Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Teeth and Age and Image

cToday I had my first tooth pulled. Well, not my first really. When I was seven, my two front teeth had to be removed when the new ones began coming in behind them, but that was more a quick yank and the shred of skin holding the baby teeth parted. My wisdom teeth went away back in the 70s, but since I was knocked out, I have zero memory of anything except the misery afterward.

But today's tooth was part of what I call "my original equipment." The baby teeth, though certainly original, had served their purpose fully and were scheduled for replacement. The wisdom teeth never actually served ANY purpose but to push the teeth at the front of my mouth out of alignment and even with all the jostling for position, they still didn't manage to make room for themselves.

Today's tooth, officially known as my 2nd molar (the 3rd is the so-called wisdom tooth), was removed because it was broken, right down the middle between the two sets of roots. There was no nerve, as that went away years ago when I originally broke the sucker. I clench my tight during periods of stress, and 12 years ago I was in the worst stress of my life...and I include my very dangerous childhood years, too. I was working for a hellish American Corporation, in a position that put a huge, glowing target on my back for all to use. By the time I decided to "cut bait," I had thirteen root canals to show for it, along with a "nervous breakdown." Yeah, I know that's not a real medical term, but it's certainly descriptive of what I experienced. I couldn't drive, I couldn't sign my name, I couldn't remember all kinds of normal, day to day stuff. I almost completely lost the two years immediately following the breakdown just sitting in my big soft chair in front of the fire, or outside on a bench in the garden, simply staring into space. I almost burned our house down by starting a pot to cook on the stove and then just wandering away, forgetting as I turned the corner downstairs that I had even been in the kitchen. A little later, I could NOT figure out why the smoke alarm was screaming until I came up the stairs and saw the flames licking the ceiling. Yeah...a good metaphor for my mental state at the time.

It was during the two "lost" years that I cracked my upper right 2nd molar. Because of pain, I had the essential root canal, but never followed up on the required crown as I simply couldn't fund it at the time.

So I lived with a partially reconstructed "tooth" in my mouth for six years. Pretty good mileage, all in all. And then I was suddenly in a LOT more pain, so off to the dentist I trotted, where it was discovered that the tooth had broken in two and the pain was from the inevitable abscess.

As the dentist I had gone to didn't do extractions with sedation, another temporary filling was put in place, this time with the stern admonishment "Don't let this must have this tooth removed." Yeah, okay, sure......I can't HEAR you.The thought of having it pulled frightened me at my core. My very deepest and most personal core. I was ashamed of having a tooth that was irretrievably lost to repair, simply because of my own neglect.
You know, your mouth is SUCH a place of external judgment by people. Snaggled or missing teeth almost always translate to someone either OLD or POOR. And so, scared beyond normal fear with the knowledge that I needed to have this tooth removed, I threw my head into the sand with blinding fast speed. Not me, nuh-uh, I'M not old or poor!

Four more years passed, and I knew I was living on seriously borrowed time. And then, about two weeks ago, during a particularly uninspiring meal, my old friend the filling decided it had had enough abuse.

Which brings us up to the moment. Post oral surgery. I hurt, and I can feel the stitches, but it's done. The last known remnant of that terrible Corporate Nightmare is finally gone. Somehow I feel as though I have finally closed that horrible door and am about to open a new one to a place of love and light. I have made my peace with the baggage of being Old and/or Poor. So what? I am who I am, and that's really quite a lot. That old Sword of Damocles has rusted and fallen away at last and I can breath again after so many years of holding my breath.

And all because of a combination of pride and fear, and the presence of one broken tooth...

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