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HERB BENHAM: Long in the tooth — or missing one

I was surprised how small it was. Had they given me the wrong tooth? Was it similar to ending up with somebody else's baby at the hospital?

Recently I had a molar taken out. The tooth was like a dead star. It died a long time ago but the news took time to reach the earth.

When you hear the word molar, you think big, broad and something like the Hoover Dam spanning teeth on either side.

When I left the dentist's office, they gave me the tooth in a bag. It was like a party favor or a memento of time we had spent together. Some people have Paris, others have a molar.

The same thing often happens with mechanics, plumbers and spa repairmen who give clients the grievously wounded part, usually smeared with oil, in a Ziploc bag. This is like a cat leaving a bird on your front porch.

I'm never sure of the etiquette? Do you say, "Thank you. You didn't have to" or "I am touched"?

Normally I stare at the bag and think, "What do I do with this?" Encase it in clear glass or plastic as a shrine to the entropic forces of the universe?

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world."

Yeats aside, what they are really saying is: "This was a tough job. Look at how compromised this heater coil is. I'm surprised your car was not engulfed by a ball of flame."

I looked at the molar again. It was bigger than a Corn Nut but not as large as the giant Corn Nuts. As we get older, do our teeth shrink along with the rest of us?

"You should have seen my teeth when I was in my prime. I was like a hippopotamus. I could stampede a herd of impalas."

Not now. The tooth was so small that I'm not sure the tooth fairy would have given me $1 if I had put it under my pillow. That's if she had been able to find it.

The nurse complimented me on my teeth prior to the extraction, so it wasn't like I had bad teeth. It was just that I had small teeth. The kind of teeth a hummingbird might have if they had teeth and they do.

In retrospect, it was less my teeth she had complimented than my regular dentist and the dental work she had done.

"Your dentist has done a fine job," she said.

Then she repeated it in case I hadn't heard, or if I had, so I would remember it and I could do a Chuck Wall and pay it forward.

After the compliments, but prior to the extraction, she asked if I had wanted anesthesia. I'd like to meet the man or woman who answers "no," so I could never cross them. If they wanted to jump the line ahead of me at Jake's, so be it.

"I'd either like anesthesia, a shot of whiskey or a big stick to bite on," I said.

I thought it was funny but she didn't laugh. We'd both seen too many Westerns and I was not John Wayne.

I have a hole in the left side of my mouth now. It's a reminder that there are no superfluous body parts. You notice them when they're there but when they're not, all roads lead to them.

I have a choice: Go without and delight present and future grandchildren, get a bridge or an implant. I once had a friend who lost several teeth so he put in the wax teeth they sell at Halloween when he found himself in a social setting.

Implants are expensive. One will put you out of business and two out of your misery. I'll probably opt for an implant but this may be an opportunity to size up.

Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or 661-395-7279.