I don’t generally think about my teeth unless some event of memorable magnitude draws mind’s attention to mouth. Luckily, I have been blessed with healthy teeth. My father made sure that I had regular fluoride supplements as a child while my teeth were forming and he also instilled my life-long habit of visiting the dentist twice yearly (the maximum allowed under his dental plan at the time) for cleanings and check-ups. I brush at least twice per day, but am admittedly lax in flossing.

As a late teen I was faced with the loss of coverage from my father’s dental plan. Not having a plan of my own I became concerned about the potential out-of-pocket expense should my mouth decide to talk back uncomfortably. I was particularly uneasy about my wisdom teeth, having heard countless horror stories regarding the dread-four. I decided to nip the problem in the bud by pre-emptively removing the four of them before my coverage ran out. It took more than a little foot-work before I finally found a dentist who was willing to extract four teeth that weren’t even above the gums yet, but my persistence paid off eventually (I can be rather stubborn once my mind is made up). I only began wondering if I had made the right decision when the dentist had placed one knee on the arm of the chair and the other on my chest while he pulled with both hands on the pliers that were attached to something within my frozen mouth. I knew I’d made the wrong decision when the pliers suddenly flew out with a loud snap and half of a bloody tooth.

The dentist look rather shocked and said “we’ll just leave the root in there.” “Like Hell,” I slurred, “Get it out now, or it will just get infected later.” After some convincing, he complied”?breaking my jaw in the process. It was just a little break, but at 11:00 that night (four hours after the freezing had worn off, and after two solid hours of crying) I made my way to the Surrey Memorial Hospital’s emergency ward for some much stronger pain killers. Walking-wounded staggered aside and mothers hid their children’s faces from the sight of my foot-ball sized (and shaped) head as I lurched down the corridor. I caught the first physician that I saw as he came out of a room. Looking up from his clip-board, he emitted an audible squeal and somehow knew what I was after even though the only sounds that I could utter were angry bear-like grunts. He looked at me with a curious combination of pity and fear while writing out the prescription for pure codeine.

Two weeks of lock-jaw later, I was no worse for wear and the pain was fading into a distant, unpleasant memory. Not many weeks later my mind had returned to issues other than teeth. However, about a year afterward, I found myself in a drunken stupor at a friend’s house. Someone had told a joke that I can’t remember now, but must have found hilarious at the time. I was laughing so hard that I doubled-over on the pool table:just as a fellow drunkard let go his shot. The cue-ball made perfectly clean contact with my top front tooth. Not surprisingly, it broke off and landed on the basement floor. I crawled around the floor searching for my lost part. Sometime later that night I showed up on my mother’s porch. She still talks about the toothlessly grinning moron that was me, swaying back and forth and trying to explain that I had found the broken tooth on the floor. I pulled my hand out of a pocket disclosing three hardened pieces of popcorn and some lint. It’s almost a tie as to what hurt more; the hangover the next day, or the root-canal preceding the cap that now covers my front tooth.

One might conclude that I have bad luck with my teeth, but these events have been spread over 38 years of life; granted I’ve only had teeth for 37 of them: The strangest tooth-related experience that I endured was during a drive from Vancouver to Prince George. As I was travelling between Williams Lake and Quesnel, I absent-mindedly nibbled on a finger-nail. Biting through the nail, my teeth came together as is normal when indulging in the disgusting habit. But the fact that half my lower tooth broke off and fell out was anything but normal. Hence the second cap that my mouth sports and the immediate end to my nail-biting habit.

By now you must be wondering what prompted me to write about teeth this week. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article I rarely think about my teeth, but a memorable event occurred lately that caused my ever-restless mind to set its sights at dentition. Don’t worry I still have all my teeth; less the wisdoms, of course. Actually this is a pleasant tooth-story. I have been to dozens of dentists over the years, the vast majority of which I would classify as very good at their craft. However, last week I visited a dentist who turns the craft into an art.

I chose my new dentist from a list of those who form the University of Saskatchewan “Student Dental Network” because the method was more rational than throwing a dart at the yellow pages. After registering, I was taken on a tour of the office where the plastic wrap on every touchable surface was pointed out to me. I was told that it was changed out between every patient whenever touched. Then x-rays were taken of my teeth. In the past, six exposures would cover my entire wrack of choppers, but I’m pretty sure that each and every tooth got its own this time.

From past experience I expected that my teeth would then be checked and cleaned, but I was surprised to be led into a small room to await the dentist. It turned out that the little place was a layman tooth college and I was given an absolutely riveting course on teeth, tooth diseases, and their prevention. After fifteen or twenty minutes I was led back into the office where earphones were placed on my ears and a remote control was thrust into my hand. For the next hour or so, I flipped through the 50+ channels available on the ceiling-mounted television placed for my entertainment, while the dentist plied his trade.

Leaving the dentist office, I wobbled on jelly-legs and felt more like I’d spent an hour and a half under the care of a massage therapist than a dentist. To top it off, my wife nearly fell over when she saw how white my teeth had become from just one treatment. After a trip to the mirror, I had to agree. I’ve marked my calendar for six months hence and will then be waiting on the door-step of my new dentist’s office”?hopefully not before then though:

Wayne E. Benedict has a varied career history and strong links to the Canadian labour movement. He is working part-time toward his Bachelor of Human Resources and Labour Relations at Athabasca University. He is a fulltime first-year student of the University of Saskatchewan College of Law. For a more detailed writer bio, see The Voice writers’ feature page under ‘About The Voice’. If you would like to send article-feedback to Wayne, he can be reached at wayneben@sasktel.net