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Tongue survival quells childhood fears

The sharpest mouth, tooth, and jaw pain I’ve ever encountered exploded from an old molar and shot right through my skull as I sat on the couch.

Sure, I had just moments before enjoyed the last of the Tiramisu gelato. But this pain had to be more than temperature sensitivity.

My teeth have endured many scalding pizza slices as well as numerous frozen treats during my lifetime. Never had the pain been so excruciating as to render me unable to chew food or yell at a family member for putting the ketchup on the wrong shelf in the fridge.

Noting my inability to vocalize anything other than painful grunts, Hubby took the opportunity to use his assertive voice. “You have to go to the dentist. No more putting it off. We’re calling in the morning.”

As motivated as I was to shoot an icy, I’ll-do-what-I-want stare his way, the pain blocked my snarky attempt at a nonverbal response. As I hobbled toward the medicine cabinet to find some pain relief, Hubby knew I would comply.

What choice did I have? How long could I possibly survive without chewing or talking? A few hours? Maybe a bit more depending on what I found in the medicine cabinet?

The next day, I slowly made my way through a serving of yogurt before heading out to see my dentist. It was so refreshing not to have to hear ‘I told you so’ while explaining, “Remember that filling that needed to be replaced? Well, I believe I let it go too long.”

Of course, I had my mommy excuses in my back pocket at the ready. I would have taken care of it, but my kids needed that, my mom needed this, and Hubby needed the other. Even our dogs outranked me on my mommy priority gauge.

Upon taking an X-ray and examining the situation, my dentist referred me to a group of experts. He determined I needed a root canal. And while he does perform root canals, my particular situation warranted the hands of a specialist.

The only experience I had with root canals was a foggy memory of my dad coming in late from work one evening. He didn’t say much when he arrived home other than a mumble directed at my mother. After the mumbling, she put a beer down in place of his dinner plate.

Mom served something nutritious to the rest of us; a protein, a starch, and a green vegetable, I’m sure. Dad wasn’t eating. As he calmly, slowly, and carefully sipped from his beer glass, Mom explained that he couldn’t eat because he had just had a root canal.

“Aren’t you hungry, Dad?” I was confused. Dad didn’t skip meals nor sip beer on weeknights.

“I’m numb and don’t want to chew my tongue off,” he replied in a garbled mumble. My eyes grew large at the thought of my father eating his own tongue. What a horrible side effect of a root canal, whatever that was. I felt bad for my dad. Then I watched him like a hawk for the rest of dinnertime. I was terrified he’d swallow his tongue with a sip of his lager.

The horrible dental procedure clearly rendered my father a mumbling, potentially tongue eating, foodless sap. Mom made sure we were on our best behavior that evening, because, she explained to us, Dad was in pain and needed to recover.

That night, I wondered if he’d ever be able to return to work. What if this root canal left him incapacitated? What if we ended up moneyless, homeless, tongueless, foodless wretches? I tossed and turned all night long, feeding my growing dental anxieties.

While eating my cereal the next morning, I was thrilled to see Dad in his white shirt and navy blue tie. He grabbed his bagged lunch and headed to work as usual. He had even regained his speaking abilities—with a full, healthy tongue—as was evident when he yelled to Mom something about remembering to fill the gas tank in her car because it was an odd day.

Now, decades later, it was my turn in the root canal chair. The filling I’d had as a child was loose. Underneath grew some decay. The tooth itself was vertically cracked. It was a wonder I was able to get by so long without pain. All I could think of while waiting to get started was accidentally eating my own tongue later that evening.

Surprisingly, with topical and injected anesthetics, I was quite comfortable throughout the procedure. Between the pain relievers and lots of water, the numbness dissipated into a mild soreness within hours.

My tongue-loss anxieties melted away with each bite of mashed potatoes lovingly prepared by Hubby. As I drifted off to sleep that night, my irrational childhood fears faded into sweet dreams of the full-capacity, painless chewing and yelling that awaited me upon full recovery.

Micki Bare is a columnist for Courier-Tribune in Asheboro, N.C., where she and her family reside. She is also a blogger and author of Thurston T. Turtle children’s books. Website: http://navigatinghectivity.blogspot.com Email: mickibare@gmail.com

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