A COLLECTION OF STORIES BY LUKE TAGG
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SMOKE: Clean Teeth At A Price

Originally published: 23 June 2004

I'm sitting here grinding. Before you get any nasty visuals to accompany that lovely sandwich you just ate, allow me to assure you that it's my teeth I'm grinding and not anything else.

I went to the dentist today. It's not something I like to do with any sort of startling regularity. The last time I went was almost a year ago and although there's absolutely nothing wrong with my teeth - they needed a clean. Real bad.

I'm looking at the wrong side of a thousand cigarettes a month, so you can understand my problem. My teeth get brown stains on them from the almost continuous passing of arsenic-laced smoke between them, and they get sealed in good and proper with a layer of tannin from all the tea I drink (upwards of 12 cups a day).

Naturally I tend to forget about such trifling matters and am always confused when horrified parents usher their children past me quickly when I smile, telling them everything will be alright.

I'm the extra the make-up department on a pirate movie loves - they don't need to touch my teeth. You would swear that they were straight out of the mouth of a beggar in the gutters of Paris circa 1400. It's that bad.

I was informed by Tashi that I would be going for a tooth-clean on such-and-such a date with so-and-so, and off I went. No point arguing with chicks, as you well know.

I had a total disaster the last time I went to a dentist (he actually told me that it was going to hurt me a lot more than it was him), so arrangements were made for a new one, this time a female oral hygienist operating out of that harem of filth, adultery and heartbreak - Pinelands.

In case you were wondering about my teeth - despite looking like an advertisement for Ripley's they're actually in pretty good shape. I've never had a filling or anything else faintly resembling painful dentistry. You could tie my head to a post and try stave my teeth in with a broomstick handle and all you'd get for your troubles is a blistered palm and a sweaty brow.

So naturally I am always apprehensive when visiting a dentist, because I'm always expecting them to peer inside, and go: "Aha! A thousand cavities, dahling, which must be fixed instantly with this here electric screwdriver. Oh - and hand me those pliers, won't you?"

Fortunately the doctor was a reasonable-faced, smiling lady perhaps a year or two older than myself, and showing her the damage didn't seem so bad.

As I got on the chair she told me she was glad to make my acquaintance and I warned her to hold off on such bold statements until she'd seen the horror inside.

To her eternal credit she didn't scream or faint - a professional through and through. I could tell she wanted to reassure me by telling me she'd seen worse, but it was obvious she could not trust herself to stomach the lie.

She nodded sagely and muttered to someone - I know not whom - "smoker's tongue as well", and it didn't take brain science to work out what she was referring to.

Bad as the teeth were, the tongue is something else. If there are children in the room with you right now please pack them off to bed, and if you've just finished up a particularly thick, oily lasagne I'd advise you come back to read the rest at a later stage.

I'm fastidious about brushing my tongue, but it doesn't really help. It's swollen from being burned more than a thousand times a month, with a thick yellow and grey coating across the top, split by the ridge in the middle.

The yellow coating is nicotine glued down with tannin and brushing it only makes little craters of pink, which pockmark the vile grey organ at irregular intervals.

The whole monstrous thing has long since lost any taste buds it might have once had and to really get a grip on the enormity of it all - imagine a lump of frozen mince that you take out of the freezer. You pour hot water on it and the top goes grey-brown while the rest stays pink.

That's my tongue. You wouldn't feed it to a sow.


That's possibly a mild exaggeration of the facts, but I knew what she meant.

Then began the little cleaner, and a year of tartar build-up takes a long time to be dislodged. Whenever it touched the gums the pain was almost as bad as I thought it would be - but not quite. Just enough to be uncomfortable - but without screaming.

Then came the little scraper, which is my worst. It's used to scrape the bits off that the cleaner can't get to, particularly between the teeth, and I'm convinced it's used to give dentists return business.

I don't see how it can be a good thing to have a metal spike forced between two canines and wikkeled about. Surely it loosens the teeth? My teeth have been sensitive to sore the whole day, particularly in the places where they were pried apart.

I also don't know so much about the vicious scraping that goes on - apart from the awful sound I can feel bits of enamel being scraped off, and teeth were designed to have the enamel on, as far as I know.

Still - there's no arguing with the chick who's got the drilling tools. If she wants to put a funny hat on my head and call me Biggles then I say fair enough.

At the end of it all my teeth looked lovely again, but I find it all rather pointless. By the end of the week they'll be coated a foot deep in something or other, despite brushing them a minimum of four times a day with a very hard brush and lots of energy.

The pitfalls of smoking, you understand.

Actually - I read some excellent news for smokers yesterday. According to some new study (by the guy who first made the connection between smoking and lung cancer) smoking can reduce your lifespan by 10 years. Last I heard it could kill you, so I'm mighty relieved to hear I'll only be docked ten.

Since I was going for 100 it means I'll get to 90, and that's not bad for someone who breathes more smoke than oxygen.

But it sure equates to a lot of tooth-cleans.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

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Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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