The Whole Tooth and Nothing But
The trials and tribulations of having a tooth removed.
humor, nonfiction, dental
January 23, 2016


Years ago, a friend asked me what I thought the best method was for losing weight.

“Prevention,” I returned.

You’re probably thinking, “Hey! What’s the big idea?!” in that cliché 1940’s type of voice. Come on! That’s not an answer for the problem. It’s an answer, just not the solution. No, my advice didn’t help her much, but it did stress the importance of trying to stop something before it happens.

Now, with a few pounds, it’s possible to undo the damage gained.

No so much with a tooth. In regards to teeth, a cavity is the beginning of the end.

True, you can get a cavity fixed and be just fine for a very long time, but quite often, that damage is sooner or later going to catch up with you. And it finally caught up with me.

My mistake was letting four years pass between dentist visits. Yes, four years. I know, I know. But I was just out of high school. I didn’t have such rules or requirements henceforth. I was free. FREE!


To get nine cavities.

Yes, nine. Most were not serious. But a couple needed some deep repairs. And one finally needed more work than was eventually possible.

A year ago, I had just finished doing a murder mystery dinner show in Gualala, California, and eating nothing but a salad that evening (you know, prevention for weight control). The salad was fine, but it had croutons, and while I don’t know how it knows, the body immediately detects when the food inside the mouth suddenly contains something other than food. It contained...tooth. Well, tooth not attached to the jawbone that is.


I sighed that sigh of knowledge and pent-up frustration, spit out the food, and found a mirror. Ach! A hole. And oh great, a sharp edge. My tongue let me know about that. And it reminded me every five minutes for the next two days. It was as if it just kept tapping me on the shoulder, saying, “Hey! Hey, James!” “Yes?” “This area of the mouth right here has a sharp edge!” “Yes, you told me five minutes, ago. So did you cut yourself again?” “A little. It’s sharp!” “Uh, okay. No need to remind me again.”

Five minutes later, “Hey! Hey, James!”

Yeah, a tongue and a sharp tooth is like a puppy and a ... uh, it’s been a while since I had a puppy, but I know they’re always going on and on about some thing or another.

That Monday, I went to the dentist. He did a small amount of drilling and oh drat. The tooth, well the top of the tooth, broke--just not enough solid, healthy material to keep it intact. Most of the top was gone. Still, we tried to save it. A crown was made, but even a crown needs a head to cover, and my tooth was more like Henry’s second or fifth wife (reader’s choice there, Louis XVI or Charles I would also work fine).

Nearly a year later, I noticed it was getting a tad loose. I hadn’t had the feeling of a wiggly tooth since...well, childhood (when I had that puppy). Tooth just don’t tend to wiggle much after eight. I mean, we hope not.


I returned to the dentist and had it re-cemented (one last try!), but eh, the odds were not good. It was only a matter of time--and less time this time.

Two weeks later, I was doing another murder mystery dinner show up north. It was in Santa Rosa this time and right before the show, I wiggled the tooth a bit. Human nature. It something “can” be wiggled, it “should” be wiggled. I guess it’s just that not knowing when, especially after the “if” has been pretty much decided.

It wiggled and then came off.

Argh. No use trying to just put it back with Krazy Glue. It would have been a neat trick to see if it were possible (I’ve heard success stories; we all have!), but I couldn’t risk it coming off during eating. And plus, it would be a little embarrassing to explain to the dentist. Mostly, I didn’t want decay starting around the area. I had observed the underlying area. Not good.

I needed to return.

The following Monday, I called them and said I had an appointment for a cleaning that week, but they would have another task at hand. The lady asked if I could come down that afternoon. Ooh! Okay. I guess it was better than having the sharp tooth once again.

(Actually, the tongue was tamer this time and there wasn’t much sharp area left to prod at--but it still prodded some and cut itself up a bit. Ah, tongues and puppies!)

Before hanging up, I said, “Should I bring the crown?” “Sure, bring the crown.” I always try to save the crown just in case of a miracle.

It was a short, happy fantasy. And not one I really relished. I wanted the problem solved for good this time. Full disclosure: I’ve had one other bridge and it has been a terrific and lasting solution to another problematic tooth. The main issue was having to go through...

The extraction.

The dentist did the cleaning then and there and everything else was A-Okay. Nice thing about crowns is that they don’t get tooth decay. Hurrah for silver linings. But then they sent me on my merry way to visit Dr. Mills for the extraction.


The extraction. Ah, I will say this: I would rather have a root canal done any day than an extraction. It’s just not an enjoyable thing to undergo. And it might be less traumatic for some people, but it’s different when the top of the tooth is broken off. There’s nothing left to grab onto with the pliers or hooks or whatever tool they use. I prefer not to see the tools beforehand, though it may not help relying on just the imagination to conjure up just what it takes to yank out a tooth. I mean, what do I expect is happening? A big fluffy sulfur crested cockatoo is kindly pulling out my tooth with an oversized talon? No, it’s steel, people. Cold hard steel! Maybe even sharp.

Mind you, there’s no pain. The shots did their trick. I was completely numb. I could feel the pressure though, and that was disturbing. Still, nothing was working. The surgeon said the tooth was decayed and was breaking away before allowing itself to be pulled out. So of course we’re now having to go below the gum line to get at it. And again, no pain, but the mental knowledge was tortuous.

That’s the most difficult part--the mind just knowing a healthy piece of the body was being ripped away. It does not like that to occur. We are not built with spare parts. (Science still isn’t 100% sure about that darn appendix.)

All right, the top part was not healthy as it was simply not there and had not been in good health for probably several years. The middle part had decayed, sure. But the lower half was still in fine shape and clinging to the jaw with all its might. The gums enjoyed having that lower tooth there as well. I just imagine the tooth screaming to the gums, “Never let me go!” Nope, it was no going gently into that good night (day, mouth, whatever).

So there I was in mild mental anguish. No, I was not screaming internally for dear life, yet it was a bit tormenting. And I was sweating everywhere. I was dressed in my usual work attire: t-shirt, thermal, thick sweater--just everything necessary to keep me warm in the artic icebox known as work. Here, the room was at a comfortable temperature--that’s provided you’re not dressed for an Alaskan fishing expedition. And there was the that bright light pointed down on me--which is fine. I’m all for the surgeon being able to see the tooth he’s pulling out. Blind tooth pulling is so 14th Century now.


I was overheating fast. I’m guessing it probably takes a minute or two for a tooth with a head to be pulled, yet I had no head. This took many long, long minutes and when it was all over and the sutures were sewn in, I was quite relieved. I was given time to recover and took out my phone. It was...wet(?) Dang. My slacks were even soaked in sweat. This was an ordeal. Again, root canal any day of the week. Drill or pull? Choose the former!

I was told to avoid straws (I guess as to avoid sucking out the blood clot) and carbonated beverages. Wait, wait! But...isn’t soda carbonated! No soda? Is it possible? Is it sane? (Actually, five days with no soda now. Got to be a record!)

Once I was released, I expected some strong pain to arrive when the Novocaine wore off. When something has been stitched up, there’s usually something that’s been cut up. And in the’s never pleasant.

I kept the gauze in and picked up my medication before doing anything else. Pain killers for the pain (genius!) and penicillin to prevent infection--remember there are now stitches and a hole.

Hours later, when the gauze pads turned red a little more slowly (the first five sets were like big bloody oversized spit wads), I decided to find a mirror and observe the area of post operation. Whoa. I’m pretty strong stomached about blood and guts and that sort of thing, but it’s hard to see your own mouth banged, bloodied, and stitched up like that. Trust me when I say it’s best not to look. Back to imagining that fluffy, harmless cockatoo.

However, the surgeon was a pro and the damage was as light as could be. The Novacaine lasted the rest of the day and no painkillers (aside from Tylenol) were ever needed. The next day, it was a tender area but again, no pills. And the bleeding was almost stopped. Let the healing begin!

I also actually avoided food altogether for 24 hours. No, it wasn’t ordered or even recommended, but the area was tender and I really didn’t want to chance harming the wound or the sutures. I can starve when need be. It had been several years since I did the 24-hour fast thing.

And it went fine. Food is so mental. Once I had made my choice, it was much easier not to crave food. My mind, that is; my stomach was none too happy about this decision, especially by the next morning. And when I did eat, I was not really dying to--maybe the stomach was giving up. The smell of pizza brought it back though.

Funny thing--once I started eating again, the mind returned to “FOOD! FOOD! ME WANT!” and I ate heartily for the rest of the day. But gingerly and slowly. I even chopped up my lettuce into very small bits. Everything had to be consumed carefully and consciously and on the right side of the mouth, which leaves the other side dying to taste something. To taste anything!

Poor left side.

Now, several days have passed. The sutures feel like they’re ready to fall away or dissolve. The area is still a tad sore, but seems to be recovering nicely. In two weeks, I return to the dentist.

Then we can build a brand new bridge!

Better. Stronger. Faster?


Because it's either TOOTH OR CONSEQUENCES.