Smile! by
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Everyone has some good and some bad luck.  When it came to teeth, I got the bad.  As my baby teeth started to be replaced by the adult teeth, lo and behold, I had TEN missing adult teeth that just never formed, and never pushed out the babies.  Fewer tooth fairy visits.  Apparently a genetic issue from my mother’s side.  Nothing to be done.

As we pulled onto the onramp of 580, I screamed that we had to go back, NOW!

Which isn’t to say things weren’t done.  Several of the baby teeth were removed and braces pushed around other teeth, and I had partials and bridges of various sorts.  Just before I left for college, I got a partial so that when I smiled, my best friend exclaimed, “teeth!”  Not completely reassuring, but still.

Over time, subsequent dentists shook their heads over the previous efforts and created new partials.  I was really upset when the four adult “wisdom” teeth DID form, were impacted, and had to be removed–where is the justice?  In later years I got some implants. And I still have, hmm, is it three? baby teeth that have refused to fall out, even though one is wobbly and the Xrays show no visible roots on any of them.

In 1984, I was a freshly minted family physician headed for a conference in Nicaragua with the Committee for Health Rights in Central America.  It was the Sandinista era, and we were to have a week of meetings and touring about, while Contras were menacing the country.  We had packed some medical supplies in our suitcases, and I was a bit apprehensive.

Bright and early, I was in the car heading to the always traffic-choked Bay Bridge, trying not to miss the plane that would take us from San Francisco to San Salvador to Managua.    As we pulled onto the onramp of 580, I screamed that we had to go back, NOW!

I had forgotten to put in my partial.

A wild ride, but I made it, and so did the teeth.

Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry

Characterizations: well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Wow, Khati, that is quite a story. My husband’s family has some similar issues (he never developed too front teeth and his brother is missing many, and got bridgework), but not to the extent you have described. That must have been a challenge as a teen and certainly the wisdom teeth issue does seen very unfair! Yet, you’ve managed and you DO not leave home without your teeth! Carry on….

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Terrific story, Khati. I am sure that there is some clever use of “skin of your teeth” I could work in there if I tried, but I will spare you that. Did you ever try to analyze why you might have forgotten your partials this one particular time? In any event, I’m so glad the story had a happy ending.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Your clever suggestion didn’t occur to me, but it probably would have worked here somehow! I think I was just excited about the trip and in a hurry, so rushed off without remembering…I would leave the partial out at night and would occasionally absentmindedly forget it, but not when leaving on a weeklong trip to another country!

  3. Marian says:

    Indeed, Khati, an amazing story, and I’m glad you were able to go back and get the partial. My (healthy) adult teeth were too crowded for my unusually tiny jaw, and I had to have four of them removed for orthodontia, plus my impacted wisdom teeth later, but I won’t complain about this again after reading your story.

  4. So Khati, I see that what you never want to leave home without is your teeth!

  5. Suzy says:

    Great story, Khati! Definitely something that you didn’t want to leave home without! Love the picture too, and your teeth look great! Was that taken at the time of the Nicaragua trip?

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I really related to your story, Khati. I also had two adult teeth that never grew in, also a trait from my mother’s side that I share with two of my cousins. The problem skipped a generation until it reared its nasty head in one of my granddaughters. Her dental care is so much better than mine was, which is a long and sad story. She’s almost 15 and her teeth look great!

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Yes, you understand! I was also told this trait “skipped” a generation and I won the prize I guess. But I am indeed thankful for modern dentistry, and the fact I can access it. It was quite the day when I was able to get rid of removable partials due to implants! Let’s see—age sixty or so??? At least your granddaughter has been able to get access earlier.

  7. A trip to Contra territory without your teeth??? Oh, gawd! That really should be the champ of sinking-feeling-left-behind stories. And all power to you for taking your medical skills down there at that difficult time. Whenever I see William Barr, I think of the role he played in getting the Iran-Contra creeps off the hook they should have stayed hung on.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Of course the trip itself is another story. We took a bus to Esteli and it was a little nerve-wracking when it broke down. Esteli became our sister city and we raised funds for an “ambulance”—which was really a truck they could throw everything into and run if needed.

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