A year and a half ago during a very busy week, my husband’s oldest daughter’s wedding week, I broke a tooth. It was a back molar. The inside quarter of the crown snapped right off in my mouth while I was eating chocolate chips. This will seem funnier later.
Because it didn’t hurt and it seemed to be okay I decided I could ignore it and I didn’t need to have a dentist look at it.
I told no one.
Pride? Fear? Who knows?
I just know for over a year I knew I had a broken tooth hidden in my mouth that no one else knew about or could see. But I knew about it every day of my life. When I brushed my teeth, when I rubbed my tongue across its now sharp edges and felt the broken space, the emptiness, I knew.
Briefly I thought that this might be an issue. But a month went by, three months, six months and then a year. Nothing. Just a broken, jagged tooth. I dismissed the possibility of it becoming a problem.
Until last month.
Last week I woke up with horrible ear and jaw pain. I endured both for three days. Finally I went to the walk-in clinic. I had an ear infection. Not a flaming one, but the beginnings of one. Way too much fluid in my ear, and definitely the wrong color. So, the doctor put me on an antibiotic and said if the pain in my ear and jaw were not markedly better in two or three days then I needed to see someone else.
Sunday and Monday the pain persisted. Dose after dose of antibiotic. Does after dose of ibuprofen. I woke up Tuesday morning and the pain was far less severe. I was quite happy. All this time I had this niggling feeling that this broken tooth of mine was causing the problem.
On Tuesday I went to school and taught. Ate lunch, and then went to work. In the next hour I thought by jaw and ear were going to explode. Stabs of pain. Pulsating and hot.
Enough was enough.
I called the dentist. Asked for an emergency appointment. They accommodated me and got me in in less than an hour and a half.
I explained the whole ordeal. My teeth were examined. X-rays were taken. And two more tests were done.
My tooth was dead. The tooth I had worried and hidden was dead. And it was the culprit of my ear and jaw pain.
I had two options. Leave it in my mouth and do a root canal and crown or extract it.
Take it out.
The tooth that was once strong and healthy became damaged, and I failed to take care of it. Now, it was causing me pain and visible to everyone.
I’m not sure I tried to deceptively hide this; I just didn’t bother to tell anyone.
But as I lay there in the chair, being numbed with giant needles and then for thirty minutes as the dentist attempted to get this broken, dead tooth out of my mouth, I prayed. This constant litany of prayer. For me. For him.
And I shook. My whole body. The nurse later told me she could see my jaw quiver. Somewhere in the midst of the whole ordeal the dentist patted my shoulder and said, “By the way, you’re doing great.” His words barely registered.
I remember at first just thinking I wanted to be strong. Unafraid. I didn’t want to flinch or react. This had to be done. It had to be removed.
About midway through the dentist and I realized that the roots of this tooth were deep. Deep and curved.
About three-fourths of the way through he realized the tooth was going to have to be cut in half and pulled out in two pieces.
My mouth became somewhat of a war zone. He pushed and pulled and wiggled my tooth with such force that I could feel it in the other side of my jaw.
At last one root popped and came out. Then the other.
And it was done.
I was still shaking. Still praying.
He explained why it had been so hard. Because the tooth was broken it was very hard for him to get a grip and a purchase on it. Then the other half of the crown crumbled as he tried to pull it out. But it was extracted. All of it. No roots left. No roots to set up a bitter infection. He looked at the nurse and said let’s get her cleaned up.
At that point my face must have registered some serious confusion. She began to clean my face. TMI I know, but there had been blood in the fray. And shrapnel. Pieces of the tooth were on my face and chest. She was gentle and very sweet.
The dentist told me I could sit and relax.
The nurse asked me if I wanted to see the tooth. I did. Such a tiny thing. Two tiny pieces of bone. And they caused so much havoc.
They explained how to take care of the wound. Of the hole. Of the socket where the tooth had once been.
Finally I felt steady enough to walk out. To leave.
And I did.
Over the course of the next few days I would play the day and that scene over and over again. At one point I stood up to get something and I discovered my hip, knee and ankle on my right side were incredibly sore. What in the world? I sat down in the recliner to relax and watch a little TV. I crossed my right ankle over my left and then shifted my weight. That’s when my hip, knee and ankle really hurt. I looked down and realized that the recliner was much like the dentist chair. During the whole procedure I was in this exact same position. I tried so hard to handle the situation well that I tensed my whole body in a position that looked relaxed, but in reality my ankles were locked together like a dove joint.
Somewhere in my review of the day I realized the Holy Spirit was speaking to me. I
illuminating. Exposing. Revealing.
First, I believe the enemy did a great many things to deter me and derail my focus from some very important events. He caused me to look inward to the pain. But what the enemy means for bad, our Mighty God always can show you the good.
Second, I believe my tooth was and is much like the idolatry. Originally our idols may have been something healthy and good, but if they get damaged and then hidden? Well, then they deteriorate and decay. Then they die and they cause pain. And sometimes we can’t tell where the pain comes from. We treat other things. And the pain continues, until we find the source.
Third, when we recognize that damage has been done we need to go to God. Immediately. We are not to wait and roll our tongues over the edges and see just how sharp they are. We are not to assume that just because it seems to be causing no problems right now that it will continue not to do so in the future. That’s a very faulty and dangerous assumption.
Fourth, I believe we need to lay down our pride and this staunch stoicism of wanting to appear strong. To appear unfazed. To appear in control. To appear confident. To appear flawless.
Fifth, I believe we need to pray. Pray. Pray. And pray some more.
Sixth, it's amazing to me the tools God will use to teach us.