You are there and the dentist tells you that gum recession is the cause of your mouth tenderness. The gum has thinned to such a degree that the root of one molar is exposed. You are not alone. Periodontal disease affects 1 in 2 Americans. The good news is that a minor surgery will likely fix the problem. Called a gum graft, they take some tissue from the roof of your mouth and transplant it to the receded gum, to bulk up the area and protect the root. The bad news is that some degree of gum recession is affecting 7 other teeth, and to avoid surgery in these teeth, minor fillings will be required. Which the dentist can do same day. To the tune of $120 each, not covered by insurance. Because the exposed tooth is not technically a cavity. And you will also need to wear a mouth guard, because the gum recession is likely caused by grinding your teeth or at least clenching them. "Do you grind or clench your teeth when you sleep?" asks the dentist. "How should I know," you reply. "I am asleep."
For one who never had braces or a retainer, the prospect of wearing something in your mouth every night indefinitely makes you cringe even more than the $320 cost of the gear. But you order one, because you hope that the future appointment with the periodontist will be your last. This is what it means to get old. At 43, are you too young to say that?
This week the performer Cher was quoted as saying, "I look in the mirror and see this old lady looking back at me. And I have no idea how she got there." She is 70 and has had a lot of work done. Face lifts, brow lifts, skin tightening and breast augmentation, though practically unheard of at the time Cher underwent these procedures, are now occurring in women at younger and younger ages. Reality TV star Heidi Montag boasted that she once had 10 procedures in the same day. She is 30. And she used to be so pretty!
You have spaces between your teeth, which are not large. In a world where everyone has blindingly white caps the size of horse's teeth, where Matt Dillon's parody in "There's Something About Mary" is now a reality for so many celebrity seekers, you could argue that veneers would be an improvement upon your looks. But you like your real teeth. And God forbid the caps fall off. Then you would be like Tom Cruise in "The Outsiders," or Brad Pitt in "Fight Club." Only without the million dollar payday.
But your gum recession had really been bothering you. Your teeth looked permanently stained, especially at the corners of your smile. And since smiling lightens a person's mood, your reluctance to smile made you seem sad, and feel the same way. So the 7 porcelain fillings you had installed that same day, fillings which can fall out any time, because nothing lasts forever, like Axl sings ("November Rain," which happens to be your favorite GNR tune), are worth the money spent as insurance.
Enough about dentistry. I bring your experience up for two reasons. One, that the body ages is a reality. And you cannot really prevent it. I have good oral hygiene and still my gums recede. I eat really well and exercise a great deal and yet my fasting blood sugar is about where it is for my dad, who carries extra weight, eats fried foods and pastries, and is very sedentary. There's only so much you can do. I bring up the body's aches and pains for another reason as well. It's hard to enjoy the bliss of your existence when you feel less than spectacular. Tooth aches are a bummer, as are stomach cramps, and stuffy noses, and itchy scalps and all variety of other pesky distractions that can prevent you from focusing your attention on that precious bliss within. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. If when you sleep these aches and pains are forgotten, at least for a time, then if you quiet your mind even while awake you can keep bodily annoyances at bay.
Or can you? What if you have a persistent need to clear your throat? A fullness in the chest? Difficulty swallowing? Shortness of breath? A night-time cough that sometimes wakes you up? Belching and occasional regurgitation. A bitter taste in your mouth. Occasional nausea. What then? Can you eliminate all these symptoms in one fell swoop? What if all you have to do is give up all your favorite foods, which include garlic, onions, spicy foods, tomatoes and chocolate; not to mention citrus fruits, coffee and caffeinated drinks, including tea. And fatty foods like avocado and nuts. But if you suck all the culinary enjoyment out of your daily life, is it even worth living anymore? No, it isn't. Not if you remain concentrated on the external world in all its gustatory grandeur. But if you still the mind, a whole new world of wonder awaits you. Again, so they say.
The only time I really feel blissful in meditation is when I fall asleep, and then I am not enjoying my existence so much as forgetting about it altogether. It's like a mini suicide. But I keep trying to be "consciously immortal," as the ancients say. And you should, too. You have nothing to lose but boredom and loneliness. And tons to gain including the money you usually spend on staving off boredom and loneliness with a dizzying array of distractions. Since we were on the subject of famous quotations, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings recently said: "Fundamentally, [Netflix is] about eliminating loneliness and boredom... That's what entertainment does."
It is true that what all forms of entertainment do to some degree or another is distract you from yourself. But you can let your thoughts entertain you. Just watch them like commercials on the TV screen of your psyche. It's free and no technology or Wife connection is necessary. All the software is installed on your brain at birth, and your noggin is the world's most exquisite computer. So enjoy yourself. Except when you really hurt. Like how I'll probably feel if the roof of my mouth is cut out. But I'm not nervous, because there's always lidocaine. Now if they just made licodaine for the brain, we all could be comfortably numb. If they did you probably wouldn't need to read this. But since you have stayed with me this long, I hope that you found these words somewhat entertaining. And that you will never be lonely or bored again.