I had to muster every ounce of bravado to make the call. I confessed to the receptionist that I had put this off for some time partly because of denial, and the rest was because of my fear…but now pain was outweighing my paranoia. I knew I had a bad tooth. It was a botched root canal, and my “spider sense” was tingling to tell me we’d have to yank it. Biting the bullet, I made the appointment.
At 3:40 the following Monday, life would end as I knew it. I would sit down in that chair with a youthful, intact smile and arise one step closer to geezerhood (or whatever it is called for females). It was what I imagined turning 50 to feel like. The end was near… And then it got nearer! The phone rang that morning. It was the dentist’s secretary. Could I come in earlier, say 2:30? “Why not?” I replied with a carefree tone… and white knuckles.
I had my morning Bible study to occupy my thoughts until lunch time. When I arrived back at the house, my daughter informed me that I had gotten “tons” (okay, three—she’s a junior higher, what can I say?) of calls from the dentist office. What could they want now? Maybe… through innovative technology, they had diagnosed my problem through audio waves, could correct it over the phone, and I did not have to come in? Nah. The polite voice on the other end of the line wanted to inquire if I could come even earlier, like 1:15? “Sure!” I exclaimed pleasantly. Better to get it over with. When I got off the phone, I looked at the clock. It was 12:45. Fifteen minutes to get there, and a few more added to get there early enough to fill out paperwork—no time for lunch (who could eat on the way to one’s demise, anyway?). I’d have to turn right around and get back in the van.
I pulled into the parking lot, and…what was that? Crime scene tape over the front door?!? Surely this was the “fleece” I hadn’t prayed for. As I walked up to the front of the building, however, I found it was only a Halloween decoration. The yellow tape said things like, “Beware,” “Enter at your own risk,” and “Turn Back!” Very reassuring. I entered the very serene dentist’s office, with native American flutes lilting in the background, and filled out all the necessary forms to permit them to torture me. The irony of toothless jack o’ lanterns adorning the front desk did not escape me.
A lady with very quiet shoes escorted me to an exam room and seated me in a comfortable chair, facing a large window through which one could quietly muse while watching a burbling brook wander by. The dentist took an x-ray and returned to tell me that there were several serious things going on, and I could be referred to a specialist– or we could extract it. I told him I had already mortgaged everything possible for previous “minor” surgeries such as my last two C-sections, so we’d have to opt for the latter. His hand compassionately on my shoulder, he crooned, “You’re breaking my heart…” As my Dad would say, “yeah, all the way to the bank.”
I was given several injections of the stuff that makes whatever side of the face they are going to excavate…slide off. Did I want a magazine, or prefer to snooze (there are people who snooze in the face of such things?) while we waited for the local anesthesia to take effect? I told them I’d rather just enjoy the quiet. Then I prayed. Furiously.
The crown came off effortlessly. Then it got fun. Two hours’ worth of frivolity, as a matter of fact. We did all have a good laugh (a tribute to the pain numbing wonders of modern medicine) when he pulled so hard on one portion of the tooth (apparently when the tooth dies it grows into the bone) that when it turned loose it flew across the room and hit the aforementioned window, sending little birdies and squirrels on the outside skittering in every direction.
There was drilling, yanking, drilling, yanking, more shots, more drilling, more yanking. I had more drilling done on that one tooth than on the whole rest of my mouth in my unwilling career as a dental patient. And then there was… smoke… rising before my eyes…traveling upward… and swirling around that special light they use that looks like it was designed for an inquisition. Now, before I knew the Lord, I had inhaled a total of maybe a half a pack of cigarettes in my short career as a teen smoker. I decided that – peer pressure or not – it was imbecilic to attach something flammable and/or emitting noxious fumes to any part of my body, and especially my face. And now that pact I had made with myself was being violated—by a medical professional no less. I can tell you, there is nothing like the smell of ground and smoldering dentin assailing one’s nostrils on an empty stomach.
Well, unpleasantries aside, we finally furrowed out the remaining root and I celebrated with a mouthful of gauze that night while gazing longingly at the pizza my family enjoyed for supper. I have reentered the arena of those who eat chewable things, with little more than a slight “sh-ish” sound added to my speech pattern. And, if you watch carefully (not too closely, please), it requires a little extra effort to eat certain things. I like frozen yogurt better than jerky anyway. Fortunately, this was a back tooth, so only those near and dear to me (and a certain “broken hearted” dentist) actually know about this flaw; though I have myriad others which are glaringly, sometimes comically (don’t tell me which ones are funny, okay?) obvious to all.
Subtracting the infected tooth will add to my overall health. The pain is worth the gain. This is so like my battle with sin. Only the One with the power is able to see what is going on beneath the crafted exterior. There is reluctance to admit its presence, hesitance to take action and get it out of my life. However, the Great Physician truly is broken hearted over it (the presence of it, certainly not the extraction). It is usually a long process to turn myself loose from its hold, and there is often pain involved. In the end, there is healing and relief and increased purity. There is an added measure of vigilance in order to prevent the situation from happening again. I learn that when I first become aware of its presence, that is the time to make the call. And I know I’ll not have to make an appointment; there is no waiting.