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I hate false teeth…. Sorry to those of you who are equipped with a pearly white set of falsies but I was so traumatised by them as a kid that I have developed an absolute aversion to them.  A lot of my family have false teeth and it was common practice when I was little to flop your false teeth out, at kids, as a joke.  Now some kids thought this was hilarious or just bemusing as to how it was done and would try to flop their own teeth out.  I was grossed out by it so badly that I have a phobia about them.  To see them in someones gums where they belong is fine.. but to see them out of the mouth, in any circumstances makes me start to dry retch.

Friends and family find this hilarious and, to be fair, if I saw someone have such an intense reaction to bits of plastic, I would probably think it funny too, but they really do make me feel ill.  Over the years I have been given false teeth ice block moulds, chattering false teeth that bounce across the table when wound up, false teeth set into a garden tile and other unique, vomit inducing gifts.  (I have such caring friends) These gifts have been amusing and I have laughed along with them as I can see the absurdity of my phobia but you’d have to know how false teeth have haunted me throughout my life to fully understand the extent of suffering I’ve endured.

I remember an old lady who lived down the road who used to visit often. Flossie was a gorgeous lady, an absolute hoot to have around and one of the kindest people I had met as a child.  She had the loudest laugh of anyone I knew and would throw her head back and laugh with her mouth wide open.  Everytime she did, I would gaze in amazement at her red gums.  It took me a while, as a child, to realise that those unnaturally red gums and perfect white teeth were a dead giveaway that a person had false teeth.  I asked Mum why Flossie’s gums were so red and she laughed and explained about false teeth. That’s when I started watching closer when people flopped their teeth out at me.  I don’t know when that turned to repulsion but somewhere in my life it did.

We had my grandmother, Gargie, live with us from when i was reasonably young.. A tough, Irish, WW1 bride who came out to Australia from the old country, had 9 children then lost her husband and was left to raise the said kids by herself during the depression.  Tough as nails but as loving and giving as any one person could be.  She hated her false teeth: never saw why she should have to “put the damn things in”.  She didn’t care that her gums were on display.  She wasn’t a person who was concerned about looks so they were just an inconvenience to her.  When she did have them in,  she too, would also flop them out occasionally.  They also click clacked when she ate.  This was a result of not wearing them enough so her gums kept shrinking and the teeth were too big so she couldn’t hold them in properly.  Between the teeth flopping and the click clacking, coupled with the fact that I shared a room with her, I think it was probably the start of my lack of love for false teeth.

The day Gargie died, the local Bush Nurse,  came down to help Mum lay her out before the funeral parlour came for the body.  Mum was bustling around finding clothes and wash cloths etc to get her cleaned up and dressed while Sister Getsom was trying to fit Gargie’s false teeth back in. They hadn’t been worn in such a long time that her mouth had totally shrunk and they wouldn’t fit. The wonderful, sharp tongued Bush Nurse threw them across the room when Mum told her they were hardly ever worn so didn’t fit properly. Mum did what she always did, picked them up and put them away for safe keeping.

Years later, when my father was in hospital dying, his teeth also sat in a cupboard beside the bed as he was too sick to have them in.  After he died, Mum took his belongings home which, of course, included his teeth.  Once again, they were put away for safe keeping.  (why? I have no idea?)  Mum and Dad lived in a granny flat in my backyard but when I divorced after Dad died, the house was sold as part of the settlement, so Mum and I shifted into a place together.  I didn’t see any evidence of her chompers stash as she had things in tins and boxes everywhere, as is the habit of hoarders.

Roll forward more years again and I was nursing Mum as she had terminal cancer.  I probably need to tell you here, that I’m a sympathetic chucker.. In other words, if someone vomits, I’m likely to join them out of sympathy.  So, with Mum suffering the effects of chemotherapy, she would have a bucket beside the bed if she needed to vomit.  I took the bucket outside one day to clean, when my youngest son Stuart (all of 10 at the time) came out to find me trying to fish her false teeth out of the used bucket with a pair of kitchen tongs, all the while vomiting myself.  He took the whole thing off me, cleaned it all up, threw the tongs away, brushed the offending teeth and gave them back to her.  (yes, he now works in Aged Care)

Now, the worst thing you can do with my friends, is to let them know your weakness.  Stuart delighted in telling everyone who visited about me throwing up while trying to tend to Mum’s needs.  So they would try to catch the look on my face when Mum would give her still warm teeth to me on a daily basis to brush, as she could no longer get out of bed.  My dear friends would watch on, not even trying to pretend they weren’t laughing hysterically at me and my green face. Tears would be rolling down my face while I tried to stop myself from heaving while tears rolled down their face from laughter at my expense.

A few days before my wonderful Mum passed away, she had a stroke and I took her teeth out of her mouth as it had twisted.  When she finally crossed over to Heaven’s shores, I knew I had to put her teeth back in as she always said she didn’t want to meet Saint Peter bare gummed. My best friend Anne was with me and I made a deal with her that I would put the bottom teeth in if she did the top.  So summoning up all my courage, I managed to get Mum’s bottom teeth in her mouth and left Anne to do her part.  Unfortunately Mum’s mouth was still slightly twisted, so I’m afraid she would have met Saint Peter with a slightly lopsided grin, as Anne couldn’t get them in straight.  I assumed the funeral parlour would straighten them up but I realised after having a viewing just before the funeral service that they must have thought she actually looked like that and so left them as they were.  I offered up a silent apology to her for the state of her pearly whites upon arrival at the pearly gates.

After Mum died, I was left to pack up the rest of her things that she hadn’t given away, so was left to the task of opening tins and boxes packed away.. One of the first things I found was a pair of Gargie’s false teeth.. I knew they were Gargie’s by the color of the gums. (thankfully false teeth have improved nowadays)  I assumed this was Mum’s way of paying me back for sending her to heaven with a Dick Emery smile and after a bout of dry retching I threw them out.. But not before affording Anne and my boys enormous amounts of amusement.

I shifted quite a bit after Mum died as I couldn’t settle.  Without fail, every time I shifted I would find another set of false teeth.  Not only did she keep the teeth they died with, but every single pair they ever owned, so between her, my dad and grandmother, it was the gift that kept on giving.  You’d think that eventually I would have become immune to finding them, but every single time, I heaved and retched my way through the discovery. Unfortunately, during one shift, Anne found the obligatory housewarming gift from Heaven and chased me round the house with them while I tried not to vomit.  I got in her car and she had hung them as a rear view mirror accessory.  She wore them as a swish hair accessory.. She hung them from light fittings and door knobs… nothing was more amusing to her than to watch my reaction to what she saw as a harmless lump of shaped plastic.

To me they had become the enemy. I must admit I did find it amusing that Mum had kept them all for so many years. (Mum died when I was 37 and my grandmother when I was 15 so she’d been carting them around for at least 22 years) Anne pinched one pair and set them into a mosaic garden paver and laid it in my garden, so I had Dad’s choppers looking up at me as I hung clothes on the line.

I finally found my last pair as I was packing up my final house in Victoria, ready to make a new life in NSW.  I think all up I found about 15 pair of teeth belonging to Mum, Dad and Gargie.  It was quite refreshing to know that I wouldn’t ever find another pair while unpacking, but a bit sad too.  I could just imagine the three of them having a gummy grin in heaven, at my expense, every time they saw me heaving at the sight of the latest offering.  I will never know how Mum managed to hide them in such different places so they were never found all in one go.  Pretty clever woman, my mum.

I was in a play once, when from right beside me (just offstage thank goodness), one of my fellow actresses had a line to say as the curtain closed and coughed slightly as she said it and spat her teeth into her hands.. Seriously, I think I must have been a denture murderer in a past life as they keep haunting me.

Anyway, all this talk about false teeth has left me feeling a bit queasy.  I think I might go make a nice hot cup of tea… after I’ve brushed my teeth (real of course)..

Happy brushing.. Livvy 🙂

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