Last month, I sat still in a big chair and thought how very grateful I was to be having the horrible experience I was currently having. A man I had just met was sawing on my jawbone with a glorified nail file, while I tried to get deaf. And tough. Fortunately, I was clutching my iPhone in my moist hand.
My white headphone buds were in my ear, my fingers were on the volume buttons on the side of the phone, and Stevie Wonder was comforting me by singing “they can feel it all over, people.” When I saw the dentist’s lips move, I muted the music. When he had a drill in his hand, I cranked my iphone up until my ears were almost screaming in pain from Stevie belting in my ear and I tried to focus on every syllable, like a guided meditation BY SOMEONE WHO WAS YELLING AT ME.
I know some people have favorite parts of themselves, though I bet you don’t think that way. But if you were asked the question, what would you say? Your eye crinkles? Your hair wave? Would you focus on your relatively large size in a particular area of your body (boobs, butt, or….) or your small size in a particular place (nose, feet, hips)?
I’ve always liked the way my toes seem to have a perfect slope upward on the left, downward on the right, like a good or bad day at NASDAQ. But for the last few months or so, I have to say that my favorite part of my body is my Number 30 tooth. We’ve become so well acquainted now that I know it by number, which I know for people is a distancing technique (prisoners…and high school students are often identified by numbers), but for teeth it’s as intimate as I’ve ever been. I also sometimes call this tooth “the one on the bottom on the right that is second from the back” but that’s like calling my husband “the one who listens to all of my bad jokes and has since he was 15” or “the one who kisses me in the morning before I have brushed my teeth” rather than “Bob.”
Bob and Number 30 have met, although mostly because Number 30 is demanding attention as I defend his life. (How did Number 30 become a guy when I am a woman? I’m not sure.) I have been fighting for Number30 like Trump has been fighting to be President of the U.S.—doggedly, and with an open mouth. Like Trump, my mouth is simultaneously my biggest ally and challenge. I can use my mouth to teach workshops, tell loved ones how I feel, and even sing a version of “Happy Birthday” that does not humiliate my kids. But these dental bills are killing me. My mouth is not performing up to the level of most of my other body parts.
One of my dentists said, “you have a good attitude.” I try to look at the bright side. At least I don’t have a full set of dentures, like my grandmother did. Although I do admit that I have implants in my mouth. Yes, a few of my teeth have hired body doubles made out of metal, and they have big white porcelain hats on.
The embarrassing thing is that I have enjoyed interacting with the six dentists, endodontists and periodontists in Michigan and Florida who have been involved in Number 30’s care, especially the one who refused to pull Number 30, and said “This tooth can be saved.”
I jump to dentist number six in Florida, who came, sawed, and conquered, and who did an excellent job, but had some interesting quirks. He gave me sunglasses when I lay down in the chair, with a little makeover commentary: “I think you’ll look good in “The Elvis.” He noted with a “tsk” that I had some sticky dough in my teeth. Which seemed a little odd, since he kept me waiting 30 minutes with a tray of donut holes in a lobby.
When I think of being tough, I think of what Rose Kennedy said to her grandchildren: “If you are going to cry, we are going to send you back to where you came from.” I call this “stoic Christian tough.” But it really doesn’t feel like me. Although I have actually given birth to an entire baby without medication (“Really mom?” said our daughter Sarah, “Why?”), when it comes to teeth I am not “stoic Christian tough.” I am more like Woody Allen or Jerry Seinfeld or Joan Rivers.
I am whining Jewish pseudo-tough.
I’m happy to say that Number 30 is still in my mouth. Sometimes I just call him by my nickname for him. Num. Which is what I’ve been a lot these days. Just numb.