I’ve spent a week considering whether I’d like to keep a tooth or have it pulled. There is good reason this sort of procedure is not included in the pages of women’s magazines dedicated to Uncovering Your Sexiest Self. In fact, peering into a mirror at contrived angles with your mouth stretched into an unnatural sphere to determine just how visible a dental void would be makes you feel like you are not even worthy of reading women’s magazines. You are no longer a woman who trifles with smokey eyeshadow and visible panty lines because you have more pressing concerns, like polishing the chambers of your rifle and eating baked beans directly from the can.
I’ve had plenty of things taken from my body without even a moment’s pause. Several inches of my hair is cut away each year. My fingernails and toenails are regularly clipped. I don’t hesitate to have a mole removed. But these things grow back, whether you want them to or not. I asked the dentist to scour the X-rays to be absolutely certain there might not be a vestigial tooth lodged in my gums, ready to descend into its rightful space, like an understudy in the wings, quietly awaiting the moment the principal performer turns an ankle. Sadly, he found nothing lurking in my gums other than gingivitis.
Parting with a tooth doesn’t come with the nearly the same anxiety as, say, a leg would, but I don’t know of many people who decided to have their leg electively removed. That’s where the deliberation comes into play because my tooth could be saved. With considerable money and several visits to an Endodontist, the eroding inner walls of dentin could be shored up and sandbagged. And that was the modality I had reflexively chosen while staring in horror at the X-ray of my dying molar. As the dentist clucked his tongue at the glaring deficiencies in my tooth’s integrity, I nodded grimly, eyes trained upon the cavernous space within my tooth that was backlit and lowered just beyond my nose for extra emphasis. The storage space I had always longed for in my home to stow bulky sweaters, and skis, and another car was suddenly cleared and available. And in my tooth.
“I’m too young to lose a tooth,” I pleaded to the dentist, who had begun to perspire with the adrenaline of utilizing so many gleaming dental models for my edification. He nodded in solemn concurrence. I leaned back into the rigid plastic chaise and said, “Okay, I’m ready. Let’s do the root canal.” He shot me a pityingly glance, the same one the hygienist had used when I lied about my dedication to flossing. “No, dear, we can’t do this here. 90% of root canals can be handled in this office, but yours is a special case that must be handled elsewhere.”
I beamed at the implication that I was special. My whole life I had been seeking distinction, and it had finally come, even if it was in the way of exposed nerve beds.
I was handed a prescription for an antibiotic to combat the budding infection and was saluted by the whole office, surely on account of my uniqueness, and was told they’d eagerly await my post-canal return to finish off the job with some minor gum surgery and a crown. I nodded warmly, and before turning heel, I gave them all a small thrill by smiling largely enough that they could glimpse my exceptional, medically significant tooth.
It wasn’t until I got home that I noticed the paper that had been tucked into my hands among the samples of whitening agents. The projected fees for service. Despite robust dental insurance, the procedure would cost a few thousand dollars. My dismay intensified when the Endodontist called to schedule my appointment for no sooner than one month. “But I have unnaturally long roots,” I countered with a tone of indifference typically reserved for forgotten celebrities asking a restaurant hostess, “Do you know who I am?” But unnaturally long roots got me nothing more than an unnaturally long time to wait and to ponder the impending root canal.
When the ache that resided solely in my tooth began to surge through my gums, making sleep impossible, my thoughts turned to the alternative of extraction. The benefits of removing it stacked themselves into a formidable tower. It could be done tomorrow! It’s not a tooth that I need; Hell, I’d probably even drop a few pounds as a result! After all, I hail from a hallowed lineage of people who had lost body parts and went on to be respected contributors to their community. My grandfather once had his left hand removed, granted it was the result of a grenade, but still it was expedient and didn’t require a copay. My uncle had surgically reattached the penis of John Bobbit, which – again – isn’t an exact analogy, but it, too, involved a body part that’s meant to be kept and it got him an invitation to the Dave Letterman show!
I awoke in the morning, finally exhausting myself with the imagined rewards of a life lived with one less molar weighing me down, feeling sure of my decision. I shared my revelation breathlessly with my husband. I sat back, waiting for his commendations of my balanced, holistic logic to wash over me. Instead G told me that my remaining teeth would likely shift in response to the vacant spot. I narrowed my eyes to consider his claim.
“If I wanted to be married to Steve Buscemi, I would have asked him.”
(Should it stay or should it go?)