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A dentist pulled my last wisdom tooth yesterday. Does that mean I’m not as wise as I was? Will anyone notice? I’m going to miss that molar.

It and I grew up (read: “old”) together. I wonder how it felt about it going first.

On the way to the room where he performed my extraction, the dentist and I passed a TV monitor displaying someone’s X-rayed teeth. They were crooked, eroded and there were unsightly gaps. The myriad white patches on the tops and sides of the teeth were, I knew from experience, fillings.

It was a pretty ghastly sight, but I couldn’t help wishing that I’d had a print of it when my kids were growing up. They did everything they could to keep from cleaning their teeth.

My youngest son even went to the extent of putting Pepsodent toothpaste on his finger, rubbing it on his gums, then coming to me saying, “See, I cleaned my teeth. Smell my breath.”

If I had owned a print of the teeth on that monitor I could have showed it to him and said, “This is what happens when you don’t take care of your teeth.”

The sight of that X-ray would have guaranteed three brushings and two flossings a day for the rest of his life.

“Those teeth are even uglier than mine,” I remarked smugly to the dentist.

He glanced over his shoulder at the X-ray. “They are yours,” he said.

When I was a kid the only folks who knew what an orthodontist was were wealthy. There was no straightening, capping or whitening for the rest of us.

We just did the best we could with what we had, however crooked or discolored they might be. I had scarlet fever in my youth and my first dentist said it left my teeth “decalcified” and therefore extremely vulnerable to decay.

By the time I reached high school I had so many fillings I had to do neck exercises to be able to hold my head up straight. When the price of silver hit an all-time high I was afraid to leave the house.

After one of my fillings – I was 12 – I was walking home from the dentist’s office and kept hearing faint music. I thought it was coming from the houses I was passing, but soon realized it was highly unlikely that they would all be listening to the same station.

When I got home and told my mother I thought the sound was coming from my mouth she called the dentist and he said it was probably my temporary filling acting like the crystal in a primitive radio set, but it would go away when I got the permanent one.

It did, but not before my dad suggested we paint numbers on my teeth so he could put nickels in my ear and play his favorite tunes. I wouldn’t have minded, because at that time you could get a full-size candy bar for a nickel (my first new car, a Chevy, was $840).

I’ve always tried to avoid the sin of envy, but when I turn on the television and see all those perfect, gleaming, pure-white choppers on the current crop of actors lighting up the screen I get so jealous I feel I should go to church and ask for forgiveness. One reason I like watching old movies: you didn’t see the displays of dentistry that you do today.

If there really is such a thing as reincarnation, my wife, Mary, says she wants to come back with a head of thick, glossy hair. I want a dazzling smile.