them scrupulously but I never agreed to be tooth monitor. In fact I’d have probably bolted from the altar had I had any inkling that denture management would ever be on my job list. Surely “in sickness and in health” carries a false teeth exemption?

Well, despite all that, you can’t accuse me of not being conscientious. I bought a couple of tubes of Steradent (art come to this?), read the instructions and found a plastic pot. I dissolved one of the pesky things to make the blue solution, gave it to MLO and said. “Go into the downstairs loo. Put your teeth in this pot and leave them for five minutes. Don’t come out until that time is up. Then rinse the pot, put your teeth in your mouth and carry on as normal.”

It’s meant to be a nightly routine and that was eight nights ago. Since then I’ve had him several times wandering round the house with the pot in his hand. Once I found it on the draining board. Another time he wanted to bring it into the bedroom with the teeth floating in it.  Five minutes seems an impossible concept. At other times he’ll say something vague about “turning water blue” and no, I don’t know what he means either.  He has also several times left the denture downstairs and come up, toothless, to ask me what to do next – horrid sight.

Left to himself he does nothing except brush as usual for about 15 seconds which, of course, is woefully inadequate.  He simply can’t carry out a simple instruction and procedure any more. “Let me write it all down so I know what to do” he said. So we did that but he hasn’t looked the paper since. We’ve spiralled a long way downhill in recent months – even further than I realised. Damn Ms Alzheimer’s and her intrusive awfulness.

I think I’ve been more stressed about his bloody teeth than about any other single thing since Alzheimer’s was diagnosed. It’s driving me potty and, a lifelong bruxism person, I’m probably grinding my own fragile teeth to stumps. I can’t wear my mouth guard all day, after all.  I cajole, explain, shout, fulminate, plead, cry and still he gets it wrong.

Normally I try to be kind and empathetic. Sometimes I even succeed. But false teeth (even typing those two words fills me with revulsion) are a step too far.








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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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