Toothless: What’s Life Like Without Any Teeth?
Toothless: What’s Life Like Without Any Teeth?
In terms of pursuit, physicality, and persistence, the preference would be in finding weight and worth from Ernest Hemingway rather than Elon Musk; personally the latter holds not the same appeal or myth. The establishment of six degrees of separation between the two would invariably end with 3656 Hemingway, a 1978 planet discovery and naming by Russian born Soviet astronomer Nikolai Chernykh (1931-2004). Or the Mercury crater also named in his honour in 2009.
Either way, it’s up to someone else to define the intervening intricacies, none of which have to do with not having any teeth, according to some. That, however, is without considering that the three things of total endentulism, the universe and craters all involve space. (Ta-da!)
Whatever prompted Elon Musk’s quotable quote on history, toothlessness, and his ever-present misogynism, some time more than four hundred years ago, Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) observed that “Every tooth in a man’s head is more valuable than a diamond.”
Barely a truer word ever written.
Best known for his work Don Quixote, it remains the first great novel of modern literature.
Originally published in two parts (1605 and 1615) its vibrant assortment of diverse characters, acuities and beliefs tells the awkward yet valiant antics of its protagonist Don Quixote de la Mancha, and his faithful sidekick Sancho Panza. It’s a tale of adventure, friendship, humour and love that continues to inspire art, literature, popular culture – even political revolution – over hundreds of years.
First translated into English in 1612, (The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha) it is without doubt the most significant Spanish language work of all time; an inexhaustible source of information and life in Spain at the end of the 15th, and beginning of the 16th centuries.
It is a treasure of parody, and amusement of an aging knight errant, in an antique suit of armour. With a pasteboard visor and his old horse Rocinante deemed a noble steed, amid its idiomatic environment, customs, and expressions lays detailed knowledge of quite extensive dental matters.
The conclusion is that de Cervantes’ father was a Renaissance dentist.
Rodrigo de Cervantes it seems, lived an insecure and unstable life in poverty and debt as an apothecary-surgeon.
Dental afflictions were treated by surgeons, tooth pullers and phlebotomist barbers during those times.
In Spain, the barbarics of the barber trade were regulated in the mid 15th century – so prolific were those who practiced it, so haphazard their knowledge and skill, and so dedicated were its proponents.
Spain’s royalty issued the ordinance that, “… all High Examining Barbers, from this moment onwards, do not consent or grant leave for any barber or other person to set up shop for the purpose of bleeding, applying leeches or suctioning cups, pulling teeth or molars, without having been previously examined by our High Barbers…”
Occasionally part of the king’s payroll, those who passed gained their examination certificate, which was the prerequisite to opening their business – whether at home or in commercial premises.
1557 was the first Spanish publication dealing exclusively with the causes, afflictions, conditions and treatments of the mouth.
Authored by physician Francisco Martinez del Castillo, it was prompted by his observations and concerns about surgeons, tooth pullers and barbers with poor practices; compounded by the blatant rivalry among surgeons with a university degree.
So well educated and learned was del Castillo he remained the physician of the mouth of Philip the Prudent, King of Spain, who married Queen Mary I in 1554.
Titled Brief Discussion and Compendium on the Subject of Dentition and Wonrous Function of the Mouth the book is innovative in its concepts of anatomy, tooth function, cavities, periodontal diseases, prostheses, and prevention.
It bore great influence in Renaissance Spain.
Published eleven years after the initial German and Latin book of medicine by various contributors – The Medicinal Book For All Kinds of Diseases of The Whole Body, Internal and External, From Head to Toe – its ninth of thirteen chapters was dedicated to dentistry.
Following that was Charles Allen with the first English dental publication in 1685, The Operator for the Teeth, by which time Miguel de Cervantes had been dead for 69 years at age 69 with only six teeth in his head.
Certainly not toothless, but close enough.
Curiously, when Don Quixote was duly dubbed ‘Knight of the Woeful Countenance’ in Cervantes’ tale, he emphasised the loss of his celebrated character’s molars and incisors, possibly as a reflection of his own dental despairs. The dimensions of Quixote’s face reduced, giving him sagging cheeks, an ill-defined jaw, and furrowed facial lines, resulting in a permanently sorrowful countenance.
It’s what tooth loss does.
Don Quixote embodies many archetypes and paradigms. It conveys the most intrinsic of human values. It’s a measure of the essence and meaning that resounds and endures; the concept of the universal man, as is Hemingway’s Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea.
The riding motifs through these great books of Hemingway and Cervantes of individual against society, of the defining marks of sanity are themes familiar to another yet contemporary creative, British filmmaker, animator, actor and comedian, Terry Gilliam.
A founding member of the matchless Monty Python team, Gilliam found that Cervantes’ story not only inspired him to co-write and co-direct the 1975 Arthurian satire Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but it further excited him into 29 years of development hell in his stymied attempts to create the film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.
With its beginnings in 1989, it was relaunched and recast a number of times before finally premiering at Cannes Film Festival in 2018. The adventure-comedy originally starred lanky French actor Jean Rochefort (1930-2017) who was found by Gilliam to be his perfect Quixote.
The universe it seems, had other ideas.
Or it at least assumed the Don Quixote effect of an impractical idealist fixated on the righting of incorrigible wrongs.
After spending eight months learning English for the role, Rochefort’s misdiagnosed prostate cancer eventually lead to the skilled horseman being unable to complete the project.
In its wake came the 2000 shooting of Gilliam’s documentary Lost in La Mancha – a film folding in on its quixotic self: the story of a film that didn’t exist, by the visionary dreamer bravely, and naively, moving against all that is real.
Such is the inherent fragility of the creative process. And the sometimes impossible dream of artistic endeavour.
So too is the inherent fragility of the creative’s teeth: Cervantes being left with few; Gilliam’s rectified by implant surgery.
Which is somewhat disappointing, considering the dancing ones he’d already designed.
There is little dancing to be had in an edentulous life, despite the gummy, comic, scary faces we’ve all made at some point in our lives.
Because as Cervantes suggests, everything’s funny when it isn’t real.
Without any teeth, there is pain to navigate. Trauma sits at the table and takes up room in the bed.
Speech no longer comes easily. There’s difficulty in eating anything of substance, taste and texture in a manner that doesn’t feel that it looks grotesque. Gums are sore and irritated by even soft foods. Nutrition is functionally limited. There’s physical jaw bone loss, and psychological, intimate, and social isolation to deal with.
It’s a road that shouldn’t be taken alone though invariably must.
In America, 40 million people live without any teeth at all.
Globally, the estimated prevalence of complete tooth loss among people in their 20s and 30s is almost 7%. For those in their 60s and older, it’s somewhere around 23%.
Like the story of Don Quixote, a life without teeth is a world of social conflict, that beggars the question of whether we change the world or the world changes us. It’s truth seeking, and facing the very formidable obstacles of environment, and self.
To not recognise the nature and reality of good dental care is tilting at windmills.
Note: All content and media on the Sunbury Dental House website and social media channels are created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice.
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