The first time I was told that my wisdom teeth would need to come out, I was newly moved to a small windswept prairie town in the heart of Alberta farm country. It was chock full of oilworkers with gun racks in their trucks and senior citizens newly retired and flush with money from selling the farm. It was weird to be surrounded by so much money and yet have so little myself. I worked for a place that paid nothing and certainly had no benefits.
“It shouldn’t cost much.” The dentist looked up to the ceiling while she picked a number. “Maybe five hundred a tooth.” This amount of money was science fiction. I was only having this one visit out of necessity as it had been a couple of years since my last checkup and I wanted to make sure everything was okay.
“I’ll think about it.” I said. But really there was nothing to think about. I would just have to take my chances. It was a few years later before I had a job with a good dental plan and a wad of cash to pay for services up front.
My dentist now is a kind, competent, funny woman who always remarks how absolutely spotless my teeth are. I am meticulous with my dental hygiene out of fear of having work done like pulling, drilling, and mining. But those wisdom teeth were still there and they had to come out. She gave me the choice of going to a dental surgeon and being put under as a couple of the teeth were in sideways and it was going to be a job and a half to take them out. My other option was have her do the deed while I had local anesthetic. Bingo. That was exactly what I wanted. I trusted her implicitly, and I didn’t want to be unconscious unless it was absolutely necessary because, well, if the apocalypse began, or a zombie invasion, or even a Russian invasion from the Arctic Circle, I wanted to be able to run, fight, or become a high-ranking lieutenant in the new world order.
At that time my dentist had her office in the same building I lived in, so getting to and from the office was not a big deal. Before we started, though, I had a request: “I want my teeth. I want to keep them, take them home with me.” I thought this might be a strange request so I was a little hesitant.
“Yeah, no problem. I even have a little clear plastic case you can put them in.” She explained that this was not exactly a common request but she did get it from time to time.
I sat in the chair for four hours. The procedure had become a mining expedition; my gums were the land torn open, and the vein of gold was my rotten, gnarled, and twisted wisdom teeth. The roots of the last tooth were twisted sideways, and I could feel the vibration throughout my head and down to my feet every time the pliers grabbed hold of the tooth but then slipped free.
“This one is really stuck in there. I can’t get a purchase,” she said.
“Purchase?” her hygienist said. “What do you mean, ‘purchase’? Like buying something?”
“No,” my dentist said. “You know. A purchase like in rock climbing. A foothold or handhold.”
“I’ve never heard that before.” The hygienist sounded doubtful that my dentist was using the word correctly.
“I’m going to drill an indentation on the tooth so my pliers can get a purchase and I can get this sucker out.” I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me, the hygienist, or both of us. Using only my eyes I said, “Sure, okay, whatever works.”
The tooth was stubborn. I guess change is hard for teeth as well. By this point my lovely lady dentist was sweating and exclaiming, “Son of a bitch, this tooth is stuck in there. Okay, wait, I’ve got a purchase. Come on, you son of a bitch.” She was pulling with everything she had. The veins on her forehead stood out and then “There it is,” she said triumphantly. “Finally.” She dropped the last of my wisdom teeth in a metal pan.
“And I do apologize for swearing.” She looked down on me so earnestly. “But that last tooth was really pissing me off.” She was massaging her hands and forearms. I smiled as much as was possible with my mouth wedged open. My wisdom teeth were cleaned and placed in a clear plastic container as promised.
My wife was there in the waiting room and escorted me home. I stared at my teeth and tried to grin all the way home. I think I had a bit of a nap. Considering the ordeal I went through I felt really good. And because I’m a superhero, I ordered a pizza. I ate the pizza. The dentist called and I told her how good everything felt. Hell, I’m going to brush my teeth. With an electric toothbrush. What harm could come from having a super fast, relatively uncontrolled, bristly appliance in my mouth where a delicate blood clot was still forming and acting as a protective barrier for my raw and exposed nerves? And, of course, that is when things went really sideways as I saw and felt the bottom left clot fly out of the socket and go down the drain. Oh shit.
At first nothing happened and I thought maybe I was going to be okay. But I awoke in the middle of the night thinking that a tiny metal spider had somehow been let loose in the exposed socket and it was trying to scratch its way to freedom. It was a painful, miserable time that consisted of multiple visits to my poor dentist who daily packed the socket with a paste she created that sort of helped the pain and kept the nerve endings covered. She was infinitely patient and didn’t once scream at me, “You fucking idiot. I told you specifically not to brush your teeth for at least a day. You ruined my work you ass hat!” Eventually the socket healed and I had no further complications. Except I kept insisting on swallowing the horse-pill-size antibiotic dry, and as it went down my gullet it made a long, painful scraping sensation that buckled my legs and forced me to lie flat on my back. Water is for babies.
Sadly, I learned little from this as, at a certain point, I determined that my stitches were not dissolving fast enough. I grabbed a pair of tweezers, opened wide, and yanked them out. They were starting to piss me off. Nothing really bad happened and for that I’m grateful. I don’t think I could have faced the dentist having once again done something stupid.
So now my teeth are kept on my desk and have provided me endless enjoyment as I look at them and marvel how they came out of me after being carried around inside me for so long. Maybe this is what motherhood feels like, though–and I don’t mean to brag–my teeth are much better behaved than most children.