Wed, Apr 25, 2018 07:59 AM
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 issue
2004-01-09 communities
Smile Awhile
A tooth for a tooth
Sara Hopson
Q. What do the state of Kentucky and Mike Tyson have in common?

A. They both have fewer teeth than the rest of the people in the United States.

A week or so ago I read an article that stated Kentuckians led the nation in having fewer teeth (five less, to be exact) than people in any other state. When I first read the information, I immediately wanted to know where West Virginia was ranked. (Several months ago my column contained a joke about the toothbrush being invented in West Virginia because if it had been invented anyplace else, it would have been called a "teethbrush.") But after this revelation, I'm eating crow.

Even though we have some of the finest dental surgeons, dentists and dental hygienists in the country, I have always suspected that my family might be lacking in dental competency. This theory stemmed from my mother's first introduction to my father. Mother always said that she fell in love with Daddy's smile because he had such beautiful teeth. However, this attraction didn't last long.

A few months after Mom and Dad married, Dad was out cavorting with the amicable and well-loved dentist, Dr. Salyer. At some point during the evening, Dad mentioned that he had a bad tooth and asked if Doc would take a look at it. To make a long story short, Doc mumbled something about Daddy being on the GI Bill, and that he would probably lose his teeth anyway, so Doc just pulled all of his upper teeth.

When Dad woke up the next morning and walked into the kitchen, Mom said her own teeth nearly fell out when she looked up into his toothless grin. I suppose the only thing you could say positive about the entire experience is that Daddy obviously didn't feel a thing.

Another of my favorite stories surrounding Kentuckians and teeth is the one about a popular local character who remarked that he thought a certain woman was really good-looking. When it was brought to his attention that the woman only had one tooth he replied, "Yeah, but it's a 'purty' tooth."

A friend of mine once told me that when her son was 12, he wanted to see an orthodontist about getting braces. Her son thought of himself as being extremely self-sufficient and was not in need of parental guidance about such matters. Knowing that her son couldn't endure even the slightest discomfort, my friend informed her son that he could go alone to the orthodontist, but to keep in mind the doctor might suggest that some teeth be pulled first.

When the appointment day arrived, my friend drove her son to the office and waited for him in the car. About 45 minutes later the son came out and climbed in beside her.

"Did he say you'd have to have any teeth pulled?"

"No," the son said smugly, "but he said I might have to have a few extractions."

Personally, I still have all of my teeth except for my four wisdom teeth that I had extracted when I was 27 years old. And although they don't look it, I wore braces from my 7th grade year until I got married. (Ironically, that incident occurred during my senior year of school, which perpetuates another myth about Kentuckians and the age they marry).

Thinking back on it, three of my grandparents (I originally had four like everyone else, but one of them died before I was born) had dentures, and this condition was considered normal.

So, getting back to the aforementioned article, I guess we'll just have to stay on the top of Jay Leno's list of states whose people have dental hygiene problems. My husband and I have heard him crack at least two jokes in the last year about Kentuckians and their teeth (or the lack of them). I just wonder how he knew? Hey, maybe he wrote the article.

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