[This is the most Homeric story that's ever unfolded in my life, that until now, has only been shared as an epic oral history. Every site I've ever worked for has asked me to commit it to paper, er, blog, and I've consistently resisted.
Before I can get to the life-changing drama that unfolded in the year 2010, I actually have to sojourn more than two decades previous — when I was six years old.
In 1994, I had an incredibly high fever. The only thing I actually remember from that illness is sweating profusely on my family's faded blue living room couch, and that my Grandma bought me a Transformer (Ratchet, I think) to help me feel better or possibly to keep me company in the afterlife. It all depended on the fever, really.
Image: Ratchet But there was something else going on in my body that I didn't know at the time. According to several dentists, when my six-year molars were growing my abnormal body temperature did some weird stuff to them. Basically, where your molars are hard and white, mine are soft, brown, and prone to pain. Cold water was agony.
But it's not really that bad. Where kids growing up would wear their cavity-less status as a badge of honour, my molars were so permanently fucked that getting fillings was an almost annual tradition. Annoying sure, but little else.
OK, now let's fast forward to 2010.
At the time, I was a college junior writing for a local magazine in Columbia, Missouri. A week previously I'd gotten my first ceramic molar, which was supposed to be a permanent solution to the teeth problems I've had since I was six. But instead of affixing it to my naked tooth, roots and all, with permanent cement, the dentist opted for what she called "temporary cement."
Oxymoron aside, the dentist assuaged my fears that my tooth would not fall out of my head. They simply wanted to make sure the crown fit properly and everything was good to go before permanently affixing a piece of ceramic in my mouth.
Sure. Fine. You're the professionals. I will trust you.
So I drove my 2004 Mazda 3 (great car) back to college (about 90 minutes from my hometown in St. Louis) and went about my life. Classes. Drinking. Sleeping. Repeat. It was all wonderfully stereotypical.
Three days later, I was in the middle of a jam-packed Wednesday. I had two stories due to my editor early the next morning that were nowhere close to being finished, I had to meet up with a landlord to look over a new house I planned to move into the next semester, and I had one night class that blocked out my entire evening.
In order to optimise time, I heated up some gloriously disgusting Cup of Noodles (I told you I was college stereotype) and furiously began transcribing interviews. After the third bite. Searing pain. What the fuck? It felt like someone just jabbed a needle into my jaw. What the hell is this? Ow. It happened again. It's happening every time I take a.....breath.
The slow creep. The infinitesimal progress of realisation. After a few moments of tongue gymnastics, my fears were confirmed. I just ate my new tooth whole. It was like every small wince of tooth pain I've experience in my entire life condensed into every inhale and exhale.
First, I called my dentist. [The following conversation has been edited to omit my fathomless rage.]
Me: Hello, dear sir/ma'am, I ate my tooth and you told me that wouldn't happen so now I am quite perturbed.
Dentist office: Oh, dear me. If you're able to get to the office in the next two hours we can put on your old temporary cap. Sound good?
Me: Why, that is near impossible, friend.
Dentist office: Good luck!
I was now in a race against time. I called my parents, telling them I'd need to crash at the house that evening. I dashed off emails to my editor that read like the ravings of crazed person.
"Hey Andrew. So I ate my tooth and can't make that deadline. Thanks!"
And then I was gone, speeding down I-70. I did the normal 90-minute drive in 60 minutes and finally arrived at my dentist's office. Their faces showed only dread as if they could feel me coming like a hurricane. After going through the "I'm sorrys" and the "this has never happened befores," the temporary cap at least gave me respite from the skull-splitting pain.
By this point, my dad had showed up and began talking with the dentist outside the room. I couldn't really hear what they were talking about, but I didn't really care. For the most part, it was over. I wanted about 12 hours and a bed.
The dentist came back in with my dad and a box of rubber gloves. My father's face was a mixture of "hey nice to see you" with an added smirk that there was some kind of joke I was about to be let in on. The small Korean-American dentist told me that the temporary cap in my mouth would hold for now, but wasn't a permanent solution. Unfortunately, she continued, we've contacted your insurance company and they won't pay for a replacement. Seeing as a replacement would be upwards of $US1,000 ($1,298) (a lot for a college kid subsiding on a low-paying hourly job) there's only one real option — you could just go get it.
She subtly motioned to the rubber gloves.
They looked like these. At first, I didn't really understand what was happening. I think I might have chuckled. Ha-ha. Raise my spirits after such a crazy experience. Funny guys! I looked back and forth between my dad and my dentist. No signs of a response chuckle. This was happening. They wanted me to dig through my shit, find my tooth, and put it back in my face.
The dentist explained the plan like exposition from Ocean's Eleven. Since the tooth is ceramic it wouldn't be damaged at all as it passed through my body. I just needed to retrieve the tooth. They'd clean said tooth with anti-microbial, shit-cleaning lasers, then put it back in my mouth. But the entire plan was just background music to the mental strategy playing in my head.
They're asking me to dig through my own shit. OK. Have I ever touched human shit before? No! Why would I have? It's squishy, right? It's like picking up dog shit? I guess it depends. Oh man, I ate Chipotle for lunch. I also have to work tomorrow. What if it happens there? What are these lasers? Can I see these lasers? Do I have to live my entire life knowing a piece of my tooth has done a full tour of my intestines.
I was soon sent packing, with plastic gloves, back to college and my harrowing task laid out before me. I did some quick Googling and found solace that other brave souls have come before me. So before work the next morning, I packed my trusty box of rubber gloves and went about my day.
At around noon, the time had finally arrived. I went home and did what needed to be done.
The BM was unforgiving. Fun-fact: I never ate Chipotle again. It was like a Where's Waldo of misery. I won't go into much more detail, but it's squishy.
I looked, and looked, and looked. 10 minutes. 15 minutes. I wasn't about to go through this, miss the tooth, and flush $US1,000 ($1,298) down the drain. Of course, in the back of my head I thought that it was possible that this time wasn't the time. Maybe my tooth was still hanging out in my lower intestine somewhere? But still I kept searching until, Yes! There it is. I have it.
I cleaned off the tooth as best I could, which is to say not well at all, and placed it in a small Ziplock bag. A week later, I delivered the shit-encrusted tooth and was promised it would be cleaned with aforementioned microbial lasers. I got to keep the extra rubber gloves for free.
A month later, the tooth was ready. I gave it much more than a once over. It indeed looked like a tooth. OK, let's put it back in, I said. Permanent cement this time, please.
Six years later and the tooth is still in my head. No problem. Unfortunately, I told a group of journalists about the crisis (remember that email?) and lovingly received the nickname "Shit tooth" or some other variation of the same sentiment. During a drunken Gizmodo happy hour on Slack, I made the same mistake.
For those of you who stumbled on this blog because you find yourself in a similar predicament. Take comfort, and forge ahead. The next 24 hours will be gross, but you'll get through it.
And yes, it appears those shit lasers do work.