Molars and Mortality by Nicole L. V. Mullis

My family was traveling from Canada to Michigan for a four-day blitz. Breakfast was portable—drive-thru coffee and blueberry muffins. One bite into my muffin and…CRUNCH. I froze, then spit the bite into a napkin. Cold air whooshed over the exposed nerve of my previously crowned molar.

“Mah toof,” I moaned, picking the crown out of the muffin mash.

My husband, who was chasing his muffin with coffee, shrugged. “Good thing we’ll be in Battle Creek tomorrow. You’re lucky.”

I guess, but “lucky”? My tooth just fell apart.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” my youngest said. “You’ll grow a new one.”

I smiled. Wryly. Losing teeth is a rite of passage. When you’re a kid, it means you’re becoming an adult. When you’re an adult, it means you’re becoming a corpse.

We stopped at the duty-free shop. My husband bought gifts for friends while I checked out the damage in the bathroom mirror.

I never saw my tooth before they crowned it. It started as a molar with an old filling and became a hybrid—part me, part facsimile. The mirror revealed my part was just a jagged, discolored nub. A zombie tooth.  My stomach dropped.

My youngest stood next to me, unfazed. “Sometimes, when I didn’t like the hole my lost tooth made, I’d just put the baby tooth back in,” she said. “Try it.”

I winced. If she had baby teeth long enough to try that, we must have been really delinquent tooth fairies.

We continued to my grandparents’ house, where I called my dentist. They advised me to keep the crown safe and see them in the morning. If the sensitivity was bad, I could put the crown back on with a glob of toothpaste. Apparently, my youngest was on to something.

My grandparents offered me a plastic bag for the crown, tooth cream, and sympathy. I took the bag and kindness, but decided to leave my raw nerve uncovered. It made me feel less broken.

I ate slowly with my head cocked to one side, slurping tepid coffee through a straw. I kept running my tongue over the jagged edge and looking at the nub in mirrors. Yuck.

The pain didn’t bother me. Pain equals “still alive”. What concerned me was the tooth looked dead. I started thinking about root canals. That last-nerve-standing could be the first part of me taken by force. Death in a bite-sized package.

This led to other thoughts. Like how my oldest is taller than me. How I can wear my son’s boots. How my music is considered “classic”. How I fall asleep before ten. How I can’t drink mochas anymore without paying for it and how I say things like, “I can’t drink mochas anymore without paying for it.”

By the time I saw my dentist, I was a wreck. I held my crown-in-a-bag much like Hamlet held Yorick’s skull. Alas, poor molar, I knew you well.

My dentist took the crown. He assured me the tooth was alive; it just didn’t have enamel. He glued the thing back on and I was done.

I walked into the sunshine feeling silly but whole. My living nerve was quiet in its fake enamel house. All roots accounted for, my thoughts turned from mortality to coffee.

Hey, some things are better left under cover.

About the Author:

Nicole L. V. Mullis is a Sunday columnist for the Battle Creek Enquirer (2006-present).  Her nonfiction work has been featured in several newspapers and websites and, recently, Epiphany Magazine.  Michigan State University produced her three-act play, Sea Glass, as its ASMSU winner.  Mount Hope Magazine published her short story, “Those Who Trespass”, Fall 2012.

This piece originally appeared in the Battle Creek Enquirer on March 25, 2011.