Critical Analysis of Oh! I Wish I’d Looked After Me Teeth by Pam Ayres

The poem, ‘Oh, I Wish I’dLooked After Me Teeth’ is the most famous poem of Pam Ayres. It was voted as one of the top ten poems of the BBC poll called the‘Nation’s 100 Favourite Comic Poems’.

Read more about the poem, the poet and annotations

Line by Line Summary of Oh! I Wish I’d Looked After Me Teeth

Critical Analysis of Oh! I Wish I’d Looked After Me Teeth by Pam Ayres

This poem at first reading seems to promote dental hygiene and to harp on the need to listen to one’s mother. But this is just the first layer. Much like the toffees and sticky sweets that hide beneath and in the crevices of her teeth, Ayres’ poem too hides under the mantle of a hygiene lesson. The poem talks about the nonchalance of youth and the need to challenge the voice of authority. In this case, the authority figure is her mother and by not listening to what she says, the young poet persona challenges the authority.

Not only that, she takes pride in overruling her mother’s advises. Pam Ayres highlights the nature and attitude of youth in a tragicomic stance. Although the poem seems light and educative, it is actually reflective. Apart from portraying the rebellious streak of youth, she also portrays the wisdom that comes with age. Although in this poem, the poet persona learns the hard way of her youthful callousness, she also portrays how experiences impart wisdom and one learns from one’s mistakes. The poem then is as much about maturity and wisdom that come with age as it is about the recklessness of youth. The poet admits she has been foolish and perhaps arrogant in her carelessness but now that she has attained maturity and faced the brunt of her mistakes, she is enlightened of the importance of restraint. The poem hints at the rebellious nature of youth which mellows down with age where the arrogance and recklessness are replaced by caution and wisdom through experience. In this reading, the poem can be called a poem about growing up.

In another reading, if the imagery of awaiting judgement is considered then the poem is also about the awaiting punishment or absolution of/ from one’s sins. It also calls to mind the inevitability of death.

Poetic Devices in Oh! I Wish I’d Looked After Me Teeth

“If I’d known I was paving the way

To cavities, caps and decay,

The murder of fillin’s,

Injections and drillin’s,

I’d have thrown all me sherbet away.” – This is an instance of imagery. The imagery employed here is of mining and drilling holes into the ground. The injections and drilling machines are like the huge drilling machines that bore holes deep into the earth. The cavities and or decay lie deep within the bed of teeth, very much like the minerals found in the earth. The layers of a tooth are compared to the layers of the earth. This imagery of boring into the insides is introduced as early as the first stanza where the poet refers to the decay and cavities as ‘the dangers beneath’, and carried on to the last stanza in the line, ‘As they foamed in the waters beneath’.

‘‘And his drill it do whine’’- this is an instance of personification. Personification is a figure of speech where an inanimate object is given attributes of a living thing. Here the drill is personified as a living being and the sound mane by the drilling machine is likened to the whine of an animal or person.

“How I laughed at my mother’s false teeth,

As they foamed in the waters beneath.

But now comes the reckonin’

It’s methey are beckonin’

Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teeth.”- This stanza is an instance of symbology and imagery. The stanza symbolizes decay and finally, death. As the narrator sits in the chair awaiting the dentist’s judgment of what to do to fix her teeth, she is also awaiting judgment for her childhood transgressions. She feels sorry at having laughed at her mother and not listening to her. Thus, she awaits the punishment in the form of injections, drills and false dentures. The imagery is of a courtroom where the accused awaits the judge’s decision. The decay of the teeth and the artificial fillings indicate the decay of all things that are not taken care of properly. But it also indicates the inevitability of death, decay and the future. The imagery of awaiting judgment recalls the motif of the Day of Judgment and how the sins will be reckoned or talliedon that day according to which each person will be judged.

Rhyme Scheme: The poem is divided in to eight stanzas, each containing 5 lines. The poem follows the rhyme scheme of aabba.

Theme and Tone of Oh! I Wish I’d Looked After Me Teeth

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