for 13 June 1996. Updated every THURSDAY.


The Unbelievable Tooth

It says something important - and not
too encouraging - about Life that
each of us has been endowed by our
Creator with four little time bombs
hidden in our mouth. I'm talking
about wisdom teeth. Your set
doubtless hit the road years ago,
but mine are still here and getting
uppity - I'd have them removed, but
I don't think I can afford to lose
any more widsom. It's also a
standing policy not to tinker with
my body; what God hath created, let
no oral surgeon put asunder. Anyway,
I like my wisdom teeth, when they're
not causing trouble. If I get them
taken out, maybe my head will become
dangerously light. I don't want to
screw up my balance or anything.
Best just to leave them in.
If your brain is as much of a
cultural lint-trap as mine, you
already know why wisdom teeth are
called "wisdom teeth." Unlike baby
teeth, you don't get them until
you're older and - hold on tight for
the big assumption - wiser. I don't
have to point out how idiotic this
moniker is, but if you haven't got
any pressing engagements, I'd like
to beat on it for a line or two.
Why not "mortgage teeth"? Or
"back-pain teeth"? A lot more adults
have that. No one - at least no one
I want to associate with - calls
that hair old men get on their ears
"wisdom hair." And, if the whole
thing weren't stupid enough as it
is, most people first encounter
their wisdom teeth when they're
teenagers, which is about the least
wise time of anyone's life, if
they're lucky.
[Kicked Out]
Perverse nomenclature aside, there
are four obnoxious tenants in the
apartment building that is my gob -
but I just don't have the heart to
evict them. And yeah, I know you're
asking for trouble when you get
sentimental about vestigia;
particularly your appendix (still
got it), which can turn bad and kill
you in an evening, like a faithful
dog gone rabid. The appendix is the
Cujo of your internal organs.
[Table Photos]
However, after 26 eventful years,
I've grown attached to my wisdom
teeth. Is that so wrong? They've
been there through the good times
and the bad - they remember John
Travolta, the first time around. How
many wisdom teeth can say that?
Nowadays, they're like a pair of
lucky shoes that don't quite fit and
pinch a bit - but is that any reason
to throw them away? Even though they
twinge me more and more frequently,
and every dental authority figure
I've ever asked says that sooner or
later it's either them or me, I'm
still hoping we can come to a
peaceful settlement. Or else I'll
have to go under the knife, and
nobody wants that.
Common decency, if not common sense,
dictates that my wisdom teeth have
as much right to be in my mouth as I
do. It's damned ungrateful to kick
them out into the street, after all
they've done for me. They're like
the relief pitchers for my molars -
faced with a particularly gristly
piece of something, the Mouth
Manager walks out to the mound,
gives a signal, and the wisdom teeth
come trotting out of the bullpen.
Pretty soon that gristle is down,
one-two-three. Just another day for
the ol' dents de sagesse.
I tried to get them removed once,
long before they ever pained me,
when everybody else was getting
theirs taken out. It was sort of
"the thing to do" in my crowd that
summer, and being highly susceptible
to peer pressure in all of its
manifestations, I couldn't wait. But
just after I tasted gas, the dentist
got a quizzical look, left the room,
and (apparently) spoke to my mother
waiting outside. The next thing I
knew, I was in the car riding home.
I never found out what happened that
day. It was a little like Rosemary's
Baby. Maybe my real wisdom teeth
were taken out for satanic rituals,
and some nefarious Dental Hardware
of the Damned put in. Mom denies it
ever happened.
Fear is part of my reluctance to bite
the bullet. I have been taking an
informal survey of wisdom-teeth
experiences for a decade now
("Answer yes/no to the statement:
'Getting my wisdom teeth out just
sucked'"), and it seems that the
primary piece of wisdom gained is
that "pain cannot kill you, it can
only make you wish for death." I'm
hoping that my removal session will
be that rarest of gems, wherein the
dentist pops a quartet of
almost-bashful wisdies from the jaw
as easily as a child separates two
Legos. However, I suspect that I
will have to endure "The Digger" and
"The Grappler" just as my forebears
did in the rat-infested dungeons of
the Spanish Inquisition.
Even though a baseball team's worth
of dentists have encouraged me to
get 'em taken out, I wonder about
their motivation. Is that sharp
intake of breath at my X-rays
genuine concern, or just the ringing
of some internal cash register? The
money is a factor, certainly - I'm
not broke, but I can't just go
around wasting it on dental work
like there's no tomorrow. Also, it
always kills me to pay someone to do
something I think I can do myself. I
guess I'm a little old-fashioned
that way. I have a theory that if I
tie a wisdom tooth to the bumper of
a UPS truck, it'll come out easy as
you please. My delivery guy says
he'll do it. For $10.00, it's worth
a shot. I think they would make an
unforgettable pair of cuff links,
don't you?

words by
Bay B. Food
pictures by
Terry Colon