Perfect pearlies and generous orthodontists

We're rapidly approaching the time when perfect teeth will be the ultimate declaration of wealth and success.

The intimation was there, this past week, in a newspaper photograph of Temuera Morrison. His top set of teeth, perfectly white and perfectly even, looked like a fortune's worth of professional aid to marvel at.

His face seemed to have altered with age, along with his hair volume, yet age had delivered perfect porcelain in compensation.

I may be wrong about this, but I only mean to flatter. For all I know his teeth have evolved this way quite naturally. But trawling online images of him I saw that he was previously seldom shot with a flash of teeth, preferring the brooding look of lips jammed shut.

I felt that previously his smile, when shown, had tended to show more of his bottom row than his upstairs, and I believe I detected a slight imperfection in the lie of his pearlies in the past.

Call me obsessive, but I was trained this way by a mother whose proudest boast, long before she died aged 47, was that she was one of a very few people she knew who still had all their own teeth.

Her peers used to have them all yanked out as wedding presents for their husbands, who'd be thus assured they'd never have to waste money on their dentistry. Husbands, I guess, returned the compliment, giving new meaning to the term wet sloppy kisses.

Dentists, if you ask me, were unprincipled in allowing this to happen.

I can just remember the bedside glasses of water where older people parked their teeth at night, and my grandmother scrubbing hers with cleaning product to keep them sparkly. But I also remember my mother's dire warning that when you lose your teeth your face collapses, even if you get a set of falsies.

She'd point out examples in the street, an ongoing horror story and a cautionary tale to make sure I went to the dentist regularly, despite inevitable pain and misery.

My mother still seemed to carry a torch - though with a flickering battery - for my father, until he turned up to visit one day with a full set of falsies.

Great was her revulsion and scorn - as it was when one of her boyfriends also turned up with a renovated mouth. Previously adored for his film starry posing with cravat and pipe, he promptly got his marching orders.

What does the future hold? More of the same is my guess, as dentistry becomes more and more a service for the rich, and less and less an option for people on low to medium incomes. We face the return of falsies, big-time.

I gaze in awe at the likes of Morrison's oral situation. Mine is another matter. I've stopped counting the porcelain caps, I'm stuck together with amalgam and that hard white stuff, and there's a several-thousand-dollar gap where, after agonising treatments over weeks of my life, a molar finally had to be yanked out.

When my dentist invites me to look at my mouth on the big screen, I consider it very bad manners on her part.

How pleasing, then, to see that some orthodontists are giving away free braces to teenagers who need them, in exchange for the teenagers doing community work, and for a small weekly payment from families who can manage it.

The Wish For A Smile Trust will, from this week, fix the sort of severe dental problems that cause untold misery to young people aged between 11 and 18, but whose parents can't afford the thousands of dollars it would cost to put their mouth to rights.

I'm impressed by the orthodontists' generosity, but you might wonder why the Government doesn't automatically subsidise such work, let alone all dentistry for people who can't afford the luxury.

A mouth full of missing and rotting teeth is a mark of discrimination that no-one should have to cope with, because it's quite preventable.

The Press