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Going Dental

Matt Labash, king of the crown

Jul 8, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 41 • By MATT LABASH
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Like most civilized people of goodwill and sound reason, I’ve always held that violence isn’t the answer. It is, however, an answer. Which is why if I ever see Larry Randolph again, I intend to knock his teeth out. 

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anton emdin

 While I’m a forgiving New Testament sort of guy in theory, I’m also partial to Exodus’s tooth-for-a-tooth clause, for reasons that will become apparent. During senior year, I played behind Larry on our high school basketball team, as I did everyone who was faster, taller, and could drive to their left. (The only way I’d see serious minutes was if the team bus crashed, maiming the rest of my teammates.) Acutely aware that white men can’t jump, I tended to stay earthbound during rebound drills, since exertion would be just for show. One day, Larry crashed the boards in front of me and landed with his elbow in my grillwork. I felt no pain, except on the inside, when I heard a loud crack and saw two pearly yellows orphaned in the foul lane. 

My military father’s dentists fixed me up at no charge, warning that my artificials would last about 10 years. But as I babied my impostor teeth—cutting corn from the cob, taking care not to get punched in the mouth by irate profile subjects—and the years rolled on past their expiration date, I came to think they’d last forever. Last summer, forever ended. 

 When my tooth came loose on a piece of chuck roast, my dentist tried to finish it off, hand-tugging it as hard as she could seven times to no avail. Once my head stopped throbbing, she said she could take the tooth out with forceps, anesthesia, and all that girly stuff. New implants and matching crowns, even with insurance, would still come to about the price of a Volkswagen Jetta, though for a regular customer she could probably work it down to Hyundai Accent territory. 

It seemed a tad steep. So when I was tipped off to a university dental resident program that could do the same at a fraction of the cost, I applied, and waited months for admission, as my loose tooth hung like a mudflap, then finally came out. No matter. The money I’d save would be worth enduring the barbs of detractors who remarked that I looked like everything from a hockey goon to a homeless drifter as I awaited my new tooth. The only catch was that I’d be worked on by a student dentist. I’ll call him “Omar.” 

 Omar and I got off to a shaky start when I learned he was an Egyptian immigrant. Making small-talk about the recent chaos in his homeland, I carelessly said, “I guess Mubarak doesn’t look so bad now.” His entire family hates Mubarak, and they consider his every breath a rebuke, he replied. Mindful that Omar was about to go to town on my soft tissues with sharp implements, I gained newfound respect for the Muslim Brotherhood. “On the other hand,” I offered, “maybe it’s time some good Allah-fearing moderates cleaned that place up.” 

Over many terrifying appointments that resembled the dental torture scene in Marathon Man, Omar told me I needed to trust him. I tried, though I never managed to have as much faith in his ineptitude as he did. There was the time he nearly suffocated me with gauze during a bleaching, then told me to sit still and walked off to lunch as my air-hole constricted. He often rested his spiky dental instruments on my dribble bib, not that it hurt after he inadvertently stabbed my chest—right through my sweater—with the anesthesia needle while talking with his hands. He should’ve numbed my legs, too, since he nearly crushed them after accidentally raising my chair smack into a steel tray arm. 

 Then he dropped a drill bit down my throat, which I blocked with my tongue. (“Don’t worry, baby,” said a motherly dental assistant. “If you’d missed, we have an emergency room right across the street.”) And on occasion, he’d hit his knees, eyeballing the floor for dropped implant screws or crowns. Me: “Did you lose something?” Omar: “Not now, Matt, I’m trying to concentrate.” 

In the end, Omar affixed a fine-looking crown, though he warned, “It’ll probably come out. I used temporary cement in case something goes wrong.” Just a hunch—but I’m betting it will. Though if it does, Omar won’t fix it. He’s leaving town for his next residency. I don’t know where he’ll end up practicing, but I intend to find out. 

Because if I ever get the chance to knock Larry’s teeth out, there’s this dentist that I’m going to highly recommend. 


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