A Trip to the Oral Surgeon

My dentist, kindly Dr. Hannibal Lecter, lets me know that I'm due for an appointment by sending me a postcard with puppies on it. This strikes me as something akin to false advertising. Puppies are cute--in my whole life, I've never heard anyone describe a root canal as a "cute" experience.

I do take care of my teeth. I floss everywhere I consider it appropriate, and I brush daily with my son's Godzilla toothpaste ("Now With More Sugar!", it says on the tube). So I am caught by complete surprise when my jaw suddenly explodes in oral agony one morning, as if the puppies on the postcard have spent the night chewing on my cheek bones. I call the dentist office, explaining this is an emergency of the worst kind--one involving me.

"Mr. Cameron," kindly Dr. Lecter advises me when I get there, "I've discovered the source of your pain."

"Like, my mouth?" I suggest. Maybe I should be a dentist. Do you have to take a test or Something?

"Your wisdom teeth," he says. He shows me an X-ray of my mouth, pointing out the grassy knoll and the book depository. Toward the back of my jaw a couple of teeth look like they have gotten drunk and fallen over.

"Is this bad news?" I ask.

He sighs. "Well, it means I'll be able to afford that new bass boat I've been looking at. For you, it means the teeth will have to come out."

Okay, not so bad. I've lost teeth before, and even had something of a cottage industry for awhile selling them to the tooth fairy, who turns out to be my father, of all people. Here you go through most of your childhood thinking your dad is a gynecologist and then you see him sneaking into your sister's room to take her molar and leave a quarter. I remember when my friend Tommy lost two of his teeth when he put his mouth right where I was throwing a baseball (what an idiot!). That night I lay in bed giggling over the idea of my father sneaking in to put money under Tommy's pillow. The next morning, when I innocently asked my dad how Tommy was doing, he pretended not to understand what I was talking about.

According to kindly Dr. Lecter, even though we humans have no spare fingers or extra heads or anything, our jaws are riddled with superfluous teeth that have nowhere to go. Apparently when God created oral surgeons he wanted to make sure they would be able to afford luxury cars. "Look, they're impacted," he tells me in a stern tone, like my wisdom teeth are a couple of pet dogs who got into the neighbor's trash. "Impacted" means that instead of popping up straight, my wisdom teeth are trying to escape by tunneling out the side of my jaw. Another decade or so and I will be able to chew gum with my ears.

"We'll have to make an sado-incision here," Lecter intones, drawing his finger across the X-ray. "Then I'll apply extreme pain to the entire area."

"Why do they call them wisdom teeth if all they are good for is oral surgery?" I complain bitterly. "They should call them stupid teeth."

"We'll do the procedure on a Friday, so that when you run out of pain pills on Sunday I will be unavailable," Lecter continues, running through the standard instructions for a patient. "I'll give you a special anesthetic so that you'll be nauseated during the operation. Don't eat anything for 24 hours before you come in--I want you to get started on being miserable."

"Hey, you must think I'm pretty stupid," I rinse and spit angrily. "For the past 10 years you've been aiming this cone-shaped X-ray device at EXACTLY the spot where you say my teeth have become impacted. Am I not supposed to see the connection?"

"Yes, I think you're pretty stupid," he concedes.

We agree that he needs time to pick out the boat he wants, so we schedule the surgery for next month. As I leave I catch sight of myself in the mirror and wonder what I would look like with teeth jutting out of the side of my face.

Maybe it wouldn't be so bad.

[ by W. Bruce Cameron © 2001, 2003 (bruce@wbrucecameron.com) -- { used with permission } ]


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