Life Here: It’s Like Pulling Teeth

Most people in the Upper Valley will attest that it is difficult to get a tooth pulled, in more ways than one.

First, it is hard to find a dentist who will pull a tooth. (Except for Red Logan, a clinic for low income people who cannot afford root canals.) Dentists will go to great lengths to get you to save a tooth, because that’s their mindset. It’s also what is earning them the big bucks.

Second, yanking a tooth out is hard work.

As far as the first stumbling block goes, I have afforded two root canals; one when I was 20 years old, in Shelburne Falls, Mass., which cost $300, and one which I was in the process of having done. The present root canal and crown was going to cost $2,200! Granted, my first root canal was done 40 years ago, but still, it seems somewhat astounding that now the same procedure should cost $2,200. I have been priced out of root canals.

Thus it was with a heavy heart that I noticed my upper jaw was throbbing that vaguely familiar deep, hard ache that signals a dying tooth. I waited many days, hoping it was something like an inflamed trigeminal nerve or a sinus infection, but no such luck. I was taking two daily doses of 800 mg of Ibuprofen and barely coping with the pain. I had an appointment in a few days to finish the root canal I was having done, so I waited for that and as soon as she put me in the chair I blurted out my problem and asked if she could start a root canal on the dying tooth.

She smiled nicely, (I really do like her) and said she didn’t do root canals on molars.

“Well then just pull it,” I said.

She smiled nicely again and said she didn’t pull teeth.

“Hmmmm,” I said.

“The other doctor in the practice does,” she reassured me, “but I really think you should go ahead and get the root canal.” She went into all the reasons why one should try to save all of one’s teeth and finally got me to accept a visit to an endodontist the next day.

I dutifully schlepped my way to another office and the endodontistist reaffirmed I needed a procedure done on the upper, right, last molar. She told me her price, and I thought for about 30 seconds, long enough to realize I could buy another electric bike or save my upper, right, last molar.

“I’m getting it pulled,” I said.

After paying $180, which is what it cost to be told the price of a root canal, the secretary got me an appointment, almost 15 days away, when I could visit the oral surgeon. He was going to charge about $400; $525.00, if you added nitrous oxide.

I went home. I complained bitterly to my sister, who lives just 100 yards up the river from me, which makes it convenient to complain bitterly to her. She added her own dental horror stories. Thus fortified I called my dentist back and scheduled a tooth extraction (they had given me a price of $200) the following day.

As I clambered into the chair the next day, I asked if tooth extraction had progressed from the days when all you needed was a set of pliers and a sign to set up shop. “Not much,” the assistant replied. I told her I had lain awake the night before thinking about devices that might be used to pull teeth, a sort of blend of a corkscrew and a come-along. Needless to say I was disappointed that no such instrument had been invented.

I won’t go into gory details. Suffice it to say that at one point I thought the dentist might have to put his foot on my chest for better leverage. I had to use Lamaze techniques for the first time since I’d had my one child, 31 years ago. A root broke off and the dentist had to drill into my jaw bone to hook it out. But, in the end, the assistant presented me with the bloody, broken, oft-filled, molar inside a yellow, tooth-shaped, plastic coffin. And here I am now, at my desk, with a sore tooth-hole and a light heart.

It’s interesting how the body changes as one ages. An artistic coroner could write a novel based on what he records from a body and mine would tell a story of child bearing, a broken foot, a slightly dented skull and now a lost molar.

The dental assistant told me I must never throw my tooth away because there is mercury in the filling, which can’t just be tossed in a landfill. I have no intention of throwing it away. Perhaps I’ll pass it on to my descendants. They can have me cloned in some future world. Maybe I’ll bury it, to confuse some future archeologist. Or maybe I’ll have it set in silver, to hang on a chain as a sort of macabre necklace, a visible symbol of yet another rite of passage.