POSTCARD: Drill, Baby, Drill

RIVER EDGE, NJ—I won’t lie to you, my teeth aren’t white. They’re more of a weak, noncommittal yellow. But brown? They’re definitely not brown. Nevertheless—in early July, gritting my teeth in a pizzeria’s bathroom mirror—brown is what I saw.

Wiping the tooth in question with a square of toilet paper made no difference, neither did gargling with tap water. Aghast, I did what I always do when confronted with a tragedy of unfathomable proportions: I called my mother.

“Honey, no one will notice. It’s a molar, right?”

It was hardly a molar. It was impossible to miss—the tooth between my left front tooth and canine, where a fang might descend in a less-orthodox vampire canon like True Blood.

“I don’t know,” she sighed. “You might need a root canal.”

Well, shit. This struck me as both deeply unfair and inevitable. I’ve had awful luck with my teeth: first, a retainer, four adult teeth pulled at 12, and then six years of braces. (You’d think six years is long enough to get used to anything, but I spent my adolescence smiling with my mouth closed for photographs.) But in fairness, I’m not just a victim of circumstance. I drink coffee, tea, Diet Coke—anything that doesn’t dissolve the glass it’s served in. I’ll remember to floss when it’s required by law.

Two weeks later, I watched as a dental hygienist illuminated my X-rays.

I exhaled. “That can’t be good.”

“You know how to read X-rays?” she asked, genuinely curious.

I don’t have a medical degree, but the dark rift between my tooth and gum wasn’t hard to interpret. The dentist came in and eyed it warily.

“Was that tooth ever hit by something? A softball?” Never.

He looked back at the X-ray and frowned. “A rock?”

My root canal was scheduled for the next Saturday morning. In the interim, I made the mistake of searching Google for images of the procedure (never do this) and read all that I could about it (really, never). The basics: drill down to the nerve, drain the pulp, leave the tooth for dead. A relaxing start to any weekend.

By the time I took a seat in the waiting room, I was seriously considering calling it a loss and investing in a set of well-made dentures. The TV was tuned to the Food Network—an ironic choice, given my increasingly firm belief that I would never chew again.

Then, horror of horrors, I found myself reclining in the dentist’s chair, silently loathing the phantom softball that brought me there. My fingernails dug into the vinyl, a flip-flop dangled precariously off my twitching right foot, and when the drill finally made contact, I felt...nothing. Nothing. The sweetest nothing of my life. Even the pinch of the initial anesthetic injection had been preceded by a Q-tip dabbed in some wondrous, numbing goop.

In fact, the only jarring moment came at the root canal’s end, when the tooth was cauterized. “It’s going to get a little smoky,” the doctor told me, which is not #1 on my list of favorite things to hear about my mouth. But seconds later, I was happy he said something—the white wisps of smoke drifting in front of my nose would have been a lot more disconcerting without warning.

I left the office with a post-anesthetic slobber, a prescription for antibiotics, and a new, braver tooth.

Molly O. Fitzpatrick ’11, an Arts columnist, is an English concentrator in Winthrop House.

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