“I made my own teeth,” he revealed with a proud smile.
The craftsmanship behind his smile is extreme perfection. They actually look natural, even with a bit of a gap to make them as real as real teeth.
His daughter Mayen wears the same proud smile; her teeth were also made by his father. But hers has retainers on them.
Quite popular locally, Cababay is usually rewarded with smiles from his neighbors. When he walks around town, people call on him to say they need to have their teeth fixed, or their children fitted with false teeth. He often yells back and tells them to just go to his house.
Currently a dental lab technician for a dentist based in Daet, Cababay has been making dentures since 1987. He learned the trade while he was in Manila, studying to become an auto mechanic at Feati University. He was a working student employed in one of the big denture makers in the Quiapo-Recto area. This is where he initially honed his craft.
For Cababay, who works as a security guard for the Paracale National High School, and sidelines as an organist for their church on some occasions, making dentures is a weekend job.
“I have about 10 clients a week,” Cababay said.
True enough, one Saturday morning, clients had already lined up outside his house, which is accessible through an alley, the last among a row of houses on a reclaimed swamp.
A tight-lipped teenage girl, who seemed to have forgotten how to smile, came to claim her teeth. Cababay fits her dentures, jabbing his fingers into her mouth, then asks her to come back late in the afternoon. He needs to make some adjustments and grind a bit of the resin in the denture.
Two men with missing incisors also came to have their teeth made. He plugs their mouths with the plaster mix, which they spit out after a few minutes.
Cababay mixes the acrylic power and acrylic liquid with the swiftness of someone who has had long experience in making dentures. His clients—most of whom are “magkakabod” or miners—can actually get their new sets of teeth the very same day.
He revealed that those who engage in in the dangerous trade of compressor mining are repeat customers.
“They usually lose their teeth when they dive in the dark waters of their mining pits. Every time they dive, they need to bite into a hose. Once underwater, with the hose between their teeth, they eventually lose their dentures,” explained Cababay.
Being in a town seemingly enamored with the glitter of the precious yellow metal, some of his clients want a tinge of pure gold in their false teeth—a crown, a cap, or a strip fashioned as a retainer.
“I had one client whose gold retainer was designed with the Playboy bunny logo,” Cababay recounts with a chuckle.
For these cases, Cababay commissions the town’s goldsmiths, who are experts in handcrafted jewelry. These craftsmen are among those who indirectly benefit from mining.
Known as the land of canal diggers in the olden times, Paracale has been heavily mined for gold over the last 400 years. Majority of the residents are involved in the mining industry.
Although most of them work as gold diggers, there are allied industries as well. One of Cababay’s neighbors makes his living selling sacks upon sacks of calamansi, a local citrus fruit. Miners use the juice of the calamansi during the grinding process. The citric acid allegedly helps bring the shine in the specks of gold, making them easier to spot during the panning process.
He may never have worked the mines but, Cababay already found his treasure—his children. He was able to send his children to school with whatever he earns from making false teeth. Two of them have, in fact, finished college.
So he already struck gold with his denture-making venture. And he is just happy to bring back the golden smiles of his neighbors in the Gold Town of Paracale.