What I didn’t yet realize was that the delinquent tooth was mine.
That was the beginning of a misadventure that, among other things, resulted in my first encounter with Philippine dentistry. Before telling you about that strange experience, however, let me just, uh, “fill” you in.
Ivy and I had stopped for lunch in the barangay next to ours en route to downtown Surigao City. Upon finishing, it being an exceptionally hot day, we both decided that we were in the mood for something cold. The only treat they had was frozen Popsicle, not necessarily my favorite desert. But, what the heck, it was certainly cold and, as we soon discovered, hard as rock.
“Oh goodness,” my dear wife said, “don’t bite down on this, just take a lick.”
“Nah,” I said, quickly dismissing her suggestion. “I like the taste of the mush sliding down my throat.”
Then I bit in. It felt like any other bite; my teeth penetrated the frozen material with what seemed like the normal amount of pressure. It was, however, the next bite – which, regrettably, turned out to my last on this particular desert – that ended in the aforementioned jaw-jamming halt.
Staring at the cold Popsicle mush regurgitated all over my plate, I felt suddenly stunned. For there, oddly suspended in its middle, lay a lonely orphaned tooth. Geese, I thought, is this place careless enough to leave a random tooth stuck in its food? Only in the Philippines. Then my wife suggested that I check my mouth.
OK, I understand that I’m getting older. And as you age, of course, strange things can happen to your body. But I had felt no pain, nor even heard a crack. The bite had seemed successful in every respect. And yet I couldn’t ignore the rock-solid evidence now staring me in the face; a tooth on my plate, and in the upper left quadrant of my mouth, yes, a gaping hole.
Moving very slowly, I picked up the dead-looking thing and stuck it into the hole. It was a perfect fit. Apparently, the darn bit of organic enamel had snapped cleanly off just above the root. “Oh my God,” I finally admitted to Ivy, “I’ve just lost a tooth!”
My first inclination was to cry. Hers, fortunately, was exactly the opposite. And so it came to pass that my dear wife and I concluded our lunch date in uncontrollable peals of laughter.
Ok, pan forward several weeks. I’m sitting in the dentist’s chair of someone whose name I’ve never heard. We’d found him simply by walking into the lobby of the Surigao Medical Center and asking the security guard if there was a dentist on board. Now I’m sitting in his chair while he’s thoughtfully stroking his chin.
His first reaction had been to chuckle and remark that “well, the root’s still intact so you’re in no immediate danger. But eventually you should probably do something about it.”
Now he appears to be having second thoughts. “Tell you what,” he says, “let me extract the root and put in a denture.”
“You mean, like, something I’ll have to take out and keep in a glass of water at night?”
“Only when you brush your teeth,” he confidently assures me.
But I’m having visions of my fake yellow tooth sitting in that glass on the sink as my beautiful young wife steps up to brush her own lovely white teeth. Oh my God, I’m thinking, now she’ll really know that I’m old.
The dentist senses my discomfort and quickly comes up with an alternate plan. “OK,” he says, reaching for his pliers, “we’ll make it a bridge; only 16,000 pesos and I’ll pull that root out now…”
But I am put off by his eagerness. Apparently, so is Ivy who’s searing glances from across the room are about to set the place on fire. Without discussing it, we mumble our excuses and make for the door, though not before succumbing to his insistence on a 2,800-peso deposit for the bridge that, we both already knew, will never be crossed.
You’ve probably guessed by now that we eventually made other plans that involved gingerly stepping – though definitely not jumping – off that proposed dental bridge. And now, I’m happy to report, my wounded mouth once again feels whole.
But here’s the morale of the story, and I know you know it’s right; always listen to your wife when she tells you not to bite.
David Haldane is the author of an award-winning memoir called “Nazis & Nudists.” A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an American journalist, essayist and radio broadcaster whose 2018 story of the California desert garnered a Golden Mike award in feature reporting. He recently moved to Mindanao with his Filipino wife and their nine-year-old son. This column tells the unfolding story of that great adventure. http:///www.davidshaldane.
Also published in Mindanao Gold Star Daily