When I was going to become an anthropologist, before I dropped out of graduate school to confront the draft in 1968, the group I had selected to study were the indigenous inhabitants of the island of Malekula in the New Hebrides, now Vanuatu. They were fascinating in part for the intrinsic interest of their elaborate and obscure rituals, and for their history of cannibalism, but mostly for the wild associations that came from the Jungian perspective of their “rapporteur,” John Layard. I never made it to Malekula, nor anywhere else in the South Pacific—I’ve never even been to Hawaii. But that smattering of acquaintance with the region played a key part in the saga of my broken front tooth.
When I lost my left front tooth last June, we were about to get on a plane the next day—and there was my snaggle of a tooth, broken off at the gum line, sitting in my hand. I called my then-dentist, a techno whiz I had switched to for his promise of less radiation and one appointment crowns, and he did an amazing job of cementing the broken piece back in place by gluing it to the teeth on either side with what felt like Shoe Goo. That temporary fix held for almost six months. When I finally got up the courage to ask him what he recommended, his dental technician said an implant was really the best solution, but a bridge was a little less expensive.