Many folks fear visiting the dentist. Not me; all the dentists whom I consulted over time are kind, empathetic professionals. However, I am not a fan of dental procedures. People often get nightmares of failing exams or turning up for a test without having studied anything. I often dream that my dental braces have come all undone and the sharp wires are poking me everywhere in the mouth; only to wake up and realize that I stopped having braces many years ago. Still, I go to the dentist a couple of times a year and get the dental procedures done, necessary for maintaining oral health. After all, we have only thirty-two of them ivories.

Recently, I was talking to a dear friend who sounded a bit unwell over the phone. “Why do you sound so upset?”, I ask her. “It’s my third molar,” she said, “I had to get it extracted”. This took me down memory lane, when I had to give up my vestigial wisdom, nearly a decade ago. I was having persistent food lodging in one of my posterior teeth, and it was causing on-and-off pain when I decided to consult a dentist. I remember having visited a senior oral surgeon’s clinic on Devraj Urs Road in Mysore. Turns out, the wisdom tooth in my lower jaw was growing horizontally and it couldn’t get out: an impacted third molar. I wasn’t too surprised, the medical college where I pursued my undergraduate degree had an attached dental college. The medical and dental students shared the same hostel. In the past, many budding dental hostel mates had remarked that my lower jaw was crowded with hardly any space for the existing teeth.

I agreed with the surgeon when he suggested that the offending tooth needs to come out. The X-ray showed that the tooth was invading its neighbour’s personal space. Plus, I was having pain due to the inflammation, so it was decided that the sooner the tooth was removed, the better. I was a PG student back then and leaves were a premium commodity. I checked my calendar and saw that a festival was coming up, for which I was planning to visit family in Kerala. I asked the doctor only one thing: if I will be able to enjoy the festive food at home, three days after the procedure. “There will be some pain and swelling as I will have to drill a bit to release the tooth”, he said, “but you should be ok in a few days”. How smart of me I thought, a brilliant idea indeed! One teeth extraction and one festival- and only one time leave to be availed, one stone, two birds! So, we set up a date for the procedure, and he asked me to bring a chaperone to help me get back home after the extraction.

On the day of the surgery, I attended a seminar programme in the morning and went for the extraction in the afternoon. I asked my friend, who was also my colleague and neighbour, to pick me up after the procedure and drop me home. The surgery was ok- there was a lot of local anaesthesia involved, so after the first prick, I was oblivious to all the activities that evolved. My dentist showed me the extracted teeth. The upper tooth was in toto, but the lower one had to be broken into three pieces to be extracted. I requested the surgeon for the dislodged teeth as a souvenir and off I went home with some post-surgery instructions, numb in my mouth but relieved that the days of food lodgement were over.

Well. As you might have guessed, and many might have experienced, the story had just started. As the evening wore on, so did the effect of the local anaesthesia. By the next morning, it was as though the oral cavity was on fire which needed to be doused with painkillers thrice a day. I received a free personalized demonstration of the pharmacokinetics of diclofenac; for the pain was returning with predictable periodicity when the effect of the drug was wearing off. Starting day 2, there was a lemon-sized swelling on the right side of the face. I sent pictures of my face to my old roommate, who is now a dentist practising in the UK. She empathized by sending her own photos from the time when she underwent de-wisdomization. Who cares about the looks anyways when there’s pain to deal with?

As planned previously, I went home for the festival only to see my family members enjoy the festival’s specialities. I had a mouth opening sufficient for a fork to place morsels of sustenance. That fork would become my favourite piece of cutlery in the future. For the next several days, I spent worrying if my mouth will be permanently spasmed shut. Anyways, after a week, with the pain subsided and the leaves exhausted, I and my prized fork crossed the Western Ghats, back to Mysore. I went back for a scheduled follow-up visit. “Everything looks A-OK”, my surgeon announced. “So, you had to miss all the good food at home, I assume”, he added with a kind, knowing smile. I ask him if my mouth opening will be ok. “It will be back to normal soon”, he reassures. Fast forward to the current times and my friend (minus a third molar) tells me that she’s worried that her mouth will be spasmed shut permanently and I tell her it’s all going to be ok.

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