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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Tooth Fairy

At a restaurant with friends, I bit into my sandwich and was surprised to hear a distinct crack coming from inside my mouth. That was odd, I thought, it looked like harmless turkey and cheese with some lettuce and cranberry dressing. Not wanting to embarrass myself, I rolled around the chewed food in my mouth and examined it with my tongue. I found nothing suspicious. Then my tongue landed on the tooth farthest to the back lower right. Missing by at least half, the jagged edges and gap told the story. I had broken a tooth.

I have always taken excellent care of my teeth. Until that moment a few fillings in childhood and the removal of my four wisdom teeth, when I was a teenager, were the only times I had ever needed dental work. I had bled significantly with the loss of each baby tooth and when the permanent teeth came in and the bleeding stopped, I brushed and flossed them aggressively.

The dental hygienist who cleaned and polished my teeth every six months complemented me on my thoroughness, as she would hand the x-rays to the dentist. “No problems again,” she would say. It made me puff up with pride. My arrogance deflated at the moment I realized I had broken a tooth. My wayward tongue kept exploring the gap and the rough edges, reminding me each time that my teeth were no longer perfect. My first reaction to most injuries is, “What did I do wrong?” This was no different. Having allowed myself to feel proud of the way I had cared for my teeth, I now felt self-blame.

It was Friday evening when the tooth broke and I was grateful to have no pain. I waited until Monday morning when the dentist’s office opened to call and book an appointment. “We can fix this,” the dentist said enthusiastically when he finished checking the damage, “I’ll just put in a crown.” At last he had me, I thought grimly.

“Must have been all the times I chewed ice cubes, even when I knew better,” I muttered.

“Did you know that compulsively chewing ice cubes can be a symptom of anemia?” he said.

“No, but that would make sense,” I said glad to be forgiven for my sin.

Then I smiled and said, “Of course you realize I don’t want you to use any Novocain.”

He looked concerned, but not alarmed at the idea. “Is it the injection or the use of Novocain? Because we don’t use Novocain anymore.”

“Both,” I said. “Novocain, like a lot of topical anesthetics, is an anti-coagulant and any injection site will bleed unless I get an infusion of fibrinogen. But, don’t worry,” I added, “I won’t kick you too hard in the groin.” Nothing like a little added incentive for him to be as careful as possible I thought.

He smoothed the fragments left of the broken tooth and gave me a few breaks when I began to squirm and in the end the process wasn’t that bad. Now my most expensive gold jewelry is inside my mouth where no one can really see it and I plan to sip cold beverages from a straw, so ice cubes won’t tempt me.