I’ve never minded going to the dentist. As a child, I actually always really liked it. My chatty hygienist always had unique, teeth-themed toys decorating her booth. I got to have my teeth polished with bubble-gum flavored sand paste and then my mouth rinsed out with a mini vacuum. The dentist, who had hair exactly like Einstein, always sent me home with a balloon and grape floss. It was like a visit to Willy Wonka’s but without the gimpy grandpa.
That all changed in 8th grade. At 13 years old, I still had almost all of my baby teeth and couldn’t seem to get rid of my childhood lisp (which is especially unfortunate for a kid with S’s in both her first and last names). My parents took me to tongue therapy (yeah, that’s a real thing) where I had to read Dr. Seuss books with a stick between my teeth and eat my meals while holding a rubber band to the roof of my mouth with the tip of my tongue. For those of you who are thinking my life sounded just like Eliza Doolittle’s, I tell you that I never got to meet the Queen and Rex Harrison never fell in love with me. Not as enchanting as you may have thought.
The tongue therapist said that ultimately, braces would help me sort out all of my speaking and swallowing issues, but braces couldn’t go on until the baby teeth were gone. The dentist quoted the surgery as costing roughly the GDP of Tunisia.
My parents were certainly not going to pay that much to have my teeth pulled. They decided that I could just get my teeth removed by a family friend, the dentist in a small town. It’d be cheaper full price there than the co-pay only at our own dentist would cost. The surgery was planned for spring break.
The day of the surgery, my mom drove me to the dentist’s office, an older house refurbished into a dental office with a small reception area and a cramped examination room. After my mom filled out the required paperwork, I was escorted to the dimly-lit back room where I was instructed to lie down on the examination chair and open my mouth so that 15 pounds of cotton balls could be shoved into it. The dentist prepared a syringe the size of a football and shot it into four or five different places in my mouth. Some of the liquid trickled down the back of my throat and before everything went numb, I thought that this must be what formaldehyde tasted like.
Then he started work. Though I couldn’t feel the pain of the operation, I could still feel the tearing and ripping as the teeth were removed from my jaw. Three of the teeth had never grown in and thus needed to be dug out from my gums before they could be taken out. There were nine teeth marked for removal but about halfway through the surgery, the dentist said, “You know, this one here should probably come out, too,” and he poked his scalpel back into my mouth.
All the while, the dentist’s wife wiped the tears dripping down my cheeks and stroked my hand while whispering in my ear, “It’s alright. It’s all going to be okay,” which somehow was more unnerving than comforting.
When I emerged from the operating room, my cheeks were bulging and bloody and my eyes were blotched and soggy. I must have looked something like a bloated, melting kitten because my mother took one look at me and whispered, “Oh, honey…” She told me to go out to the car to wait for her while she paid.
In the car, I searched for a Kleenex to wipe the tears, snot, and saliva leaking from every part of my face. I wanted to blow my nose so I could breathe properly because my cotton-stuffed mouth wasn’t letting in any air. As I blew, I felt something warm and wet seeping down my neck and arms. I looked to see fresh blood covering my face, my shirt, the car dashboard and the window. Because I couldn’t feel most of my face, I hadn’t realized that my lips were open when I tried to blow my nose and I had sprayed blood over the entire car.
My mom entered the car to discover a scene resembling an episode of Dexter. We waited until we got back to where we were staying a few minutes away before we tried to clean me up. I spent most of the rest of the afternoon with my mouth over a trashcan so I could just let the blood drip into it instead of changing the cotton every 3 minutes.
The epilogue to this story is that four months later I got braces which I was lucky enough to keep on until my senior year of high school. I graduated tongue therapy and now know how to properly drink a glass of water. And whenever I have to play Two Truths and a Lie, no one ever believes that I have close to half as many teeth as the average person. So, in the end, I guess it was worth it.