There exists an oddly prevalent nightmare in which a person’s teeth are broken or knocked out. Although I am glad to report that I’ve never experienced it, I have suffered a nightmare far worse.
Being uncomfortably mindful of one’s own teeth is a terrible curse I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, and saying that teeth have always made me uncomfortable would be a gross understatement. Teething was a struggle, according to my mother, and my baby teeth departed my gums no more readily than they entered them, but the real troubles began in my teenage years. Throughout adolescence, I was haunted by the knowledge—or rather, the awareness—that I had a mouthful of bones. Normally, this truth is so omnipresent that the layman is able to push the idea from his head, but I couldn’t, because my situation wasn’t normal. My mouth didn’t merely feel full; it felt overfull. Two-and-a-half dozen sharp pieces of calcium were all fighting for extremely limited space. At all times, I could feel the cramped things crowding and grinding together in the back of my jaw, constantly reminding me of their presence as they pressed against each other like jostling commuters on an over-packed subway car.
It wasn’t until adulthood that I discovered the reason why: I had one more wisdom tooth than my jaw could accommodate. It took no strain of my imagination to picture it, firmly embedded in my gum with its three long, tapered roots bursting through the tender flesh and digging into the hard bone below. I couldn’t help but mentally connect these wicked spikes with the piercing prongs of the devil’s trident, so I took to calling the monstrosity my demon tooth, and it would take an oral surgeon to exorcize the hateful thing.
Choosing the person for the job exclusively on the basis of convenience would prove to be a mistake, but at the time, it seemed perfectly fortuitous that “Tooth Fairy Dentistry” was a mere three blocks from my home, located on the fourth floor of a walk-up office tower. I ascended a cramped and poorly lit stairwell that reeked of wet paint and spent a brief spell in a windowless waiting area, a strangely liminal space, before being summoned to the back room. The vinyl covering of the chair was cold and clammy to the touch, and it made a series of staccato squeaks as the pneumatics maneuvered me into position with a prolonged monotonous hiss. Staring up at the dentist, I saw that he was a small, thin man with more than a slight insectoid nature about him. A pair of coke-bottle glasses made his buggy green eyes look even larger than they already were, and he made a nasally buzzing sound as he hummed to himself. He also moved with an unusual beetling gait in which each limb moved one joint at a time, as though he were too aware of his own limbs. I couldn’t tell if the sickly, artificial mint aroma belonged to him or the room, but it might have been both. No part of the situation put me at ease, but I was willing to overlook it all if the little man could free me from the demon tooth’s bony clutches.
The minutes crept by as he lay siege to my mouth, battling the gnarled mass of recalcitrant calcium armed with all manner of horrific metal implements. The harsh, flickering light of the fluorescent tubes overhead gave each one a sinister gleam. None would have looked out of place alongside instruments of torture in a medieval history museum. First, the strident, mechanical shriek of the drill filled the cramped room as he bored through the base of the tooth and into the roots with its coarse bit. Next he poked, prodded, and pried with an array of twisted hooks. Although I’d been given local anesthetic, I could still feel his tools in my mouth the same way that a gloved hand knows the shape of the object it holds. My eyes began to water as he dug their sharply pointed tips into the moist recess he’d created, yet despite all the pushing and pulling and pain, the tooth refused to budge.
Finally, he set his awful hooks aside, but he seized his pliers instead, and with these, he seized hold of the tooth. The tool clamped down on it with an audible, ratcheting click that I could feel in my bones, but despite having it firmly locked in his grasp, he still could not force it to yield. He informed me that he would have to ‘apply himself’ to this one. Before I could grasp the full horror of what this statement meant, he was on top of me, with both hands clenched upon the tool so adamantly that the nets of blue-grey veins bulged beneath the skin of his hairy forearms, already glistening with exertion. They gave a singular pulse, and time seemed to freeze briefly as he threw his complete body weight behind his pliers. Then it happened. The tooth went CRUNCH.
The hideous crack of snapping bone filled my mouth, the rest of my skull, and the entire office. I don’t know if I heard it or felt it or both, but the sensation turned my blood to ice-water, and cold sweat plastered my shirt against my back. The very thought of it still induces a shudder like an icy fingernail being dragged up the length of my spine.
As he withdrew his pliers from my mouth, I saw that they now held a mangled wreck of bone in their metal talons. Raising it aloft like some gruesome trophy, he examined the shattered, bloody mess beneath the buzzing fluorescent lights, then set it aside and reached once more for his wicked hooks. Their cold steel touch felt alien and unwelcome in the new hollow socket of my jaw as they clinked and scraped together, but I had plenty of time to grow accustomed to it. He was clearly in no hurry as he meticulously extracted every remaining miniscule fragment with the gleeful fervor of a prospector panning for gold, all the while humming happily to himself.
When his task was finally complete, I was given a clean bill of health, charged for services rendered, and sent on my way. Stepping back out onto the street brought about a strangely surreal sensation. It felt like the procedure took an eternity, and yet it seemed as though no time had elapsed. The passage of time inside that tiny room had an oddly dreamlike quality to it, but this was one dream I’d be happy to forget. No, I have not suffered the specific nightmare of teeth being broken out; I have lived it.