I have often heard folks describe some very difficult enterprise by saying “it’s like pulling teeth.” I have, in fact, used the expression myself.

But I’m not sure I had really understood how hard pulling teeth can be.

Baby teeth don’t count. I’ve pulled those with my fingers, or with a Sugar Daddy.

I had all four wisdom teeth taken out when I was in college, and I remember the misery of healing from that ordeal, but I was breathing nitrous oxide and out like a light while the actual extractions were going on.

Not so when I recently bid farewell to a molar that had outlived multiple fillings and a crown. The oral surgeon used a local anesthetic to deaden my jaw and and a nitrogen-powered drill to cut the tooth into three parts — and when it still hurt while he was drilling, he just squirted more lidocaine straight onto the roots. He then used a tool that looked like a screwdriver to break each part loose from my jawbone — as the dentist pressed and twisted and pushed, his assistant held my jaw firmly in a vise-like grip. I could hear cracking and splintering sounds, and when the final piece broke loose, it was all he could do to keep from puncturing my tongue. As it was, I came out with what looks like a busted lip (he called it a “stretch mark”) and a chipmunk cheek, as if we’d had a rowdy brawl rather than a genteel dental appointment.

I also left with the remains of my tooth in a little manilla envelope, a supply of gauze for packing, and a syringe for irrigating the resulting crater until it gradually fills back in with gum tissue.

In the future, I think, I’ll be more careful when comparing difficult things to pulling teeth … that metaphor’s more powerful than I thought.

I should probably reserve it for things like “Getting Republicans and Democrats to agree is like …”

Or Baptists and Baptists.

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