There was a time, before dentists, when man’s (meaning mankind) life expectancy was determined by his teeth. When his teeth went — so did he; it was that simple.

Over the past several hundred years, this has been changing. Instead of his teeth going, it’s the environment that he needs to worry about. Modern advances in dental hygiene (and the invention of false teeth) have extended man’s years to the point that he has other things to worry about.

I guess people take false teeth for granted now, just like they do eye glasses and canes. It seems modern man is more threatened by what his teeth chew, and as we grow older, we become more aware of that fact.

Back when I was more worried about my complexion than my teeth, I could eat anything. Nothing seemed to be able to penetrate my cast iron stomach. I could eat a couple bowls of the hottest chili around, wash it down with a Coke or two, and polish off a raw onion sandwich for dessert.

I thought nothing of ordering the hottest thing on the menu. If I had a choice, I’d always say, "The hotter the better!"

I can remember the real tummy-burner back then was a guinea grinder. It was a huge sandwich made of ground sausage and beef, laced with hot spices and served between the slices of a thick French bun. (Actually, it was probably closer related to fireworks than food.)

The sandwich normally came in three temperatures: hot, torrid and four-alarm fire. I could eat two of the hottest, most spicy ones ever built and laugh. Most of my friends would get the calmer ones and then wash them down with plenty of water.

Then there were the red peppers. I would buy them by the bottle and eat them between meals. People would stare at me in disbelief as I’d toss them in the air and catch them in my mouth like popcorn. A big gulp and they’d be gone. No problem, I could eat them like candy.

My friends were always trying to get back at me. Whenever they discovered something they thought might light up my fire, they made sure I got to taste it. I guess it was a contest to see who could actually burn my stomach.

Even in the Army I had no match. I would eat everything the mess hall had to offer with no side effects. At Fort Sam Houston, Texas, I was sort of a test pilot. The cooks would have me taste something just to see if it bothered me. If I complained, then they knew it was just right for the rest of the men. (No one could eat it.)

I liked to sprinkle a little chili powder on my eggs back then. Trouble was, it bothered the guys around me. No way could they eat eggs after watching me. It was a cruel way to start the day off in the service.

But now all this has come back to haunt me. It happened recently. I ordered a big hamburger. Normally, I don’t eat onions because I worry about my breath. But that particular day I didn’t have any special happening, so I ordered onions. There must have been four or five slices of onion that came with my sandwich and I ate every one of them.

About 2 a.m. the next morning, I awoke with my whole insides burning. I sat up and immediately started tasting those stupid onions for the second time. Trouble was, they didn’t taste nearly as good as they did the first time.

I didn’t get much sleep the rest of that night. I took everything from anti-acids to aspirin but nothing seemed to help. Those darn onions must have stayed with me for a couple of days.

What bothered me even more was thinking back to those good old days when I could eat anything and laugh. How could a man who once ate red peppers like candy be bothered by a few onions?

Thank goodness I’ve still got most of my teeth!

(Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He lives near Cambridge.)