How do you go decades without having your wisdom teeth pulled?
That’s a question I’ve been wrestling with during the last week when I’ve been in pain after having it done.
“Usually, you get them out when you’re a teenager,” I’ve been told more times than I can count. Apparently, I was too busy back then or the idea of someone grabbing my teeth with a pair of pliers was just too unbearable.
Throughout the years, my dentist has suggested he pull them, but held off because they were still fill-able. I went along with that because I would rather face the drill than the excavator. When he retired (and passed me on to someone else), those darn teeth came up again.
“You should have those out,” my new dentist said and promptly sent me to an oral surgeon and a gum specialist. I was able to talk both of them out of the procedure. My line of thinking: Two out of three dentists recommend keeping your wisdom teeth.
“Someday you’re just going to have to do it,” my dentist said. I took care of those babies like crazy. Sure, it felt like I had teeth near my ears, but they hung in there.
One of them chipped and the “there’s nothing more we can do to save it” speech came out. I read everything I could about “older” people having their wisdom teeth out and freaked when I got to the part where there could be some permanent numbness.
“No one but you will notice it,” I was assured. But I could just see my face contorting into some version of the Joker. As a child, I was warned not to make too many faces because “it just might turn that way.” As an adult, I was convinced it would.
Bravely, I opted to be knocked out so I wouldn’t know what happened.
I signed papers (that absolved the oral surgeon from all those heinous things that could happen) and sat back.
When I woke, I was groggy – and ready for a good nap – but I didn’t feel much pain.
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Instead, I got a list of instructions for the weekend and a prescription for pain medication. Thinking I didn’t want to be a double statistic – an older person with an opioid addiction and a mangled face – I settled on over-the-counter remedies and, thanks to a great friend, got home.
There, I sat, gauze firmly placed in my mouth. What I realized was I hadn’t eaten for the better part of a day and I couldn’t really rely on the four main food groups – chips, Cokes, candy and fries. I’d have to have something soft. But what?
For a week, I went cold turkey on everything I loved. I ate so many mashed potatoes I was sure I’d turn into a Thanksgiving turkey. I made the rounds of Jell-O, ice cream, shakes and pancakes, but nothing was as good as a chip. I went through such Ruffles withdrawal I secretly thought I should lick one just to remember how good it tasted.
My jaws hurt, my head ached, my body drooped and I was ready to be done with the great Wisdom Teeth Experience of 2019. This went on for a week.
Every time I thought I was turning a corner, I saw the envelope with the spoils of my adventure – four dinosaur teeth that looked like they had been dragged through a vat of silver.
“You should put them on a chain and wear them around your neck,” a friend said. Somehow, I don’t think the saber-toothed tiger look is in, even among rappers.
Instead, I hoped the Tooth Fairy (or a museum) might come and pay top dollar for something more than 50 years old. (No such luck.)
My face hasn’t frozen into an evil grin – yet – and my night of gorging potato chips is still in the future.
But I’m glad I did it – pain and all.
Now, I can sound like I’m much younger than I really am. When teenagers talk about having their wisdom teeth out, I can chime in: “I had mine out last year” and I’m sure they’ll think I’m practically a peer.