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.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.