This morning I had a tooth extracted. But this was no ordinary run-of-the-mill tooth. This was THE tooth. This was the tooth that cost me hours upon hours in dental offices and literally thousands of dollars. This was my first root canal, and it would become my first extraction. “I know this isn’t what you want to hear,” the Michigan endodontist said, “but that tooth needs to be extracted. The root is cracked.” My heart sank as I looked out the window where the birds were eating at a feeder. But a voice inside my head, said, “Let it go.” And shame washed over me.
In my early thirties, this tooth had lost a filling or cracked or something, exposing a nerve. I’d never had any kind of serious tooth problem. But when I would drink anything hot or cold or even bite down on it, it would hurt. It keep getting worse and worse, and it got particularly bad one day when I was at a sportswriter’s convention with my ex near Gatlinburg. The pain was so bad, I called up a friend’s husband who was a dentist, and he agreed to see me right away.
I was so naive back then and so filled with anxiety that I was literally shaking as I went in to his office. I thought this was going to be horribly painful, and I would be broke for life. I had always been healthy, so this seemed like the end of the world to me. The pain was so horrible that I was literally traumatized by it. He was so nice. It was a tooth with 3 canals, he told me, and it needed a root canal. He usually sent those out, but since it was me, he agreed to do it. I’m quite sure he could tell I was scared to death and would burst into tears if he didn’t do it.
I drove the hour back to Gatlinburg and then returned the next day for the procedure. I was pleasantly surprised that the procedure was no worse than getting a filling. And the pain blessedly was gone. I was still woosy from the drugs, so the curvy hilly drive back to Gatlinburg seemed like a drug-induced dream. But the worst was over.
It was only about a year later that the tooth got infected. The very same dentist who now had my undying loyalty sent me to a specialist for a re-treatment. I wasn’t as afraid this time as I knew the drill – pun intended. The pretreatment went fine, and the tooth seemed happily content for many years. One day when I was in Louisiana, I noticed a bump on my gum above the tooth. That’s weird, I thought. It didn’t hurt. It looked like a pimple. I didn’t think much of it, but when it didn’t disappear I called my amazing dentist in Baton Rouge.
“That tooth is infected,” he told me. “The pimple is releasing the pressure so you don’t feel it, but we need to retreat the root canal.” Off I went to yet another endodontist to retreat the root canal. I expected him to advise extraction since it had already been treated twice, but he didn’t. The second treatment had lasted about 20 years. That was three years ago.
I found the pimple again the day before Thanksgiving. I’m trying to rid myself of troublesome things. I have beliefs that don’t serve me, and they haven’t served me for decades. I’m making headway in letting those go. I’ve made choices in my life and in my relationships that make my life lighter. I’ve downsized my belongings, and I’ve gotten out of debt. As I stood in front of the mirror and looked at the telltale sign of a hidden infection, I truly felt it was time to let this go, too.
Extracting a tooth is fairly serious. It’s why we put so much money into keeping them. After you extract one, you have to either bridge it which involves destroying two other teeth or get an implant which is surgery. If you leave the socket empty, you risk bone loss or shifting teeth which causes a new set of issues. Whatever my choices, it will take time and money and a bit of an attitude shift. And in a weird, surprising way I feel a bit of shame that I didn’t – or couldn’t – take care of my tooth. I remember feeling shame the first time it was worked on. Perfection? Failure? Loss? Not sure of the root, but there’s shame there.
So, today I have a hole where a tooth once lived. I’m eating soft, cold foods because it has to scab over. Luckily it’s hidden so I don’t have to look at it, but I’m sure I’ll take a peek. When the dentist was done, I asked his assistant if I could see the tooth. She gets a tweezer and picks up this tiny little bloody thing I could hardly see without my glasses. It came out in two parts because it was broken. “It’s so tiny,” I thought. In my mind, it was massive with big hairy tentacles and dripping with blood.
My first instinct was to ask to bring it home. I’d invested so much in it over the years, and it was a part of me. “No,” I heard. “Let it go.” And I did.