The dentist found a small cavity lurking at the back of my mouth. It’s hidden at the base of the last tooth on the left side of the bottom row, pretty much the worst possible place to have a cavity because no matter how wide I open my mouth it’s difficult to get to. It seems like it’s a punishment for me trying to lighten the mood of my routine cleaning. When the hygienist asked me if I’d been taking care of my teeth I said, “Oh, yeah, I brush twice a day, floss, and take care of my teeth, aside from sleeping with a mouthguard full of gummy bears.”
I was hoping the cavity would be in one of my remaining wisdom teeth. I’ve only had one of my wisdom teeth pulled so I’m either mostly wise or not—I’ve never figured out how that works. The first kid I knew to get his wisdom teeth pulled was Carl, in my seventh grade class, and it seemed like he came back the next day even dumber than before, hard to believe as that was. The one wisdom tooth I had pulled had a cavity in it and my dentist said, “Let’s just go ahead and take it out,” and I was fine with that because going into my mouth with a pair of pliers and yanking a tooth out by the roots seemed preferable to going in with a drill, in much the same way that hitting my thumb with a sledgehammer is preferable to pouring gasoline on my hand and setting it on fire.
I’m also still chasing that dragon that was the first time I got teeth pulled. I was in the second grade and had a few stubborn baby teeth that, unwisely, weren’t willing to be taken by the Tooth Fairy. My mother took me to a special pediatric orthodontist who gave me a mask full of nitrous and his own special mix of codeine, ether, and banana peels, and within a few minutes I was having hallucinations of ballerinas and scary parrots that Aldous Huxley would have envied. I was vaguely aware of the orthodontist doing something but it seemed like it was happening at my feet so I didn’t worry about it.
It was a year or so later that I had to have another stubborn baby tooth pulled—I guess they didn’t have enough ether the first time—and I was really looking forward to another ride on John Fogerty’s flying spoon, but it was a different orthodontist. Still I walked in and said, “All right, Doctor Leary, let’s drop some windowpane!” But he put a needle in my arm, started a sodium pentothal drip, and told me to count backward from one-hundred. I think I got to ninety-seven and woke up on the couch at home with a mouth full of gauze and a weird feeling in my feet.
When my current dentist pulled my wisdom tooth I was mostly conscious and while it wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience at least the nitrous and some Hendrix blasting in my ears provided a purple haze.
Since this new cavity isn’t in a wisdom tooth—it wasn’t smart enough for that, or maybe I should name it Carl—it’s going to have to be drilled and filled, although my dentist also floated the two most terrifying words you can hear from someone with a DDS: root canal. I hope it doesn’t come to that. I’ve never had a root canal but I understand having a cavity drilled and filled is preferable, in the way that pouring gasoline on your hand and setting it on fire is preferable to jamming an ice pick in your eye via your left nostril.
So now I’m dreading the follow-up appointment but at least I can take some comfort in being able to eat anything I want—caramel wrapped in cotton candy, frozen concentrated orange juice, rock candy, actual rocks. Maybe by the time I go in I’ll get the good stuff.