If I knew I’d be dead by Sunday, I never would have gone to the dentist the previous Monday. Yet, there I was, waiting for the oral surgeon bright and early at eight in the morning. What I found out that day would make my impending death seem like child’s play in comparison.
I lounged on the reclining chair in the operating room, reading an old issue of The Wall Street Journal, yet I couldn’t help but be distracted by the sterile room.
A glossy aluminum pan rested on a cart next to me covered with all sorts of alien probes. The white lights from above disoriented my vision with just a glance. The air, too, was distinctive—a bit thick, ten or so degrees hotter than I preferred, and filled with the aroma of antiseptic cloves.
Enduring the science fiction ambiance, I understand how most of my friends had “dentist anxiety.” I wasn’t nervous at all and felt quite comfortable.
I placed the newspaper aside, when the door opened. A tall man, with thick glasses and a gray, bushy beard, entered and extended his hand to me.
“Hello, Clint, I’m Doctor Wolf.” If his white lab coat and identification tag did not make the point clear enough, his words did. I took his hand only to shock us both with a simple touch.
Doctor Wolf laughed and waved his hand up and down.
“Great way to start the morning, isn’t it?”
I smiled and leaned back. The doctor sat in a rolling chair next to me and flipped through a brown file with a single piece of paper in it. His eyes widened a tad, and I knew why.
“You’re reading that right, doctor,” I said. “This is my first visit to the dentist. Ever.”
“This is a bit . . . alarming. And you’re twenty nine years old?”
“Can you open your mouth for me, Clint?”
I did so, while the good man repositioned a mobile light fixture towards my mouth. He put a pair of gloves on before lightly probing my gums with his index finger.
“Just from a quick glance, you don’t seem to have anything to worry about. All those years without a checkup, it’s amazing. You must brush and floss every day.”
I grunted in agreement. It was all I could do with the doctor’s finger in my mouth.
“I’m just sorry the X-ray didn’t come out. Just a page of reflected light. You won’t be charged for that, but I do expect you to come back once we get the machine working again. And don’t wait another twenty nine years.”
The doctor took his hand out of my mouth, placed his arms atop his lap, then looked me in the eyes.
“You’re here for a cleanup, I understand, but I would like to do a more thorough inspection given your . . . dental history.”
“Or lack of one.”
The doctor chuckled.
“Yes. Before we begin, why don’t you tell me why you’re really here today. I doubt after nearly three decades you’d come in for a routine checkup.”
“A tooth in the back of my mouth started to feel weird about a month ago.”
“Can you describe this sensation for me?”
“It doesn’t hurt, it’s not throbbing. I guess it’s more of a light pressure. This has never happened before. Feels kind of odd.”
A smile crossed the doctor’s face. It looked as genuine as it could coming from a man named Wolf.
“You don’t have to worry about a thing, Clint. I’ll make sure you leave with a better understanding of why your tooth feels that way, and I’ll be as gentle as I can.”
I rested my head back, and the doctor clipped a small napkin around my neck. I assume to protect my shirt from shooting mouth secretions.
“Are you nervous?” He asked, picking up two utensils. One looked like a miniature prong and the other a pint-sized chisel. I shrugged.
“Can’t really get nervous about something I’ve never experienced.”
“No. I guess you can’t. Now, if you can open your mouth again for me . . .”
The next half hour felt like a construction site in my mouth. There were clangs, clatter, grunts, and the occasional jarring movements, but it was painless. The doctor seemed surprised when I told him my jaw wasn’t tired from remaining open for so long, so he decided to move onto my troubling tooth with my consent.
“I need you to stay still, okay?” he said, more of a direction to follow than a question. I felt the prongs pinch the sides of my tooth. “That’s odd.”
With the doctor’s two words, my logic concerning nervousness washed away. My heart beat faster, and I grunted.
“Hold on. I see something beneath the tooth. I’m going to try and wiggle it gently.”
Beneath the tooth? Wiggle it gently? I clenched the sides of the chair, leaned my head back, and became blinded by the glaring ceiling lights, while the overpowering odor of antiseptic cloves assaulted my nostrils. I finally understood my friend’s fear of the dentist.
Then it got worse. Much worse.
The doctor mumbled at the same time I felt a pop in my mouth. He fell back, knocking over the pan of utensils on the way down. He dropped the prongs and the white pebble between its vice grip.
My heart skipped. I jumped from my seat and hit my head on the mobile light fixture above.
“You removed my tooth? My tooth!”
The doctor’s mouth and eyes were wide open. He trembled, shook his head, and stared up at me with a mixture of confusion and fear. It was the same two emotions I felt.
I picked my tooth off of the ground and approached Doctor Wolf.
“What happened? What’s wrong with me?” My heart raced and my vision blurred while I waited for the doctor to respond. He slowly lifted a finger and pointed at the mirror behind me.
I turned around, glancing at the tooth I held in my hand. Red and blue nerves dangled from the bottom. My gut wrenched.
Stumbling forward, I stared into the mirror and opened my mouth as far as it could go. There was a hole where my tooth had been. No blood, no puss, just an opened wound. And inside that hole were copper connectors sticking out alongside two small blinking lights.
I stepped back, my head spinning, and somehow managed to bring the tooth up to my face. I stared at my reflection and at what had shocked the doctor. Those weren’t nerves dangling from the bottom of my tooth, they were wires.