Wisdom and the teeth thereof

Yes, I admit it. About 40 years ago my Hometown Dentist told me I ought to have my wisdom teeth out ‘when they bothered me’ and said he was ready to do it. Since they didn’t bother me much (as I can kind of ignore various pains and discomforts… perhaps some of those Neaderthal genes ;-) they stayed in. I only had ‘teething’ for about a month, then it slacked off never reaching “bothered me” quite enough.

Off to college. From time to time, about once every year or two, I’d ‘teeth’ just a little. The upper wisdom teeth came in, a bit akimbo, canted toward the cheek by about 20 to 30 degrees, but in. So I ignored them. The lower teeth were impacted on a more or less straight forward trajectory. Eventually the gums over them fissured, but the tooth was not oriented to take good advantage of the opening.

Sometime after college, about 4 years into working for a living as a consultant, the upper right wisdom tooth ( I think it was) got a cavity in it. Much like all my other molars…. deep fissures in the shape of the cusps and soda pop don’t mix well. Designed for meat tearing, not sugar and phosphoric acid etch. Neanderthal teeth? My Hometown Dentist had told me I had a ‘primitive feature’ – a sort of a shadow cusp that isn’t a full cusp on the molar surfaces, and my fangs were fairly pronounced with a clear point… (He was really interested in teeth, and it would seem, their evolution). The On The Road Dentist saw no reason to fill the wisdom tooth as ‘the tooth was not functional’ (the mate having not come into place). Out it came. About 20 minutes in the dentist’s chair, one bent nose pliers, and it was out. I still have it in a box somewhere… One day on some pain pills and the next day I was back at work. No Problemo…

More time passed. About a decade back, a good 30 years after high school graduation, the other upper wisdom tooth got a cavity. Again The Dentist (my current one) was not inclined to patch it, so out it came. This time it took an Oral Surgeon (as, it would seem, mere dentists are not allowed to do wisdom teeth anymore, even the easy ones). Again it was a quick grab with the pliers. This time I was not allowed to keep it; the excuse being that it might spread disease… What disease might be lurking in my mouth that I didn’t already have was left unclear; and just who would be sucking on my extracted tooth was also a mystery to me. Even the idea of a bath through the autoclave was Not Allowed. “It is medical hazardous waste and must be disposed of appropriately.” In 20 minutes it had gone from “Part of me that I’ve lived with for 30 odd years.” to “Medical Hazardous Waste”.

Isn’t progress wonderful? …

By then, the lower left wisdom tooth had one bit above the gum line. One small cusp. Just barely. The lower right stayed firmly in place. It had noticed what happened to the upper right, I guess… No poking out there for that tooth, nosireee…

Time passes. Every 4 or 5 years, slower by now, I’d have a minor ‘teething’ episode, and things would move just a bit more toward coming in. Waiting their day. Waiting for the planned obsolescence of the other molars to remove them from The Path To Utility. Sometimes nudging them, just a bit, “move along, move along, you’ve had your turn…” Then it would settle down to wait again. Patient things sometimes, these wisdom teeth. Guess that’s what wisdom is about.

So 2 days ago, I started ‘teething’ again. No big, I thought, but maybe it’s time to have them dealt The Mortal Blow? This time, though, I got a surprise. A nice gulp of chocolate milk and I was lit up good. Between the cold and the sugar, Something Was Screaming. Lower left… OK, off to The Dentist. (Who’d asked me a few dozen times to have them out, and I’d demured, and just about 3 years ago finally said “Well, I guess you can keep them, then.” Having won the battle, I can now lose the war.)

I’d had a chat with The Oral Surgeon about the lowers when he was prepping for the upper left. Seems there is this facial nerve that can be bruised, torn, or even cut. Runs right next to the wisdom teeth roots, and sometimes through them. You can end up with a rubber lip (or, as Cosby put it, a wubber wip ;-) and drool your soup for anywhere from a week to eternity. As, at that time, I was doing meals with clients to make sales, the idea of a wubber wip and drooling my soup was not attractive… So I said “Why don’t we wait until they bother me?”.

And more time passes…

So here I am, just a year or two shy of 60, teething. No contracts. No dinners with clients. Not much of an issue if I DO get a wubber wip and drool my soup. And The Dentist tells me that I have an abscess forming around the bottom of my wisdom teeth. It looks like I may also have a cavity forming in the molar where the crown of Lower Left Wisdom Tooth was pushing on the molar in front of it (… move along move along… need some help?…)

At any rate, I’m sent off to The Oral Surgeon again. Who sends me to an X-ray specialist for a CT scan of my head. Things have come a long way since 1970. He want’s a nice visualization of the nerve and the roots of the molars so he knows just what to do and where to do it. Guess too many people with wubber wips and drooling soup decided to sue Oral Surgeons after suing The Dentist dried up (as they fobbed it off on their classmate smarty pants specialist surgeon…) I was informed that insurance might not pay for it as they sometimes thought wubber wips and drooling soup for eternity were not worth $400…

So here I am, drugged up on Vicodin (as of 20 minutes ago, so just starting to get a bit of snuggly feeling), still with both wisdom teeth. Still with a molar with a cavity in it. Waiting for a couple of days for the CT scan to be walked over to The Oral Surgeon (all of 4 doors away) and for him to invite me back for the removal of my wisdom teeth. But only after he goes over The Form with me. The one I’ve already read a half dozen times. The one they gave me again today, which I read and signed. The one that tells me I might get a wubber wip and drool my soup… Less threatening now, when I’m likely to be drooling my soup in a few years anyway, than it was at 18. But he has to go over it with me again anyway. What good that will do when I’m drugged up on pain pills from letting a cavity wander deeper into a molar root for a few days is a bit beyond me, but he’s a Doctor, so he must be wise…

Sometime after the extraction (which will likely involve a knife as well as needle nose pliers, he IS a surgeon after all, and just because the tooth is now 2/3 above the gum line, well, that’s no reason to behave like a dentist…) I’ll get to go back to The Dentist to have the molar fixed. I figure about a week or two, all told. But I’ll get even better drugs from The Oral Surgeon. The State Drug Paranoia Weeniees expect him to be writing prescriptions for codeine and The Good Stuff, so he can write with pride… HE is a Surgeon, after all. I figure some time about Friday, or maybe next Tuesday I’ll have the wisdom teeth out. Yes, just in time for “Turkey Day”…

Somehow turkey through a straw does not seem like all that great an idea… and I’ll have not been back to The Dentist yet, so expect the temperature and sugar sensitivity of the hole in the molar to continue.

On the other hand, Codeine For Thanksgiving! Probably will be the most pleasant thanksgiving in years ;-)

In Conclusion

So I’m a bit torn. On the one hand, it would be nice to have The Dentist just take his needle nose pliers and pull the sucker out. I’ve seen the X-Rays, it would come pretty easy. Then patch the molar and close up. Could be done in about an hour, all told. As the tooth has moved some, it’s not near the nerve so much any more. The risk of wubber wip is low, IMHO. Probably about $300 to $500 all told, including drugs, gas, whatever. And I’d be done. (We could come back for the lower right “when it bothers me” ;-)

On the other hand, I’ve gotten a cool CT scan ($400 all by itself) and a dozen X-Rays, and I’ve had a nice chat with both The Dentist and The Oral Surgeon. And I even got some pain killers… It’s even a bit more likely that I’ll avoid the Rubber Lip and be able to eat my soup without dripping (at least for a few more years). All up? Probably a few $thousands.

Isn’t progress wonderful?

So don’t be surprised if, over the next week or two, my postings are bit less frequent, a bit shorter, have more spelling ‘creativity’ in them, or maybe even get a bit ‘outside’ from time to time. It’s just me finding a way to prevent the hole in my molar from driving me crazy while The Oral Surgeon plans how best to spend a few thousand extra for Thanksgiving and how to fit me in around his weekend plans.

And during that time, I’ll be practicing my patience and gaining wisdom…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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11 Responses to Wisdom and the teeth thereof

  1. P.G. Sharrow says:

    Glad to hear that you are gaining in wisdom ;-) isn’t it wonderful to be growing older? considering the alternative of course.
    I will also need overhaul of my teeth this winter, after Christmas of course!
    Hope all goes well with your surgery. pg

  2. rarm says:

    I gave up. Many years ago (and with an Oral Surgeon – general anæsthetic and all). Don’t hesitate – have ’em out (it in your case).

  3. dearieme says:

    I’ve been lucky with my teeth. I was due an operation a few months ago and the surgeon – or perhaps the anaesthetist – said “Have you got any crowns?” “Dunno” said I “what’s a crown?” He explained it was a dental thingy. I said “Then probably not, but you are welcome to look.”

  4. Scarlet Pumpernickel says:

    They are not always “easy”. Problem is too much litigation, so people refer to oral surgeons. It’s also not a practice builder to have people come back in pain. A Dentist wants to be a builder nowadays (that’s what the market wants) and people don’t want pain or discomfort, and they expect that from an oral surgeon but now the pain free dentistry image of a dentist doesn’t conform to removing a wisdom teeth. Wisdom teeth used to be the leading cause of death before the 20th century, as they would get infected and kill you as it was difficult to surgically remove them and no antibiotics. That’s why some people don’t have them at all or are missing some, it’s selection. Wisdom teeth used to fit in your mouth, but the softer food stops wear between the teeth so there is no room for them in many cases today.

  5. Ralph B says:

    Had mine out when I was 15 thank goodness. When I joined the Navy being a submariner that is the first thing they take out and back then none too gentle. A couple years ago I had a sensitive tooth (while overseas) went to a local dentist who at first told me I had a fractured cusp then proceeded to open the tooth which turned out to be infected. Novocaine doesn’t work with an infection present BTW. They tried injecting the nerve inside my tooth whoa what an experience all I could think of was Marathon Man. The pain lessened after slipping the nerves out of each root canal, by then I was pale and soaked in sweat. Why not just pull the tooth? It goes back to that friggin facial nerve. The funny part…while all this is going on the dental hygienist was whispering to my wife “you shouldn’t use this dentist, she is terrible”…

  6. Hah. Best wishes on solidifying your status as a Yankee.

    I expected that this was a commentary on the controversy about wisdom teeth and evidence of relatively rapid human evolution.

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

  7. larrygeiger says:

    He took all four of mine out in one day. I was about 35?. Laid me out for three days. My wife says I’m a weenie. I don’t care. The boys had theirs out at 18. All eight just slid right outta there. Turkeys.

  8. E.M.Smith says:


    The spouse is very Cro-Magnon type (high forehead, small jaw, etc.). She had exactly 2 wisdom teeth, both lowers. Her identical twin had just one, lower. Turns out that this is fairly common. Daughter got her mouth and my teeth. 4 large wisdom teeth out fairly early (as they were already causing trouble in her teens). Easy surgery (by the same guy who is going to do mine…)

    @Keith DeHavelle:

    I’m actually writing a “part two” article right now that goes into the Yankee vs Aboriginal teeth “issues” along with the Neander contribution to this tough problem, something to chew over… (BTW, that line has implications for the actual reason we have impacted wisdom teeth… )

    Yes, the “focus” has moved to teeth for a while. It’s just what happens. I don’t have a lot of control of where the “muse” takes me some times; what matters NOW is what gets absorbed in detail… And yes that causes some issues having a constant topic job that expects you to be an expert in one tiny little area and nothing else… Means I’ve gotten good at being bored out of my mind at work while learning to parallel process “what the job demands” with a tiny corner of the mind while the rest “free runs” on what matters to me now… OTOH, there are “themes of interest” that get blended into many topics over along period of time, such as Neaderthal contributions to “stuff”… Government stupidity..

    @Ralph B:

    Well, I was doing fine with self modification of endorphins (i.e. “thinking the pain away”) right up until I decided that some chocolate milk would be a reasonable way to get no-chewing-required gross calories… BIG mistake. It hit some nerve down in somewhere (either a cavity in the molar to the pulp or the nerve root, don’t know which) and WOW, was I lit up. I’m no wussy on this stuff. I’ve done minor procedures on myself (such as lancing abscesses and removing embedded glass) with no anesthetic. (That Neander tendency to low response to pain?) I’ve had my ear canals drilled out (to make rebuilding ear drums easier for the surgeon) with attendant “exquisite” pain… This wasn’t that bad, but it reminded me of it…

    Made a quick dash to the kitchen. Rinsed with warm water (neutralize cold impacts, remove sugars & etc.) and hit the spice cabinet. Dabbed on some powdered cloves. Usually that has near immediate effect. Instead it took a good minute (that seemed more like 5) to dampen the pain.

    For anyone who doesn’t know it, cloves are an anesthetic. Convenient to know if you need to do minor surgery and / or want to numb your gums. You can also add cloves to BBQ and other “hot” foods to kill the discomfort from excess peppers… Don’t believe me? Dab a damp finger in some powdered cloves and rub them on a patch of your gums… Numb comes pretty quick.

    At any rate, it was a LONG minute…

    Per your tooth issue: IFF the dentist had had a clue, they would have injected next to the nerve from that section of jaw, toward the back of the dental arch. Basically a “nerve block”. Then you can do anything with the tooth as the signals get nowhere. The dentist you had WAS lousy. I’ve had that procedure done (the nerve block) and basically everything on that side of that jaw is just numb. (My present dentist did it about a decade back when working on a crown that involved “going deep” and doing some stuff with the pulp. He’s happy to explain what he’s doing and why to a geek who’s curious. Will even give me a mirror so I can watch the drilling, cutting, etc. Curiosity is a strong thing… ;-)

    But yes, I can relate to the experience… Cloves are your friend.

  9. Power Grab says:

    I had mine out when I was in my 20s. A regular dentist took them out in his office. They were all impacted (sideways, pointing towards the front of my mouth).

    I took some serious painkillers for 3 days, then they wouldn’t renew that prescription and prescribed something else that wasn’t as effective. But at least it wasn’t a continuing problem!

  10. Pascvaks says:

    Teeth are funny but people take the cake. Especially the difference between boys and girls. I’m a guy, my wife’s a gal, obviously we’re old fashioned, and we have one of each. Girls seem to have some genetic thing about appearence and teeth, my son and I don’t. I guess you need Dos XX’s to have it; the brush your teeth, go to the dentist thing.

    After I got married I made it into a dentist’s office for some reason, he talked me into getting my wisdom teeth out and scheduled me for the first cut; upper and lower right. For some reason I never went back. Not worth the fuss or… anyway… several years later my left side reminded me they were still there. I felt pressure, discomfort, and “BINGO” – the one on top shattered the tooth ahead of it. Had to go to the dentist to have things cleaned up and cleared away for the ‘wisdom’ tooth to grow into the new hole. It’s fine!

    A little later, a couple years, ‘BINGO’ – the bottom wisdom tooth pops a chunck off the tooth ahead of it, but doesn’t shatter it to smitherrienes, so I spit the piece out and kept on trucking.

    Years later, pain gets the best of me and I have to go get some molars looked at. Too late. Can’t be saved. Out the come. I have a feeling I’m not going to be around long enough for those molars to fill in the gaps. ;-)

    Yep! Girls do things different. The wife insisted the kids have their wisdom teeth out while in their early teens. Bet most women do that too with their kids. What a world!

    PS: I know some folks have tiny heads and mouths. (Girls) And they really don’t need wisdom teeth. But guys do! Best insurance policy Mother Nature ever wrote – “Four late teeth to fill in the holes”. I’ll bet there’s a good reason for guys to have an appendix too.

  11. Scarlet Pumpernickel says:

    @Ralph B sometimes the anesthetic won’t work if the pain is really great, as the pathways to the brain are so activated. And the area of infection becomes more acidic or infection in the area, so the local anesthetic won’t work. On occasions it’s sometimes better to go on a course of Antibiotics first to reduce the infection so you can get the area knumb. But some dentists just can’t give a good nerve block too ;)

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