Patrick Kuhl: Don't ever forget those little kernels of truth

May 26, 2013 

"Stop biting those popcorn kernels, you could chip a tooth."

Yes, Mom.

I have been crunching unpopped popcorn kernels ever since my first choppers came in. Thousands, nay millions, of the hard little nuggets over half a century. And I've never chipped a tooth.

Until now.

Turns out you were right all along, Mom. In the neighborhood of six hundred bucks right, by the time I get this cap put on.

Well, I can't say for sure the popcorn kernels were the culprits. But it sure is a coincidence that a co-worker and I were talking about it a couple of days before I discovered exhibit A, the chipped tooth.

"Want some popcorn?" the co-worker offered, as the buttery aroma of Pop-Secret "94 percent fat free premium popcorn with natural & artificial butter flavor added" wafted throughout the building. Perhaps I was drooling.

"No thanks," I said. "Gotta watch those carbs. But I'll take a few of those unpopped kernels when you're finished."

Turns out, my co-worker likes to munch on them, too. We even laughed about her getting the same chipped-tooth warning from her mom.


Just a couple days later, I discovered something was missing. Hmmm. That feels a little rough. I sent the tip of my tongue to explore. What the heck? Sure enough, there was a crater in one of my premolars. You know how the Sea of Tranquility looks on those moon photos? That's how it felt.

As I frantically dialed my dentist's office, all of my Mom's warnings flashed through my mind.

"Don't swallow your gum, it'll stick to your heart."

"Don't chew your fingernails. If you swallow them, they go right to your appendix."

"Don't sit so close to the TV, you'll go blind."

"Don't stick that Q-tip in so far or you'll break an eardrum." Huh?

"Stop biting those popcorn kernels ..."

Oh, my gosh. Maybe Mom really did know what she was talking about.

"We'll need to see you right away," the receptionist said. "The doctor has an opening at 8 o'clock ..."

It was the longest night of my life. I never realized it till then, but I'm a right-handed, er right-toothed, chewer. But I thought I better not go there. I didn't want a big ol' piece of bratwurst to fall into the Grand Canyon. It was soup for supper.

I couldn't sleep. I had plenty of time to think about my lifetime of tooth abuse. I know teeth were made for eating, but they come in handy for so many other things.

Hungry for a potato chip? I don't know what kind of space-age material they make potato chip bags out of these days, but Charles Atlas couldn't tear some of them open. When there's no scissors or Swiss Army knife handy, what do you do? Bite the corner with your teeth and pull. C'mon, you know you've done it.

Same goes for those hermetically sealed, stiff plastic cases they put everything from razors to batteries to replacement doorknobs in. If they encased all the gold in Fort Knox in that plastic, it would be a lot safer. The only thing that can penetrate it is a good set of choppers.

Jawbreakers were one of my favorites to pick up at Luber's mom-and-pop store after school. I guess the name "jawbreaker" should have sent up a red flag. I never could stand to just let them melt down to nothing in my mouth. When they were about the size of a shirt button, I'd bite them. Crunch. Maybe they should call them "toothbreakers."

Ice is another tooth enemy. I know I shouldn't chew ice, but I just can't help myself. The ice cube crusher in our freezer door has nothing on me. My teeth do a much better job. My co-workers and the rest of the people eating at Applebee's will tell you that my method is just as loud, too.

And, how many times have you had your hands full carrying a bunch of stuff into work and you have to reach into your pocket to get out your key? What do you do with the plastic bag holding your baloney-on-white sandwich, Little Debbie brownie, diet A&W rootbeer and a banana? You grab it with the only thing available -- your teeth. Good ol' reliable teeth. Where would we be without them?

That's when I remembered that when she was older, Mom had false teeth. I can still see them sitting in a clear plastic cup of water near the bathroom sink at night. Smiling at me. Maybe she did know what she was talking about when it came to tooth advice.

One of my best friends in college was famous for being able to open a beer bottle with his front teeth. Youch! Hurts just to think about it. But that didn't stop several others from trying it. I was not among them.

Mrs. Kuhl didn't raise any dummies.

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