I got a tooth pulled today. I don’t remember that last time that happened, but I do recall with alarming clarity the hours spent in dentists’ chairs when I was a kid in Paris.
Post-war France—and Europe in general—was impoverished and lacking the most basic proteins necessary for children to grow normally. No milk, no sugar, no eggs, no meat or fish, and only rare fresh vegetables. We all grew up with weak teeth and bad eyes. By the time I was six years old, I had glasses and a mouthful of lead fillings that often fell out. Getting an irreparable tooth pulled was a common event.
Many decades later I can still have an almost out-of-body experience that wafts me back to Docteur Masson’s office. Masson was a family friend who gave deep discounts. He was poorly shaven, ham-handed and dandruffy. He took several stabs to give a shot, and would pull at my teeth with pliers while his wife/assistant squeezed my head in the crook of her elbow. Docteur Masson would then wrest the tooth out and hold it triumphantly in the air to show that battle had been joined and won. My mom would insist on staying in the waiting room.
The pulling wasn’t the worst part; the aftermath was. Going to see Docteur Masson guaranteed that I would be eating bouillie for several days.
I’ve written about bouillie before, the despicable food of the not-so-wealthy. Basically, it is day-old bread boiled in water and seasoned with salt, pepper, and whatever might be lying around in the kitchen. Onions were popular at my house. The closest translation that may exist is gruel, as in Charles Dickens gruel. It is an abomination.
Today’s dental extraction was performed by a young doctor. He injected me smoothly with a Novocain cocktail which took hold as I read this week’s People magazine and realized I knew no one there, though they all looked suspiciously alike. Young, lithe, blond humanoids with great hair and even better teeth. They were all smiling. I guarantee they never had to eat bouillie.
The removal went smoothly. He put a machine in my mouth that vibrated my head and I think a few brain cells may have been jolted loose. He wiggled the pliers, pulled hard and twisted, and the top right rear molar popped out. “All done,” he said.
I stared at my tooth on the metal tray. It looked abandoned and, well, like a tooth. It was bloody, and certainly appeared smaller out of my mouth than it felt in it. I gingerly poked my tongue into the hole at the back of my mouth and realized I am now a slightly lesser man.
When he was done, the doctor offered me a Vicodin, which I turned down. The dental assistant stuffed a wad of cotton in my mouth and asked if I’d like to take my tooth home. I thought that was nice of her. I will give it a decent burial in an empty Tic Tac box. It seems only right; that tooth had been with me a long time.
I was led to a tiny room where a young woman handed me an outlandish bill, and then I drove back to the apartment, stopping to fetch the ingredients to make five pounds of mashed potatoes, since I am not allowed to really chew anything for a few days.
I am once again persuaded we live too long. Our teeth should outlast the rest of us.