There’s nothing quite like a cracked tooth.
For 38-years, I have been building a mental roadmap of my teeth’s location and keep a daily record of their state. From molar to bicuspid to canine, I know how my chewing friends are doing and do a reasonable amount of work keeping my winning smile in check.
When my face is the moneymaker behind the bar, the worst thing I can have is a set of choppers jagged, chipped and discolored. Someone has to keep food on the table and my midsection isn’t going to pay the bills. Besides, my mother put way too much money and time into my teeth when she got me braces as a kid. I had a smile like an Englishman when I was 11-years old and she did the Lord’s work to make sure I didn’t grow up looking like David Nevin.
With the occasional cavity filled in and back molar yanked because I had cracked it on some particularly good ossobuco, my teeth have been damn good friends. I give them a brush a couple of times a day and run some floss through them and in return, I have been given a smile that can charm a cobra and the right tools to eat anything—including leather and radial tires.
That’s what made the discovery a month ago so disconcerting.
My upper back left fellow had taken ill. Sending the tongue in to get a better feel for what has happened, I felt a crack that ran the length of the old man. The thick molar was split and leaking some sort of primordial stew that was making my mouth taste foul. I was getting headaches and I feared it would have to be extracted. I am fine losing one tooth to lamb shank bones but two—no thank you. I was raised in Nevada not some village outside of Newcastle.
In heading to the dentist on Tuesday, I was apprehensive in both the pain and cost of saving my tooth. After seeing Les Miserables I knew that I could not just go to the docks and trade a tooth for a couple of shekels. I needed help and the right amount of dental work. I made my way in the office early and filled out a stack of papers in triplicate that seemed unnecessary and antiquated. I am hoping for the day that I can walk in to a doctor’s office, have them scan a bar code on my forearm and get to work fixing me. Apparently, Obamacare hasn’t gotten that far yet.
Dental offices are a combination of weird smells and unpleasant noises. The women running the clinics all look pooped, acting as if time spent around open mouths has taken a toll on them. Because I am pretty much a baby when it comes to people poking around my mouth, I was looking for a little mothering in the clinic but no such luck. These women had bigger fish to fry and that fish as probably something picked up through a drive-through around 11:30am.
The dentist came in and said his name was Brad. I wish he introduced himself in this fashion, “Hello, my name is Dr. Bradley Wilkins DDS. I am a board certified edonodontist and I am looking forward to helping you with your pain.” No such luck, I got some guy in scrubs telling me his name is Brad and to open my mouth as wide as possible.
I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on Brad. Too often we use stereotypes to describe people and most of the time these generalizations are unfounded. But every now and then, a stereotype is based in fact. When it comes to hiring an accountant, I like a guy who knows a Sabbath goy, all of my tailors should be named Giuseppe, a decent mechanic is named Mike and all of my dentists should be Mormon. If I don’t see at least a baker’s dozen worth of temple photos framed in the front office, there is no way I am letting them drill my teeth. Mormons make good FBI agents and damn fine dentists. The only problem is when you tell them that your teeth hurt like Hell and burping last night’s Scotch dinner in their face.
Nonetheless, here I was with Brad and he got to work looking at my mouth. He had a nice soothing umpa-lumpa manner of speaking which meant he was bored. It is counter-intuitive but you can trust a professional that is bored—it means that they have been there before and this is just one of a half-dozen he’ll do before breaking for lunch.
He gave me the run down and told me that I could save the tooth but it was going to need a root canal. Root canal. I was relieved that we were going to be able to save the tooth but I was disappointed that there wasn’t some sort of magic pill I could take.
Now, I wanted to be brave. I really did but there was no way I was going to be able to do this root canal without some whacky gas and a boatload of Novocain. They put the gas mask on me and got to work pumping injection after injection of Novocain into every corner of my mouth. Because I am a drinker and not a druggy, nitrous oxide is a pleasant break from the tumblers of bourbon I enjoy at night. I didn’t get high as a kite but I did that warm fuzzy feeling in my chest and feet that made me wish I had one of these things set up at my house.
Because the procedure takes about 90-minutes, there was an added distraction in the examination room—a television screen mounted into the ceiling that I could watch a movie while they went to town on my mouth. Thumbing through he choices, I selected Pixar’s Ratatouille. Having never seen it before and considering Pixar’s track record with their movies, I figured how could I go wrong.
Yep, I went wrong.
While Brad drilled away at my mouth I watched arguably the most disgusting cartoon I’ve seen since Fritz The Cat. The whole movie was nothing but swarms and swarms of rats climbing over food with an protagonist so unlovable that I was rooting for the villains. For those that haven’t seen Ratatouille, let me break it down for you: a filthy rat went to a dirty city and buddied up with a moron and handed a bunch of food that humans ate. The food looked gross, the characters bland and at no point did I not wish for Remy to get flushed down a garbage disposal.
Besides that, it was a fine movie.
As I was trying to keep my breakfast down from watching bubonic plague infused soups and a dipshit of a lead try to fake his way through a Julia Childs book, I was fighting the temptation to have Brad stop what he was doing and just yank the tooth out. He was drilling and probing and sawing that I thought I was going to pass out. Reminded of my promise to be brave, I gripped hard into the chair and try to suck down as much clown gas as possible.
Root canals consist of drilling out the tooth and taking these miniature piper cleaners to poke out any tooth pulp left in the molar. They then build a temporary crown by packing the tooth in with filling and have you come back later to dump your kid’s college fund into their boat fund. It is just good science. Brad was a gentle lover but he kept showing me what he was going to do. It was a sick sadomasochist way of making sure that I wasn’t going to punch him in the eye. Carrying over the movie theme, it would have been the equivalent of the opening sequence of Hostel deciding to do a Ted talk while jamming 16-penny nails through my teeth.
Between the rat and Brad, I was dying in the chair. I did a little praying but we know how that worked. I did a little crying but that didn’t speed things up. I did a little negotiating with God and he wasn’t pleased. He actually told me he was too busy picking a new Pope and didn’t have time for some wuss in Utah who was having a little bridgework done.
Miraculously, it eventually ended.
I was covered in sweat. Every muscle in my body was stressed from contracting in pain for two hours. My mouth felt like I had been using it to move Louisville Sluggers across a warehouse and I wanted to get the Hell out of there. Testing my repaired tooth with my tongue, it felt strange and bloated and foreign. Yet, I felt better. My face wasn’t a pulsating pulp of pain and the vile taste of infection was gone. It is as if Brad knew what he was doing.
I grabbed my pain meds and antibiotics and made my way out of there. The numbness in my mouth was unbearable. When I talked, I sounded like a cross between Albert Finney and Roger Ebert. I knew the Novocain was going to wear off, so I took my pills and went home to sleep through the afternoon.
That’s the story. I get my permanent crown next week and should be ready to eat hard candy and taffy by the end of next week. The dentist stinks but I guess I am fortunate that I have health insurance and live in a community that actually has doctors.
Brad is not aces in my book but he is one of the good guys. He did a good job cleaning my tooth out and I am looking forward to putting this affair behind me. I just wish he could have recommended a better movie than Ratatoiulle. Man, that movie was garbage.
Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. Podcast, yeah, podcast. Patton Oswalt is getting a very strongly worded letter from him when the pain pills wear off.