The Whole Tooth

August 28, 2009

I still have my appendix. I also still have my tonsils, which is actually kind of sad. I never knew a single kid who actually got his tonsils out, but I always heard stories of kids who got their tonsils out and got to eat all the ice cream they wanted afterward. Except for my grandfather, who told me that one day he had a sore throat and his mother took him to see the doctor. The doctor said, "Open wide", poked a scalpel into the back of my grandfather’s mouth, then said "Keep your mouth open and lean forward." His tonsils then fell into a metal tray the doctor had in his lap. No anaesthetic and no ice cream either. Maybe I’m lucky I never got my tonsils out. Also, up until very recently, I had all four of my wisdom teeth. I have no idea why they’re called wisdom teeth, but about a month ago after being subjected to my regularly scheduled biennial dental brutality my dentist said, "You’ve got a cavity in one of your wisdom teeth. We could drill it, but we might as well take it out." She then told me to open wide and came at me with a scalpel.

Okay, not really. We scheduled a good old-fashioned tooth-pulling. Normally I look forward to a visit to the dentist the same way most people look forward to being audited, but based on my previous experiences with having teeth removed it was actually something I kind of looked forward to. The first time I had teeth removed was when I was in second grade and I had some baby teeth that had decided they were going to stick around and keep sponging off of me instead of growing up and getting real jobs doing whatever it is the Tooth Fairy uses teeth for. As much as I enjoyed getting money from the Tooth Fairy, the idea that someone was coming into the house at night and taking my teeth always did kind of give me the creeps. What did she do with them? Obviously she was selling them to somebody, but that just deepened the mystery. Who was out there buying teeth? Then, after telling me about how much fun he had getting his tonsils removed, my grandfather showed me how he could pop out his dentures and, with a few deft motions of his tongue, switch his upper and lower teeth. And I thought, well, that’s where all our baby teeth go. Anyway, that first time I got my teeth pulled the dentist pumped me so full of nitrous oxide I was hallucinating. I distinctly remember a guy who was vacuuming the dentist’s office while I was sucking up laughing gas turning into a parrot. And then I went sliding down a marble banister past a row of ballerinas, only to find my dentist at the bottom doing something to my mouth. Unfortunately that was the last time my mother took me to Timothy Leary to get any dental work done.

The next time I had teeth pulled, just a few months later, they used sodium pentathol. They stuck a needle in my arm and I thought, "Hey, that stings." And the next thing I thought was, "How the hell did I get home? Where did all this bloody gauze in my mouth come from?" Having my wisdom tooth pulled wasn’t nearly as exciting as either of my previous experiences. I got to suck on some nitrous oxide until I felt pleasantly lightheaded, then they stuck me with the mandatory twenty shots of novacaine. And I have to give my dentist full credit: she has never done something that another dentist long ago did to me. After forgetting to apply any anaesthetic he jabbed me with his novacaine needles, then said, "Oh, wait a minute, that’s the wrong side of your mouth." I’m pretty sure that dentist was the same guy who removed my grandfather’s tonsils.

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