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Kirby: The biting pain of a tooth gone bad

By Robert Kirby

| Tribune Columnist

First Published May 06 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated May 06 2014 04:32 pm

I can handle a lot of pain. It’s nothing to brag about. Most half-wits have this ability. We develop a higher tolerance for pain over a misspent lifetime of poor choices and worse behavior.

For example — and I’m not saying this happened to me — a dart thrown with sufficient force by an angry friend will lodge itself in a rib near one’s armpit.

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If going to an emergency room isn’t an option — say you’re supposed to be in school and not high — the same friend and a pair of pliers might be the only way to remove it.

This sounds slightly more painful than it actually is ... or so I’ve been told. What is certain is that it’s amazing how much pain an imbecile can tolerate. That’s good because an imbecile will always make it worse.

Years ago while framing a house, I nail-gunned my left thumb to a 2-by-4-inch piece of lumber. That wasn’t very smart. Far worse was agreeing to let a co-worker pry my thumb and the nail off the wood with a claw hammer.

There is one agony I cannot abide with any degree of stoicism: tooth pain. An impacted molar or a compromised tooth nerve ranks No. 1 on my list of "Top Ten Things That Make Me Want to Make You Scream, Too."

If I were to guess — and really what choice do I have? — dental pain is worse because teeth are located closer to the brain than ribs or fingers. The pain gets there quicker and is therefore fresher because almost none of it has worn off in transit.

Friday evening, one of my remaining teeth started to hurt. Not bad. Just the hint of a more spectacular pain to come. I took a million milligrams of Ibuprofen and went to bed.

I woke up on the ceiling at 2 a.m. The pain had gone from feeling like I was cleaning my teeth with a ice pick to flossing with a Taser. I spent the night venting my agony into my pillow.

The pain came and went over the weekend. It was not quite bearable if I remained completely still. It was intolerable if I tried to breathe.


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Monday morning I called my dentist. That’s how desperate I was. Normally I would sooner call a mortician.

Rodney Thornell has been my dentist entirely against my will for more than 10 years. Ours is a troubled relationship. We get along well everywhere except in his office where he spends a great deal of time in my mouth up to his elbows.

I explained the problem. Rodney asked why I hadn’t just called him at home or even stopped by. After all, he only lives a few blocks away.

Those are the words he used. The tone more accurately stated, "I have no idea how you lived this long."

Four hours later I was in a chair at the office of endodontist Troy Thomson.

Note: "Endodondist" is an ancient Greek word meaning, "I’ll have to remove your jaw, beat on it with a hammer, then reattach it with pop rivets and hot glue. It will be expensive."

Thomson said he would give me nitrous oxide, antibiotics and some pain meds. But first he would have to ratchet up my pain with a needle. Open wide.

Say what you want about narcotics, you know what the best drug of all is? The abrupt departure of pain. It’s a euphoria all by itself. I could get addicted to that.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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