I lost a life-long friend yesterday. For over 50 years I knew him intimately, but not by name. The dentist called him Number Fifteen, one of my four 12-year molars and a veteran of mastications too many to mention. It was sad to see this loyal buddy go; we shared roots, after all. For over 5 decades he knew everything I ever ate or drank and most of anything else I did with my mouth. We were that close.
Number 15’s demise wasn’t unanticipated. More than 25 years ago, a dentist now long-retired, first told me the molar’s days were numbered. “It’s just a question of when,” he advised. Over the years, two other dentists, six highly professional hygienists, and one expensive periodontist all pronounced similar sentences. Number Fifteen’s days were indeed numbered, but it turned out to be a pretty big number.
Alas, yesterday—nearly ten thousand days and some thirty thousand meals later, not to mention innumerable snacks and sticks of gum—it came time for Number Fifteen to give up the ghost. I could have said “bite the dust,” but that would be insensitive. He can’t bite anything now. Toward the end I wished Number Fifteen were less sensitive himself. You see, he’d reached the point where he couldn’t take the cold anymore, and the pressure of everyday work had gradually worn his nerves raw. Worst of all, he was losing his grip on my left maxillary bone.
After examining x-rays, my current long-time dentist shook his head slowly and tsked a little behind his sterile mask. “It won’t be long now,” he said, more to the molar than to me. This doctor has presided over many dental deaths in his career, but I could feel his sadness and resignation at losing another. Or maybe he was mourning the loss of the nice little income stream he’d derived from Number Fifteen. For years that molar had received more attention and special treatment than all his 31 brothers combined. He was high maintenance for sure. And in his final weeks Number Fifteen could, without warning, emit sudden, silent, cranial-splitting screams right in the middle of otherwise enjoyable repasts.
We were beyond the point of heroic measures. I reclined in the dentist’s chair, numbing, awaiting the final deed. I was grateful the pain in my head and in my wallet would both be over. If the tooth be known, Number Fifteen’s pockets were deeper than mine.