Monday, September 11, 2017

The Smile Stealers

No one likes going to the dentist, though dentistry from a countervailing point of view may be one of the most secure professions on earth. You may outlive your cancer, but on your very last day on earth, if you have a toothache you’re going to the dentist. In his review of Richard Barnett’s The Smile Stealers, The fine and foul art of dentistry (TLS, 7/19/17) Toby Saul summarizes the author on the S.S. White Master Unite “A,” the ominous looking gadget that stands by the reclining chair in most dental offices thusly, “The configuration is reminiscent of the human body, yet incongruous enough to be disturbing. The quality it possesses is, therefore, precisely aligned with the Freudian concept of the uncanny. Barnett knows there is more going on with a visit to the dentist than the mere scrapping away of plaque.” And Saul goes on to quote Barnett about teeth as “a crown of hard vitreous enamel” overlaying “a plug of dentine” and under this “a soft pulp of blood vessels and nerves—conduits of so much human suffering.” The Smile Steelers sounds like a must for anyone who has seen the television commercials for implants that directly address the problem of human expression. It’s good to know that someone you think hates you, may simply be trapped in a persona that’s the result of tooth decay. But the mouth itself is an interesting fixture to the extent that it’s the source of so much pleasure and pain and also due to its unique property as the source of language. When you think of it, it’s one of the most astonishing innovations of evolution. It allows you to masticate and ingest while also providing the mechanism whereby you can reply directly to the insults that make you seek out your local D.D.S.    

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