Recent surveys reveal that Americans fear opening their mouths in the dentist's office even more than they fear Dan Quayle opening his. Apparently we have this peculiar aversion to having needles and drills chip through our teeth and into our oral nerves--boy, what a bunch of weak citizens we've become, probably due to the effects of El Nino.
My own 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--if he wants to let me know what's coming, why doesn't he send the shower scene from Psycho? Puppies are cute--in my whole life, I've never heard anyone describe getting a root canal as a "cute" experience.
Now, don't get the idea from this that I don't practice dental hygiene. I floss on a regular basis--just not in my mouth. And I brush daily with my son's Godzilla toothpaste ("Now with more sugar!" it says on the tube.) I just hate discussing baseball with a sadist while a conduit hooked into my mouth sucks every drop of liquid from my body. So usually I procrastinate for a few months until the miniature time bomb he implanted in my jaw on my last visit explodes in a blast of oral agony. Because it is an emergency, I am put right through to a recording, and within a couple of weeks I'm in his office.
"Mr. Cameron," kindly Dr. Lecter advises me on this visit, frowning with concern. "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 a while selling them to the tooth fairy, who turns out to be my father, of all people. Here you go 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. Anyway, I lay in bed that night 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 extra fingers or extra heads or anything, our jaws are riddled with superfluous teeth which 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 that got into the neighbor's trash or something. "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 incision here," Lecter intones, drawing his finger across the x-ray image of my wisdom teeth. They look like toppled headstones. "Then I'll apply extreme torture 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 surgery on a Friday, so that when you run out of pain pills on Sunday I will be unavailable. I'll give you a special anesthetic so that you'll be nauseated during the operation," Lecter continues, running through the standard instructions for a patient. "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 device right at my mouth in EXACTLY the spot where you say my teeth have become impacted. Do you think maybe there is a connection?"
"Yes, I think you're pretty stupid," he concedes.
We agree that he needs time to pick out the particular boat that 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.
Copyright W. Bruce Cameron 1998
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