The struggle for Tooth No. 12

Published 7:17 am Monday, September 11, 2017

By Joe Rogers

For 15 years or so my one-stop dentist saw me through various cleanings, deep drillings, crowns and fillings with ease.

Nothing fazed him. I have no doubt that if I’d ever shown up with a through-and-through bullet wound, he’d have spackled both holes over and found a way to bill it as a two-surface amalgam, or some such.

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Alas, recent churn in my insurance coverage cast me adrift from this dental one-man band.

And, as luck would have it, Tooth No. 12, in the parlance, soon announced its refusal to perform its toothly duties.

After about a week of Anbesol and Orajel applications and salt water rinsings, I set about to find a new dentist. My non-negotiable requirement: He or she must be willing to administer nitrous oxide – laughing gas.

I would start the nitrous intake while getting dressed for the dentist if it were up to me.

Fortunately, I reached such a dentist within my first few phone calls, and the receptionist said he could work me in that very day.

Upon arrival, I filled out enough paperwork to qualify for a government security clearance before doing the X-ray thing. Then he poked around the offending tooth with something that looked as if it was designed to pluck out an eyeball and peered. At length, he announced that I needed, if lucky, a root canal.

Let me tell you when a root canal is your best case scenario, you are not having a good day.

In any event, whatever I might need, this doctor was not prepared to provide. He sent me to an endodontist, someone trained in the assorted ways of saving teeth.

I went, filled out more paperwork of questionable import (“Have you ever been treated by a psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor? If yes, explain.” No, I lied.), had more X-rays done and let another fellow poke around in my mouth with a sinister tool.

“The prognosis for this tooth is not good,” he pronounced.

Translation: Extraction.

Which I assumed he would do. But no; as a dedicated saver of teeth, he apparently does not also kill them.

Back to my first dentist of the day? Also no.

I was instead dispatched to my third stop, an oral surgeon. There I filled out still more paperwork and waited for an hour and a half as a stream of people exited with gauze in their mouths. Finally, I was called, last patient of the day.

The hygienist advised that, unlike my previous insurer, my new one would not spring for the cost of nitrous. I would be responsible for the $175 toll.

Bring it on, I said.

Under its influence, and that of two injections (one distinctly unpleasant) of Novocain, I closed my eyes and let the expert go about it. I had the distant sensation that my tooth was not going willingly, accompanied by an odd creaking sound in my head. Then silence.

All in all, I don’t recommend it.

Now I find myself wondering which, if any, of the three doctors I saw in my six-hour odyssey, will offer a plan to replace the absent No. 12 – a process my old dentist would no doubt have already begun. Meanwhile, I’m left with a half-inch gap in my smile.

Good thing I’m not smiling too much right now.

Joe Rogers worked for The Clarion-Ledger, The Tennessean and The New York Times. He can be reached at or on Twitter @jrogink.