After weeks of unrelenting pain, so insistent that I had long since begun to believe that I would never again be free from it, and stubborn refusals on the part of the dentist to fill the offending cavity, I finally relented. I opted to have it removed.
The old man had a gruff demeanor and looked like he could’ve just stepped out of a seedy western film where he pulled double duty as both barber and dentist. Being as gaunt and pale as he was made undertaker a legitimate third vocational possibility. His clothes were shabby and stained. He wore round frame-less spectacles with thick lenses, which gave him a perpetually bug-eyed appearance. Covering his face and neck was a thick scruff of sharp grizzled stubble that looked less like a conscious grooming decision and more like apathy. My prison dentist inspired zero confidence.
After one final last ditch effort on my part to curry some favor in the form of salvaging my tooth, only to be outright and rudely denied, I opened wide and waited to be stabbed in the face half a dozen times. Enduring this assault was necessary so that I could settle in to enjoy the delicious warm oblivion of the numbing agent which had (blessedly) been delivered liberally. The dentist and his assistant disappeared and left me to my pharmaceutically manufactured calm.
Not being any kind of expert, but having already survived the act of extraction thrice, I felt fairly certain that the would-be butchers had returned too swiftly. My numbness was complete, so this wasn’t a notion rooted in reality. I just really didn’t want to have to go through this assault on my mouth again. Also, whether it should be chalked up to fear, superstition or premonition; I had a bad feeling about this one.
I assumed the position and accepted all manner of latexed digits and stainless steel instruments into my body. “Open wide,” he said. These words still drive terror through my core, but open I did.
Lower left back molar. That’s one of the big ones. Whenever there’s a cartoon depiction of a large square tooth with the prongs on the bottom it’s one of these molars. Those prongs are called roots, and they delve deep. Into the gum and jawbone. They don’t come out without a fight.
I caught a glimpse of the dentist’s overdeveloped forearm muscle as he guided the pliers in, and enjoyed an all too brief (and sadly premature) bit of hope filled relief that he could handle the task before him. “Well, let’s see if we can get this one out in one piece.” This was the first I was hearing about any potential of it breaking apart. It instilled little trust in his abilities. And, as a note of professional criticism; why on earth would he even say anything like that? Especially at this, my most vulnerable and impressionable, moment. Any and all positive impulses fled from me.
Having prepped the offending tooth with various pokes and pricks, the dentist latched onto it with his tool and went to work. At first it was grim business as usual. The tugging was tentative but persistent, then quickly grew more aggressive. His technique was to wrench and yank my head back and forth. As hard as I tried to hold steady it was an effort in futility. Not only did the pain make it an impossibility, the dentist’s massive forearm was supremely superior to my puny neck and jaw muscles. The right hinge of my jaw was in agony from being pulled in an unnatural lateral direction. I groaned involuntarily on numerous occasions and was completely ignored every time.
All of his side to side ministrations appeared to be of no aid whatsoever, but to distract me from my dental pain by providing an entirely separate and distinct type of anguish. The handle of his pliers was grinding my lip against my teeth, pinching it again and again until I had a fat, bloody lip. Then he kept doing it.
After an untimed and seemingly eternal interval, the dentist suddenly stopped all his efforts and backed a few steps away from me. This departure from his task was so abrupt as if he was recoiling from electric shock or threat of poisonous snake. Anxiously I waited for some explanation, and after several too long moments of me searching for some sign of the dentist, who hid just outside my peripheral range, he spoke: “I got a cramp. Just give me a minute.” His tone was brusque and matter-of-fact as if this was completely normal. I lay there, flabbergasted, listening to my healthcare provider making wincing and grunting noises as he flexed his hand open and close while massaging his mighty forearm. I wondered what would come next.
I can’t to whether he was simply tired and trying too hard, or if he was fed up and rushing to get it done, or if the tooth was just stubborn and difficult of an extraction. Whatever the case, when he resumed hurting me it was with a renewed zeal and grip that he commenced yanking. Within a minute and a half the unnatural amplified sound of my tooth cracking echoed through my skull followed by the crunch of the same tooth splintering into an unknown number of shards. The dentist’s reaction accessed the situation well.
“Sonofa . . . BITCH!” His unexpected exclamation of frustration and barely contained rage was somewhat more disturbing than the sound of my tooth disintegrating in its socket. Having once before survived a broken tooth I wasn’t so ridiculously terrified like I had been the first time. I was fearful, but mostly more exasperated and disappointed that I would have to endure another tedious removal.
My dentist said nothing to me. Occasionally he barked at his assistant, frequently he cursed viciously under his breath. But not a word to me, his concerned patient. It was difficult for me to calculate time while constantly trying not to gag on an unknowable number of foreign objects crammed into my mouth and throat. Tears sprouted from their ducts unbidden, dried on my cheeks, then were refreshed. The sounds of pieces of my tooth hitting the metal tray was continuous, nearly metronomic. Just when I though I couldn’t take it anymore I heard his pliers clatter into the tray.
“Well, that’s the best you’re going to get today. I tried to get it all, but it’s a real mess in there. I may have missed some slivers or pieces, but they’ll work themselves out. You should be fine. Clean him up.” That last was an instruction for his assistant, then he walked away.
For the first week post-dental surgery I was paranoid that the dentist had left half the tooth in my jaw. Twice during that time I spat out bits of and chunks of tooth while brushing. There was a definite hard bulge beneath the gum that I could manipulate and feel move. It cause a constant dull ache. Over the next month a few more loose pieces came out until finally that last painful sliver slithered its way to the surface and relinquished its hold without much difficulty. It was half the size of a dime with the shape and sharpness of a stone arrowhead.