We can fix it, they said: So who needs dentists? Tom Hodgkinson has preserved his fangs in the teeth of opposition

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The Independent Online
SO DENTISTS are voting not to accept any new patients on the National Health Service. I won't be weeping. My teeth have long been a lost cause - not quality- wise, mind, but cosmetically. They are disastrous - teeth large and small, gaps all over the place.

Ever since my baby ones fell out and the adult ones started pushing through, I've had wonky teeth. Too many teeth for a small jaw, the orthodontist said. It was my first visit. He had just inspected my mouth, just seen my sticking- out, crossing-over two front teeth, just wondered at my oddly sharp and extended canines, just marvelled at my lower jaw, which looked like a run-down cemetery; big graves, small graves, leaning graves all jostling for space.

This orthodontist took a pink cast of my mouth and developed a curious plate contraption with bits of wire sticking out. As I wore this device, it was hoped, the wires would gently encourage my teeth to grow in more conventional directions, leaving me eventually with wonderful regular teeth. I wore the plate. My teeth had never really bothered me, but my mum thought it was a good idea to get them straightened. 'You'll never regret it,' she said. Six months, a year, two years later and my teeth were still rebelling, completely ignoring the cautious exhortations of the little wires.

At some point during this treatment it was decided that I should have some teeth pulled, to ease the crowding in my jaw. Off to Leicester Square to the big dental hospital, where I was given a painful jab and then woke up looking even more peculiar. They had taken out the teeth between my front teeth and the oversized canines. The gap this created led to the discovery of a peculiar talent - I could now pull back my lower lip so that only the fangs protruded from my closed mouth, making me look like a vampire.

They gave up on the plates and left my teeth to settle a while. Needless to say, they did not settle, they continued to look ridiculous. What could be done? Orthodontists across London scratched their heads.

So I found myself in another dental hospital, being probed by an important orthodontist. After looking at my mouth, he went into a little room. 'Well, Tom,' he said on returning. 'We can fix your teeth, but it will mean two years of this.' He gave me a pile of photographs. They were of a pudgy girl with spots. In one, she grinned to reveal teeth covered with bits of metal, so she looked like an ugly version of Jaws from the James Bond films. In another, her head was enclosed by a wire scaffolding arrangement, like some ghoulish Victorian treatment for madness.

This was a crossroads in my life. I was 15, an adolescent. Was I going to spend the next two crucial girl-getting years looking like something out of a Stephen King tale, just so I could have beautiful teeth for the rest of my life? Or was I going to reject the whole orthodontic programme and let my teeth do whatever they chose?

After pondering this question for about half a second, I made up my mind. 'No, I think I'll leave it, thanks,' I said politely, rejoicing at this moment, marking as it did the end of my relationship with the mouth-meddlers.

What joy] I had rejected the orthodontic mission to create a world where everyone wanders around with homogeneous Hollywood grins. I had made a stand for the individual. And I had retained my special feature - my fangs, with which I try to scare small

children.

I still like my wonky teeth. I think they make me stand out, give me a certain roguish charm, an endearing boyish quality. I'm rare - nearly everyone has straight teeth these days. They were all forced, as I was, to the orthodontist, never thinking to question their mothers' assertions that they would never regret it, never regret the years of pain and humiliation just when they were at their most self-conscious phase of growing up.

I look in the mirror now with pride. I laugh quietly at all the other people with their desperately unoriginal, good-looking teeth. Even when such people stop in the street and point and laugh, I feel strong in my wonkiness. I just smile, and let my teeth do the talking.

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