Una Oakley is 86 years young and it shows. Sprightly, articulate, eager to embrace life, she is the epitome of what being senior should be.
Nodding knowingly, and with a disarming cheeky laugh, she is one of a growing number of older people who are determined to defy the encroaching years.
The former Red Cross worker and legal secretary from Lower Gornal and her doctor husband, Douglas, retired to an apartment in Llandudno – one of the most scenic coastal spots in the UK – but trouble with her teeth unexpectedly brought her back to her Black Country roots.
After being prescribed new dentures at the Dental Clinic, North Street, Dudley, Una confidently declares: “I feel a different person now.”
Contracting a mysterious gum infection in 1980 after a routine dental visit, Una found herself being treated by a number of consultants at Birmingham Dental Hospital.
Referred by her own dental surgeon, she recalls: “No-one could define the infection. I was treated by two hospital consultants and a dental professor, but all they could say was that it was not a gingivitis bacteria that I’d contracted.
“Obviously attempts were made to trace its source, but the dentist I had seen had disappeared without trace. No-one ever found him,” she says.
For five years she continued to receive treatment at the hospital, but every endeavour to save her teeth failed. Various gum therapies and capping her teeth did nothing to halt the periodontal decline.
“I was given a plate, but the remainder of my own teeth were becoming loose and I pulled out the final remaining three myself.”
Her last full set of dentures was dispensed more than 20 years ago. “They lasted well,” she adds, “but about three years ago, people noticed I was holding my hand to my mouth and talking through my fingers. I didn’t even realise.
“I hadn’t consciously made that decision, but when I smiled you could not see any teeth – they were so worn down. I was effectively chewing just on the plate.