Short Stories

Wisdom: A Tale of Dental Redemption

   Tue, May 20, 2008 - 3:21 PM
A couple of weeks ago, I had a wisdom tooth extracted, though that clinical assessment does little to capture the lived experience. Properly stated, I got mugged by an oral surgeon who kicked me in the face, knocked one of my teeth out, and shook a few hundred dollars out of my pockets. Poor Tony, I invite you to croon along with me, as this tale of wisdom and woe I commence.

A sensitive tooth isn't such an uncommon thing. They come and they go, nothing to raise the siren about, especially for someone like myself who—and I am something of a braggart on this detail—practices excellent oral hygiene. Maybe it was those animated Bod Squad public service announcements I remember from Saturday morning cartoons, but I've always been diligent in my flossing and brushing:

In any event, I've never had my wisdom teeth removed because there never seemed to be a need. But as I've lately discovered, wisdom teeth either serve an obsolete evolutionary purpose or humanity has grown much too tame. Prior to the domesticity of modernity, it seems, wisdom teeth didn't present a problem because by the time in life when they would become a problem, a) you'd be dead, and so the issue would be necessarily moot, or b) you'd have lost a few teeth along the way already, and so your wisdom teeth could show up all handy and heroic. But here in the 21st century, wisdom teeth don't do much except crowd the party, lurking in the darkest caverns of your mouth, and defying the most benevolent gestures of floss and bristle.

So yes, a few weeks ago I noticed one of my wisdom teeth had been growing sensitive, but I didn't pay it much heed. In fact, for some idiotic reason I ignored it till it so corroded my mood that in a moment of clarity and howling sensitivity I finally realized that this is why I'd been having such a grumpy cantankerous week. I made an appointment with an oral surgeon for the next morning, suddenly determined to get rid of this annoying tooth and recover my typically gentle Libran mood--by then teetering on the event horizon of a black hole.

So I'm sitting in the dentist's chair, happily reading "Highlights" (it was either that or "People" magazine in the waiting room…) as the right side of my face gradually grows numb. I'm right in the middle of "Goofus and Gallant" when in strides the oral surgeon flanked by two hygienists. "How we doing?" he asks, not waiting for me to answer that we doing fine before he commands my head back, glares the dentist light into my eyes, fishhooks his finger into my cheek, taps on my tooth and asks if I can feel anything. I gargle no, and despite his rude manner, I'm in high spirits. After all, I'm about to solve all my problems and regain my composure in life, and sure enough, within a minute he's wrenched that tooth right out of my skull. He was even kind enough to snap the crown of the tooth off first before drilling a hole into the roots to plug them out as well.

"Cripes," I said as I sat up. "That was traumatic."

"Yeah, it's pretty invasive," he chuckled, snapping his rubber gloves off and exiting the room. The hygienists were more consoling, leading me to a private room with a La-Z-Boy recliner where I think I was supposed to sit down and weep. They gave me some gauze, a prescription for some Vicodin, and a little pamphlet filled with information about what to eat and how to chew on the other side of my mouth and cautioning me not to smoke or spit or suck through a straw for a few days. It sounded easy enough.

But as it turns out, the body doesn't take kindly to having shards of itself cracked asunder, and my jaw began to make the vastness of its displeasure known as the Novacaine wore off. I'm not a huge fan of opiates, but the Vicodin was grand consolation. The problem was that two days later I felt like Jack Nicholson's character after they lobotomized him in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Just sort of shuffling around slack-jawed, not feeling any pain, but not feeling any life either. I have a low tolerance for stupefaction, so I tossed the Vicodin. I've always been a fast healer, and it had been a couple of days, so I figured I would be more or less fine.

I wasn't. I startled awake at 4:30 the next morning to some demon blacksmith hammering on an anvil right next to my head. When I sat up to ask him what he was doing his only response was to scream "John McCain will be the next president!" before driving a nail into the side of my jaw and cackling the mad maniacal. Stumbling downstairs, I fished the Vicodin out of the garbage, feeling vaguely like an out-of-work actor in an anti-drug commercial. By dawn, however, I was dismayed to discover that the Vicodin no longer offered any consolation. My head now felt like some roid rageaholic named Frankie Violent's punching bag. Actually, Frankie Violent had me by the ears and was crashing his knee into the side of my face, and all I could do was marvel at how perfectly timed the collision of his knee was to my pulse.

Oh yes, and it was the weekend now, so I couldn't call the oral surgeon. On top of that, I was hesitant to call upon any friends as long as Frankie Violent was kicking me in the head. If my mood had been grouchy before the extraction, now I was seething darth and spitfire and ready to rip someone's head off. I felt like I'd just cold-turkeyed a triple espresso habit and discovered that my head was actually the dong of hell's bell tolling permanent midnight in an Edgar Allen Poe story. Worsemore, Frankie Violent had jammed a funnel into my mouth and was force-feeding me black gobs of aggravation, frustration, impatience, bitterness, anger and pretty much any negative emotion that I've ever heard of, all crashing an out-of-control, metal-slamming, anvil-clanging party of the damned inside my skull.

Desperate, I crawled over to my laptop and typed into the oracular interface that is the Internet: "wisdom tooth extraction complications." Click, scan, click, scan. Self-diagnosis: "alveolar osteitis," also known—delightfully—as "dry socket." Apparently, the blood clot did not form properly, leaving my jawbone exposed to the air, which vexes the skull considerably, and which accounts for the "extremely unpleasant pain radiating up and down the head and neck." Extremely unpleasant. That's an exaggeration of understatement.

Trapped in this dark night of my soul, I found myself unbelievably irate as the vise continued to tighten around my skull. Kitchen ceramics and silverware made more noise than I ever remember, and when I walked outside and a leaf drifted in front of my face I had an urge to tear the poor vegetation to pieces. But I somehow made it to Monday morning and called the oral surgeon, and even managed to drive all the way to his office without ramming any of the slowpokes swarming around me, a Donald Duck screaming tantrum of road rage it might have been. I clicked on the radio for distraction. Oh my holy cow was the morning news annoying.

I'm certain that the Buddha never experienced dry socket, or if he did, it immediately preceded the serenity of his enlightenment. For when the hygienist gently tucked a clove oil dressing into my dry socket, it was as if the toxic dust from the hellfire blowout settled at last and the clear light of day shone once again into mine eyes have seen the glory. Oh my god blessings and bliss, I was reborn, redeemed, I tell you, and I gained a new appreciation for the ecstasy of mind that accompanies the lack of a vise tightening around one's skull. What is more, having been force-fed that rotting smorgasbord of negative emotions so thickly, I also tasted just how astonishingly toxic they are. This goes more or less unnoticed when we permit ourselves to indulge them in thinner dilutions, but I testify before you now that I will snack upon them nevermore.

The next morning, after I had carefully placed the shattered pieces of my wisdom tooth under my pillow the night before, I found no cash. But I awoke to find my life grateful--not merely that I was no longer experiencing an unbearable pummeling of my skull, but also that in plumbing the depths of the dark side of the human psyche, I had exorcised all the little devils that slant the sunshine of life into murk and shadow. Unapologetic in their careening negativity, they can turn the dream of one's life into a growling nightmare. When I left the house that glorious morning, the cars around me were no longer swarming slowpokes, but chariots for the shining souls within, unlimited potential as life unregarded we rev about our day, fleeing the same loneliness and seeking the same communion, fearing to share, daring to trust, struggling, surrendering, giving up, and giving in, to love.

Take care of yourself, and take care of those around you,

Tony Vigorito
© 2008 Tony Vigorito... feel free to forward as far as you see fit...


add a comment
Tue, May 20, 2008 - 3:50 PM
~what an excellent diatribe/share! hahahaha, I know that of which you put it nicely, very nicely as I believe my story was salted and peppered with 4-letter words, lots and lots of them!....;-)
Tue, May 20, 2008 - 7:34 PM
Thanks for the tale...
I enjoyed the piece, and it reminded me to have compassion for my Dad who has suffered from a lifetime of chronic back pain from a terrible motorcycle accident. He wasn't always the nicest guy while I was growing up. Maybe he had his own little pain demons working away at him.
Wed, May 21, 2008 - 12:47 AM
I loved reading Highlights. I was usually sitting in the psychiatrist's office, waiting for him to explain why I'm okay and the rest of the world is fucked up. Seriously. Oh wait, you're a burner, you know. Yah, Highlights is a good read!

Oh and that's an awesome tooth. So with those wisdom teeth removed, do you feel a bit - er - lightheaded? sorry, I can't help it. I was drawn this way!

Love, brother.

Fox Out
Wed, May 21, 2008 - 4:33 AM
A great read, although my condolences for having to suffer through its... inspiration!

Had mine yanked years ago; I still remember the trauma--an amputation of sorts. Took me three daze to recover.
Wed, May 21, 2008 - 12:36 PM
Word to the Wise
Love your writing. Had all four pulled when I was 15 with braces.
Dental pain is in a class by itself, it hurts to your soul. I now have anti-anxiety medication I take before the dentist.
In California I had a toot extracted, and in the middle everyone went to lunch and left me sitting in the chair with my mouth full of cotton. I walked around the building drooling and bleeding looking for help.

I say go with Highlights! I like the picture find.......
Wed, May 21, 2008 - 6:15 PM
To me, Highlights is synonymous with the dentist's office, because at mine, the only choices were Highlights and Bible stories. A couple of the Bible stories were interesting, but I went through them quickly and I already knew how they all ended. But there were tons of Highlights magazines, and I never read the same one twice in the 5 or so years I went to that dentist.
Fri, May 23, 2008 - 3:23 PM
i had a dentist experience a few years ago: i have never been afriad of the dentist, but three trips to a dentist office, where i felt out of control, took away my peace....the next dentist i went to, it took me over five visits to not sit in chair gripping arms sweating and trying to figure out how to stay put and not run screaming....

i would have thought it would take more to damage me, but apparently, three bad dentist visits and i am on fight or flight mode.

it was kind of funny, the new dentist is a love and my friend's sister...and here i was sweating and panting and trying not to run out of the office....she spent the whole time asking if i was ok.
Tue, June 10, 2008 - 10:23 PM
So I'm not alone!!!
Soooooooooooooo glad to hear that I'm not alone, and that you CAN actually survive this thing.

Yep, here I am, with a mouth full of clove dressings, 7 weeks after the original day of disaster (yes, you heard right - 7 _weeks_... post-op dental infections are no fun, let me tell you. They're gonna have to invent a new word for p****d off to cover me). Right about now everything I eat tastes like it's smothered in polystyrene sauce, but at least the pain's gone back to merely agonising.

ITMT, I've got a solution. I talked it over with my wife last night, and she's said I can get some money out of the bank account to pay to have my dentist beaten up. I reckon about once a week for the next year should pretty much even things up...

Thanks for the laugh - haven't had a whole lot of those lately!
Sun, February 8, 2009 - 3:40 PM
I'm laughing through the pain!
Thank you so much for sharing your story of dental trauma with us. I'm sitting here six whole days after my extraction sleep deprived and a whole stone lighter than I was six days ago trying to find the blasted light at the end of the tunnel and just happened to stumble across your magnificent story. I've been to my dentist since the whole emotional trauma began but have to glumly admit that the dressing he placed in the beaten up shell that used to be my jaw hasn't given me the blissfull peace which yours did. What sort of a sadistic maniac would want to work in the field of surgical dentisrty? I feel like I've been roughed up by the playground bully and had my lunch money nicked and in order to put the situation to rights I'm going to have to empty out my pockets once more! Thanks again for putting a smile on my face.
offline 0
Sun, February 22, 2009 - 2:07 AM
my pain
I was never warned about the side effects of pulling an impacted wisdom tooth. I was not in that much pain untill...... 4 days post-op, i ended up with this dry socket syndrome. I thought i had experienced real pain, but this is the most intense feeling ever. I feel like someone is trying to pull my jaw out of my skull. Wow! Pain pills and alcholol barley take the edge off. I have to continue to live my life, working and school, but I will always remember this as the WORST pain ever. So sorry for whoever has to deal with this.
Thu, November 18, 2010 - 8:09 AM
Your story is mine as well.
I know this was written well over 2 years ago, but i had this happen to me this week. My extraction was on Sunday morning and up to even the time of day you woke up (4:30 am) with your first sign of dry socket pain, you told my story through your experience. I just had the oil put in my mouth it did relieve the pressure a bit, but I'm still in pain. Thank you for your inspiring words and i too hope to find my life tomorrow morning.
offline 0
Tue, March 15, 2011 - 11:07 AM
Thank you
You made me smile dispite the ache in my jaw :)
Mon, July 11, 2011 - 1:56 PM
Dante did not know about 'dry socket'
If Dante had known, by experience, of this condition, he would have created an entire additional level to Hell in The Inferno.
For me, the insult which compounds this injury which I am suffering, is not due to a tooth extraction, but due to the removal of a defective titanium implant. Ooops, manufacturing defect. Causes gum rot. Need to jack hammer the bugger out of your jaw. Should heal up in no time. Head on back in for a new implant in a few months.
Two weeks now: the blur of narcotics, the constant feeling that my jaw will fall off if I move just the wrong way and the vague suspicion that I am going to die from this. And I wish I would. And I'm afraid I might......
Mon, September 26, 2011 - 7:39 AM
good write up
Nice write up, really there needs to be more pre warninggiven to patients with extractions. I went to the dentist 4 days ago with tooth ache, thi sis a tooth ache that reoccours every 12-18 months and a week of anti biotics normally cures it for the next 12-18 months. So I went expecting anti biotics and that was it. However this time I got told they had enough of giving me them every year and said I should have the worst teeth extracted, not aware of the after affects I agreed. I was told it would kill my pain for good. The actual duration of the procedure was fine, I had some shots of anesthetic and whilst they were doing their work I was in almost no pain. The rest of the day even when the anesthetic wore off and I could talk again etc. the pain was only mild and I went to bed with no pain killers. I thought this not so bad then. The next day pain increased a bit and I needed to take weak painkillers but they were enough to deal with it. 3rd day more intense and I had to take my most powerful painkillers I had handy, they just about delat with it. 4th day today, within minutes of waking up intense throbbing pain, feels like toothache yet I was told it be gone, getting toothache sensations where there is no tooth. Also pain is spreading around to other areas of mouth and light ache to ear up side of face. After what I read here it seems I havent got dry socket, as I do see healing tissue (looks like bone same colour) over where my teeth were extracted. But the pain is pretty bad for me and easily as bad as heavy toothache. What worries me is that its escalating each day rather then dieing down as would expect with healing, now I have read the healing process is months rather than days, am I to have to eat one side of mouth only and endure pain for many months? if yes then an extraction isnt worth it. I rang my dentist who said to wait another 24-36 hours and if pain doesnt ease off to call again. Trust me when I say taking anti biotics every year or so is better than this. Whats even more remarkable is I have swelling etc. and have not been given any antibiotics post treatment.
Tue, November 8, 2011 - 10:49 PM
Going to have to get my tooth extracted most likely
I've had kidney stones before. I just hope that I won't get the experience of finding out which is worse: Stones or Dry Socket
Mon, December 12, 2011 - 11:09 AM
hideous and more hideous!
Wow just read all the comments and hey guess what ive got? Yup dry socket...... how can it cause such intense vile breathe taking, screaming pain, omg it is beyond anything I have had. Was eating a cereal bar for breakfast on the wednesday morning and suddenly I was holding half a tooth in my hand and searing pain in my mouth. Dentist fitted me in that afternoon, removed tooth gave me instructions and said it would be fine only very very few people have any problems at all! - yeah right!" Monday after a impossible weekend of pain had a car accident on the way to the dentist , just a bump, but traumatic enough for me to return home - another night of pain and back at 3-pm tommorrow. Anyone out there who is going through this when they read it has my deepest sympathy
Mon, December 12, 2011 - 11:12 AM
forgot to say
thank you for this site, it is a comfort to know you are not alone, even though it is one of the well kept secrets of the dentist chair!
Fri, March 30, 2012 - 9:26 AM
I realize this thread is nearly 4 years old, but it's given me some comfort today and I'm thankful for that.
Been suffering, in ways you all comprehend I'd say, for ages now. I went the self-help, lets see how I can get on without dentistry route. My toothache, in my opinion, was primarily caused by over-drilling. I now read that the body self-heals most cavities! Well, my mouth has been drilled and drilled again since I was a nipper, no matter what kind of oral hygiene was applied. In my mid thirties, now it's time for extractions, as I don't have the means to get several root canals performed. And sure, they don't last either. Anyway, for future reference, I wanted to see how I got on with self help. For pain relief I started with homeopathic remedies, ace! I can get my hands on them easy as I study homeopathy. So there I was popping high potencies, at rapid intervals and created a good bit of relief, eat that dentist! Also I practiced surrendering into the pain. Oh yeah, the pain was from a molar where the 'pretend root canal' filling had fallen out, so the root was exposed for 5 no problem months, then a tiny nut went into the hole, I bit on it, and waaahooo, life has been taken over by pain for a further 6 weeks. So, surrendering into the pain, journeying with the pain, see where it takes me, see what it needs to tell me. Wow, I learned so much about myself and patterns that I hold. At this stage my family members were going to kill me, for not dealing with it i.e. receive some more abuse from the dentist so that they don't have to deal with my pain. I understand how inconvenient it was fro them, but for me it was like a battle and I needed all my concentration to see how far I could go. When I became too absentminded to decide on the right homeopathic remedies, and the pain disabled my ability to journey away from the physical body, I tried Paracetamol, useless, then Vodka, brilliant, but only once or twice then it stops being anesthetic. The flare up of flare ups came unexpected, and brought me to the realm of delirious pain. I had already booked an appointment at this stage, for extraction, and was filling in the last few days of pain ha ha ha, if only. It was a weekend night and I ended up in A&E (or ER) where I discovered the delights of Codine and Difine mixed together, buzzy and very high, with a punch in the stomach (or was that because of the Vodka?) SO then the molar came out and I was ready to attack the dentist if she told me one more time that my tooth was so strong and healthy. Yeah but destroyed by your cruel field of health care! I was brave and meditated on angels as she yanked it out. She told me it was difficult and even rang me a few days after to see how I was doing. She said something about, if the pain continues, we'll apply a dressing. I barely heard her, this was the end of weeks and weeks of suffering, my family was going to love me again and soon they would all forget that I'm a weirdo, who likes to discover the outer limits of pain. But the pain didn't go away. I remembered the dressing thing the dentist had said, and applied a dressing to the hole in my mouth, relief. What is this? There is no sign of infection, the tooth has been removed... why the pain? Thank goodness for Google and then there it is alveolar osteitis, great! More pain to be discovered, say I as I actually cry in my sleeve. The war was won and then lost, but yet another battle has commenced. I must brave up and continue on, weakened am I delighted by your story. It hurts to laugh it you humour but it does me good to read and know that I'm not the only one who has suffered this way. Peace!
Mon, August 13, 2012 - 3:26 PM
The.......of both worlds
One of u guys was choosing between kidney stone pain and dry socket pain. I was already sitting with a kidney stone under doctor's "observation" when I realized that my wisdom tooth was also hurting. A visit to the dentist and he removed in 15 minutes!
Guess what? A dry socket developed and now I don't know where in my body it hurts more! Standing up or just eating.
Pray for me!