My single wisdom tooth

King Edward VII’s wisdom tooth, extracted in 1940. Mine looked very much the same.

I only ever had one wisdom tooth, the upper right one. It erupted (that’s the technical term, which sounds rather dramatic, but its original appearance was painless) sometime after I graduated from college, and for years it just sat there without bothering me. Successive dentists said things like “did you know you only had one wisdom tooth?” and “you don’t need this single wisdom tooth, but if it’s not bothering you, we’ll leave it alone”. I only thought about my lonely single wisdom tooth when other people mentioned their excruciating wisdom tooth problems, when I would congratulate myself on my comparative lack of wisdom teeth. As well as being unproblematic, my single wisdom tooth obviously proved that I am a super-evolved human.

In the middle of an otherwise unremarkable working week, I started to get toothache in the molars in my back right jaw. At the time, I was working in Exeter and going home to Birmingham at the weekends, so I wasn’t registered with a dentist in Exeter. The pain got worse very fast and by Thursday night it was pretty much unbearable. At work on Friday morning, I called around several dentists in Exeter and couldn’t get an emergency appointment, but eventually, a kindly receptionist gave me the number for the emergency dental clinic, based in the main city hospital. I rang them and they told me that I should present myself there as soon as possible.

When I arrived at the emergency clinic, the waiting room wasn’t full; there were just a handful of Central Casting hobos of both sexes in there. Feeling significantly overdressed in my work clothes, I settled down to wait my turn. Rather to my surprise, I’d only been there for about twenty minutes when a dental nurse came into the waiting room and called me through into the surgery. It was a large room with the usual dentist’s chair in the middle, and the usual specialist storage and desks round the sides. Two assistants were sitting at the desks, apparently deeply absorbed in important dental assistant tasks. The dentist greeted me kindly and asked me to sit down in the big chair. After reclining the chair and taking a quick look into my mouth, he sat the chair back up and said to me “I think that wisdom tooth is the problem, and it isn’t any use because there isn’t a matching tooth in your lower jaw for it to bite against. I think taking it out would be a good idea. If you still have toothache after that, we’ll investigate further.” I said “great, what’s the next step?” expecting him to say “I’ll prescribe you some pain killers and you’ll make an appointment with your own dentist to have it extracted” or the like. But no! He said “the next step is that I extract it now”.

As he said that, I became aware that his two assistants had soundlessly moved from their seats on the other side of the room. They were now standing one on each side of the chair, slightly behind my eyeline, poised to grab me if I tried to get up and run. “It’s OK,” I said, “I’m not going to try and escape.” The assistants moved away slightly. The actual extraction was completely straightforward – the only slightly unnerving aspect was the noises in my head, which were like the woody creaks of self-assembly furniture being put together. I still have the tooth. It’s huge, with one big root, and an enormous cavity. No wonder it hurt so much.

One of the assistants walked me back out to reception. I said “that is such a relief!” and she said “he does a *lovely* extraction.”

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