Wednesday 28 June 2017

'Having dodgy teeth was part of what attracted me to him'- Shane McGowan's girlfriend Victoria on her own dentistry journey

Victoria Mary Clarke used to think bad teeth were a sign of rebelliousness and free spirit. But 40 years of chewing toffees and five extractions later, she's starting to reconsider what turns her on

Victoria Mary Clarke sits in the dentist's chair for the first time in her adult life and gets five teeth removed Photo: Steve Humphreys Inset, Victoria with Shane
Victoria Mary Clarke sits in the dentist's chair for the first time in her adult life and gets five teeth removed Photo: Steve Humphreys Inset, Victoria with Shane

Victoria Mary Clarke

I have a very sweet tooth. Always have had. My favourite sweets are the outrageously chewy toffees that pull your teeth out while you are eating them. When I was a kid, I wasn't allowed to eat sweets (they will rot your teeth) so I became a child entrepreneur, selling my paintings on the side of the road, selling anything I could get my hands on, with one thing in mind always: sweets.

Fast forward six years to the inevitable dentist's chair., in which I was informed that the drill "won't hurt a bit". At that tender age, you do tend to believe the adults. And of course, at that age you tend not to volunteer to go to the dentist, so there is a nasty combination of torture and lack of control which stays with you. And so I avoided the dentist for most of my adult life, as a result.

Victoria Mary's partner Shane MacGowan before his extensive dental work Photo: Gerry Mooney
Victoria Mary's partner Shane MacGowan before his extensive dental work Photo: Gerry Mooney

The other day, I forced myself to go to the dentist, even though I knew it would probably hurt a lot. I was scheduled to have five teeth extracted and, after a bit of gentle bone-grafting, some metal screws were drilled into my jaws. The whole thing took a few hours and now I look like a chipmunk. I posted a live video on Facebook before and after the operation and so far it has had 1,400 views, and lots of comments. People are telling me that no matter how bad their teeth get, they just don't have the courage to face the dentist, they would rather let their teeth fall out.

One man who did let his teeth fall out is my partner Shane. Indeed, while he is a successful singer/songwriter as well, he is probably best known globally for having hideous teeth. A mouthful of rotting stumps and a gurning grin had become his trademark until this time last year, when he braved the dentist after having avoided it for 58 years.

Not only was he brave enough to face the dentist, he also let himself be filmed having the operation for all the world to see, with his gob open, and dribbling all over the place.

There are reasons why we don't do things. There are reasons why I never tidy my office and why I haven't a clue where anything is in there. Some of those reasons are practical (I am too busy being brilliant to bother tidying.) Some of them are illogical and outdated. Part of the reason I avoided the dentist was because I thought that cool people didn't do things like flossing and interdental brushing. Those things were for the type of person who has a pension plan. I still don't think of myself as old enough to have children, let alone a pension plan.

Shane MacGowan after the dental work was completed Photo: Lee Carter/Photoshot/Getty Images
Shane MacGowan after the dental work was completed Photo: Lee Carter/Photoshot/Getty Images

Teeth are complicated things, they are not just for chewing with. What you do or don't do with your teeth can be a style statement, a political statement, it can convey information about your values, in the same way that the kind of car you drive says something about you. Mine is held together with gaffer tape.

Having dodgy teeth and not caring about it was part of what attracted me to Shane (and also to David Bowie and Johnny Rotten). It was a sign of rebelliousness, of being a free spirit, a non-conformist. It was a sign of not being shallow, perhaps, of being willing to see beyond the superficial charm of a Hollywood smile. The Hollywood smile in America simply says that you had a good orthodontist, but in Europe it still carries a stigma of being 'fake' or vain.

When Shane did finally decide that he would like to be able to eat things like apples, it was a real concern that the dentist might make him look like Simon Cowell. Until we found Darragh Mulrooney, who is a devout Pogues fan and was willing to craft a set of teeth that allowed Shane to retain his unorthodox appearance, there was no question of him getting the teeth done. And if Darragh had not assured us that it wouldn't hurt a bit, it absolutely would never have happened.

Of course it does hurt to get implants. And it is uncomfortable. I can testify to that because my whole mouth is swollen and it hurts to smile, and I only had five teeth removed. But the results were beyond anything either of us could have dreamed of.

Victoria Mary Clarke sits in the dentist's chair for the first time in her adult life and gets five teeth removed Photo: Steve Humphreys
Victoria Mary Clarke sits in the dentist's chair for the first time in her adult life and gets five teeth removed Photo: Steve Humphreys

Shane looks 20 years younger with teeth, and he hasn't stopped smiling since he got them, even though he has been hospitalised four times with back trouble.

Fear of the dentist is the world's most popular reason to let our teeth rot. But in reality, the level of pain that a person experiences at the dentist now is minimal, and you only notice it after the drugs wear off. These days, dentistry is competitive, so you can shop around for one who won't hurt you. So the fear factor is quite illogical, you seldom meet anyone who has died or been hospitalised as a result of dentistry, whereas you often meet people who have been hospitalised after horse riding or skiing, or even riding a bicycle, and nobody tells them they are insanely brave to have tried those sports.

Many people say that they don't go to the dentist because it is too expensive. But they don't mind saving up for a holiday or a wedding or a new car, even if that won't help them eat apples when they are old.

There are very few things, even really stupid things, that I did as a younger person which I would not recommend. I have to say that I have had a lot of fun. But one thing I absolutely and without question would change is the way I looked after my teeth.

Cheese... Shane McGowan shows off his new pearly whites for the People In Need advert
Cheese... Shane McGowan shows off his new pearly whites for the People In Need advert

If I had flossed, used the little brushes and maybe some mouthwash every day, if I had avoided the really chewy toffees, I could still have had just as much fun. And I wouldn't be needing to have half my teeth replaced now.

So, let that be a warning to you.

Victoria and Shane
Victoria and Shane

Sunday Independent

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