My Experiments With Tooth

'Hold it with the same pressure for five minutes. Good. Please be seated outside while I attend to the next patient... No, don't go outside; sit here.'
'Don't bring your jaws together.'
And thus, pressing my new tooth against my gums with one thumb, texting a friend re Uranus and its satellites with the other, passed I the next promised 'five minutes' that my wristwatch in some mysterious way spanned fifteen. While the cement was hardening up at the gums and rooting the ceramic tooth in place, the history of it flashed before me vaguely...

Approximately a decade back in time, when one beamed with pride at each permanent tooth sprouting out, when the blood was young and the hormones were still asleep, when parents were taller than oneself, when one believed whole-heartedly in ghosts and God, when one was puzzled that the earth was round, when the word 'sex' meant nothing but a noun to indicate gender, I broke my tooth. I was giving an impersonation of Tarzan one breezy, dusky evening on a lorry-shaped jungle gym, slinging myself from ironbar to ironbar, a popular sport kids take to on that maze even today. In the course of one of these flights, my concentration escaped me for a few microseconds. It was a slip that left its mark all my life. For one of the bars, lying right in my trajectory, squarely caught my front left upper tooth. Funny though I felt in the teethline, it never occurred to me that any sort of damage could befall it. It wasn't one of those milk teeth after all, and I had caught rumours doing the air that permanent teeth are formidable as stone and drop off only at old age.
Only when I returned home was I made to comprehend that I was half a tooth short. My dad spotted the difference right away.
'What happened to your tooth?'
What a strange question!
'Nothing. Is something wrong?'
'Touch it'
I did. And egad! It was as though someone had the tooth diagonally cut. I fancied a sensation of my kidneys swapping places.
I walked over to the mirror in alarm. The reflection of the broken tooth only served to give me further fright.
'But it's a permanent tooth!', I wailed to the parent.
'It can't break!'
'Yet you've achieved it.'
By and large my father is a sensible man, but I have never made it a point to know why he ordered me to go in search of the other half of the tooth that day. I scoured the playpark with straining eyeballs (as it was past twilight), every little stone or oversized sand particle appearing like a piece of tooth. I came back to the apartment empty-handed.
I cannot recollect what led to its discovery, but my dad found it in my breastpocket!
I passed a couple of years or more sporting the curs'd half-tooth. Not everybody has experienced the privilege of having an incisor for a front tooth.
Once my other permanent teeth grew up, I obtained an appointment at a dental hospital (annexed to a dental college) through my dad's dentist friend. A female named Aparna was assigned to take charge of my teeth.
If you've watched or undergone a dental operation (no, not vicariously through Ogden Nash, but in flesh and gums) at some timepoint, well and good. You would connect with the revolting feelings associated with it better that way. Imagine twenty to thirty such dentist's couches lined in a hallway and hideous amateur dentists learning their ropes through the teethy ailments of naive citizens. That about sums up the hospital where I suffered my first exposure to sophisticated barbarism (read dentistry). All equipment were imported. As my dad put it, only the teeth were Indian products.
I should have sniffed trouble directly when this Aparna began to behave sweet. The root canal procedure she carried out proved, later, to be disastrous.
'You are the monitor of your class?', she asked, eyeing the badge pinned to my Monday uniform pocket (I purported to attend post-lunch school hours) that read 'CLASS LEADER VI - F'
'Smart boy. Why did you choose to come to us?'
'Vijay uncle only tell'
Something sounded wrong about that sentence. The moment I realized the error and was about to deliver the corrected statement, she pushed a thin tube into my mouth; she had a good look at my dental X-ray and went on to work with her drill and mirror spoon. The automatic suction of water, sprayed from the hydraulic drill, and of saliva, generated by the mouth, through the narrow tube, and the tingling sensation caused by the drilling rendered the ordeal enjoyable indeed. But my merriment wasn't to last long. Time and again she would ask me to spit in the sink attached to the patient's throne, and during one of these spittages (probably during the root canal task), to my horror, I spat blood. Thereafter I gave up, closed my eyes and resigned myself for the worst.

You may skip the next few lines. They are totally tangential to the issue.
By the time I reached school it was some minutes since the end-of-lunch bell had pealed. I was a pathetic conversationist those days, and my pronunciation was an accent of its own kind.
'Excuse me, Miss'
'You are coming to school only now?'
'Yes, Miss'
'Were you not well in the morning?'
'No, Miss'
'Dentist sitting, Miss'
'Dentist sitting, Miss'
'Dentist, Miss'
The teacher appeared as though I had thrown her a conundrum she was in no vein to solve.
It was here that Aruna, the Asst. Class Leader, stood up and added footnotes to my answer.
'He had an appointment with a dentist in the morning, Miss. That is why he is late.'
The teacher faced me. 'Why can't you say that clearly? Get in.'
This incident thrilled me to the bone marrows. In the recess break every boy roared in encouragement at the progress I was making in the Aruna department. It was one of the 'evidences' I collected in my memory for the possibility of reciprocation of 'love' by her. She wouldn't have stood up and bespoken any other guy, I was pretty positive. I recalled the scene over and over and enthralled myself anew.
Five years later she assured me it was merely an act of courtesy.

It took three sittings in all to procure my first synthetic tooth. It was what is called a 'composite structure', a hard film of some teeth-coloured solid solution covering over the broken tooth. It looked fairly enough like an original piece. But I was scared I might break it again and gave it only a gentle stroke during my daily flosses.
In due course of time, I broke it again. I managed to accidentally squeeze a teaspoon into the hair-wide gap between the two front teeth one fine lunch hour in Seventh Form. And when I chewed, my molars caught a little stone. Cursing the rice merchant, I fished it out of my mouth. One look was adequate to make out what it was. Half a tooth. As I was repeating to my classmates that day, Adhu kallu illa, pallu!
Shibu George was my next (budding) dentist at another branch of the same college. This one was in Adyar, quite nearby to the insti. Hence my first look at the insti portals was during my ride to the now-razed dental hospital.
Shibu was gratefully a final year student, an efficient one at that, as his name might suggest. He made me feel supremely comfortable, and in fact gave me a joy ride on the chair by maneouvering it up and down. There was a middle-aged lady at the head of the practice room who was a sort of supervising dean. It was comic to watch grown-up lads conducting themselves scared stiff and obedient in front of her. Shibu was no exception. She took a look at my case record, then peered into my mouth, and dished out instructions that Shibu put into effect at once. From a new X-ray taken, he quickly discovered that my previous fang-wrencher (a Wodehousesque term for dentist) had screwed up her root canalling.
'Where was it done last time? Here?'
'Who did it?'
'Oh, Aparna...' he echoed meditatively.
The expression on his map sufficed to tell me that Aparna was a back-bencher in lectures and drew slim girls in chudidhars as well as rangolis in the last pages of her notebook, not to mention daydreaming of the new Scooty Daddy had promised, while the professor was rambling away on root-canalling and drilling and filling.
In two sittings Shibu George gave me another composite structure tooth, my second. Before we parted, he told me that if I should meet him again, I had to break the tooth within six months as he would be then be leaving overseas. He added as a warning that it would survive only four to five years after which I should go for ceramic crowning.
Well, I had it last for seven years. It had discoloured a bit, but I didn't mind. It had even eluded me that it was a work of Man, until I broke it again in my third semester.
When the Gurunath vegetable puff was in my hand, the tooth was intact. When the puff was in my tummy, a fragment of the tooth was amiss. I hadn't felt the breaking at all. As though it had torn off like wet paper.
After the final exams I went to the insti hospital and acquired an appointment with Dr R. For the first time in all my life, I was treated by a professional teeth mechanic. She gave me two options: either a ceramic tooth or one with vitalium alloy backing. I went for the ceramic, remembering the erstwhile Shibu George. She allotted me two sittings. In the first, she plied her drill and amputated whatever was left of the composite structure. As a result, she left a near-blank on the upper jaw. The remnant of the original permanent tooth, the yellowest tooth of its age I've seen, was sticking out a little. (I should say it was a toothling, for either Aparna or Shibu had downsized it to a dwarf of itself before composite structuring.)
The following week I stepped about the world with a tooth shy of a full skeletal system. Quite like MAD's Alfred E Neuman: even he has broken the same tooth in the array. At length did come the second sitting. My heart sprinted along. My nerves were entangled in agitation. The spring in the step was unmistakable. Then came through a shattering news. It appears like it's custom to have an ice-cream after a session with the dentist. Nobody ever told me so in all my previous adventures with their species! I felt ingratiated that I should learn it at my final encounter with one of them.
Dr R is a stout young lady with a pistol tongue -- I saw her snapping at a senior professor -- and likes to have punctual and quick sessions with her patients. She is a compulsive essemmesser too. Unlike other doctors, she parts with medical information readily and in vivid detail. {At the end of the first sitting she had taken an impression of both the jaws of my teeth with a green moulding substance that tasted like well-chewed bubblegum. While making my departure, I asked her, 'Is it chewing gum?' just to tick her off. 'Alganine. You want to know its chemical composition, isn't it?' Before I could say a yes or no, she brought out a thick old bound book, flipped to a page and showed me a table of ingredients and a chemical reaction. No, ma'm, you can't lure me into dentistry! Not for all the emeralds in the world!}
She flourished a small squarish pebble-like object in her hand.
I clamped my jaws together and displayed the teeth.
And now she wedged the object in the upper row and filled the slot! Gracious! it was my new tooth! She still held it in place.
'Bite now'
I bit. I couldn't make contact between the teeth of either jaw, except for the new one and its lower match. We made a number of trials and errors to fix the tooth's position perfectly, and it was then that she volleyed the ball to my court by making me hold the ceramic crown by myself until the cementing substance had dried.
I sat on the consulter's chair and observed her next victim undergoing his quota of torment. His gums were the shade of dark grapes. Dr R scolded him rather impolitely for his lack of maintenance of the essential components of her trade. Each time he spat in the sink it was like his mouth was a gutterhole. The usually tolerant and easy-taking nurse who held the suction tube in all the patients' mouth was beginning to grow listless. All three (the doc, the nurse, the self) were more than glad when he left, me all the more so because my mouth was thick with saliva from keeping it open for fifteen minutes without break. It remains my longest stint of retaining my lips apart.
The river horse in the shape of the dentist took a silent long look at the outcome of our combined efforts. And then she gave her verdict.
I relaxed. She thinned it down from the backside using her drill and trimmed my lower tooth. Then she held a mirror in front of my cave. The fake was indistinguishable from the rest.
I took happy leave of the dental den with a wheeling heart. At last, I was as complete a man as the next! Had I then known the ensuing song, it should have played on my lips as I pedalled back to the main gates.
The snail's on the thorn, the lark's on the wing, God's in His Heaven, all's right with the world.

22 Obiter dicta:

Blogger Chinnu couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

Let mine be the first comment. Some of the readers may remember me telling them that the ceramic tooth threw up an unexpected problem. Well, to my amazement, within a short length of time the teeth oriented themselves to my comfort! My molars happily touch now.

4:21 PM  
Blogger bhava couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

i hope you break another tooth, so i can have the pleasure diving a bit more into your experiments with tooth. kidding ofcourse. your wit is..... wow!

7:49 PM  
Blogger A songbird couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

MY enjyoment at the cost of your " TOOTH "
yours sincerely '

7:51 PM  
Blogger Chinnu couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

With due apologies to Keats,
Tooth is beauty, beauty tooth; that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

To M: DON'T call yourself 'Chellam'! Ugh, please don't! And don't call me too with that. I shouldn't have introduced the word to you.

3:26 PM  
Blogger bhava couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

you know me... i guess. i once chatted with you. i am pratyusha. i'm not bhavadhaarini....

9:44 PM  
Blogger Chinnu couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

Fine. Because of your choice of pseudonym there was a minor flutter in my circles. The Unni Krishnan who comments on your blog must be Poornima's e-friend then.

12:13 AM  
Blogger bhava couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

yes.. he's my school mate.

12:36 PM  
Anonymous Durga couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

phew! good account as usual. but a bit too long.

4:33 PM  
Blogger unni krishnan couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

interesting reflections, beautifully written (that though, would be a serious understatement, pardon me)

i read ur blog, a few times before too....i should have posted my views on ur blog (good views), i am sorry once again of not having done that,i was not quite sure, how i should make the "first contact"
now that i find u are familiar with this "e-friend" of poo's, and a "schoolmate" of pratyusha's,i find i am spared the tedious and quite frankly stupid, self introductions.....

1:24 AM  
Blogger molten lava couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

hey its was awesome.. ur word essemmesser has no place in ur own lexicon whose loaded in ur own blog. lol..back benchers mela romba comment adhikirae..enna aachu?? adhu kallu illa pallu, cool schoolmates, poetic indeed:)

3:38 PM  
Blogger molten lava couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

sorry, *which is loaded.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Chinnu couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

To L: Well, you never read anything properly, don't you? It was uttered by me to my schoolmates and not the other way around. Wonder how many other misreadings you've made.
To U: The flattery is so much that if you'd said all that to me in person, I'd have feared a 'You don't have a ten rupee bill on you now, do you?' from you coming up next!

7:46 PM  
Blogger Chinnu couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

To L again: You cannot find the word 'essemmesser' anywhere. I coined it.

7:48 PM  
Blogger unni krishnan couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

well i could always ask u for a ten rupee bill....but, knowing ur answer, it wouldnt hurt me asking a hundred rupee bill too would it?

8:58 PM  
Blogger Krishna couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

As always, the silent reader that i am...

6:23 AM  
Blogger Shyamala couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

This post has made the memories of my visits to the dentist come flashing before my eyes. I broke my front tooth at a very young age too, while playing an indoor game with my friend.I would not like to reveal the name of the game,owing to the potential embarassment it would cause, but I can tell you that we had to imagine the huge double-cot in my bedroom as a cart and had to push it(as a rule in the game).My friend,who was two years elder to me,had no difficulty doing it but I was too weak for the task.Ego forced me to try pushing the "cart" and Newton's third law gave me away. *BANG*. The next moment I realised that I was lying prostrate on the floor and half my front tooth was missing. Then started the myriad visits to different dentists in different places.That half-broken tooth was completely removed and a cap(a false tooth) was fixed in its place,after a root canal treatment.
The broken tooth is still safely preserved in an envelope,in a file that I have named "dentist-history". My mom makes it a point to show that tooth to every dentist I visit:( .One is due for the next semester hols,when I'll have a permanent ceramic cap.

3:24 PM  
Blogger Shyamala couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

That green moulding substance tastes nowhere close to chewing-gum.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Chinnu couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

Wow! That's a blogpost in itself! I know, and who else besides me shall know, that a cap is a false tooth...
And yes, the alganine in no way tastes like chewing gum. I'd written that it tasted like well-chewed bubblegum.
Thank you for giving me company in the Half Tooth Club.

8:38 PM  
Blogger Vettius Carnaticae couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

What a vocabulary! I dare say, the last benchers are not in very good books either! inciDENTALLY, I am also a rather given to appreciate the audacity of losing a full half teeth and yet being witty about it! Long be the adjective! Witty be the adverb!

3:05 PM  
Anonymous fishy couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

Any comment to this post would only be an understatement. It was a total pleasure reading it. An absolute delight. I guess I'll have a similar post on my blog soon. [:P]

6:20 PM  
Blogger Mohan K.V couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

My God man, not knowing the ice-cream rule is a greater tragedy than anything dentistry can concoct.

8:26 PM  
Blogger valli couldn't resist being opinionated thus:

Hi..tis s ur stout dentist....how r u...I m happy abt one last line...u said the fake n real were same...gud..indistinguishable...so I make a gud dentist .isn't it??.

12:39 PM  

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