Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Case of the Missing Tooth

Today we have a guest post from:  Me, at age 14.  I wrote this in 1995 (OK, I know you're all doing the math, and yes, for the record, I am actually HAPPY that I am finally 30!), for our family newsletter.


"Yes, that's right.  It's the third, bottom, left-hand molar .... over."

"Roger, roger.  Was that the first molar?  Your transmission is a little garbled.  Over."

Dad pressed down the button of our radio microphone, "That's third.  The spelling is Tango, Hotel, India, Romeo, Delta.  THIRD, over."

"OK.  Now, you're telling us that Danica's molar is ... broken in half?  What do you plan to do about it?  Over."  Dad was talking to someone in the capitol city of Honiara, 250 miles south of us, about my tooth which had decayed and finally cracked in half earlier that day.

My mind flashed back to the beginning.  It had all started with a swollen, painful area around my tooth a bit after Christmas.  I decided to show it to 'Doctor Mom'.

"Well," she said, peering into my mouth, flashlight in hand, "It looks pretty red.  Better brush and floss really well."  I hoped she'd finish her examination because my jaws were starting to ache from holding my mouth open so long.  "OK, you're free."  I let out a thankful sigh.

For the next two or three weeks, I carefully brushed it and tried not to chew with the left side of my mouth.  Then, one day as I was reading, I was absent-mindedly chewing on a pen when I felt it go through the top of my tooth.  "Hey," I thought, "that's not supposed to happen."  I decided to ask Mom to look at it.

This was during our scheduled short-wave radio time, and it was taboo to even look at Mom from noon to 12:30 while she stood by the radio, trying to hear messages for us from Honiara.  Finally, I heard her say, "SITAG Luaniua, out," and approached her.

Armed with a flashlight, she took me into her room.  Another session of poking and prodding with my mouth stretched open to the limit.  "Danica."  Oh, oh.  I knew that tone.  "Danica, have you been messing with your tooth?"

"Uh, yeah."

"Danica," she sounded upset, "There's a hole in your tooth."

"Uh, yeah, what about it?"

"Oh, Danica," she set the flashlight down.  "David," she called my dad.  "Will you come and look at Danica's tooth?"

I heard Dad click a couple more keys on the computer and push his stool back.  Once again, I tilted my head and forced my aching jaws apart.  Dad peered in.

"We'll have to fill it.  Do we have any filling compound?"  It was not an option to simply go to visit the dentist because there is no dentist, or doctor for that matter, here in the outer islands.  We do every fix-up job ourselves.  We kids have become pretty skilled at handling tropical ulcers, but broken teeth are a different matter.

Mom swabbed my tooth first with antiseptic cleaner, then alcohol.  She poked in this grey, pasty stuff.  I bit down on the piece of cotton which she placed in my mouth.  "Will it stay in?"  I asked doubtfully.

"I hope so," was her reply.

It didn't.  After three brushings, my filling was totally dissolved.  Oh, well.  Another three weeks went by.  The next disaster happened when I was reading, as well.  This time, I was chewing on a bit of plastic when I felt it crack.  "Hey," I thought, "what was that?"  I gave another two experimental chews to see what would happen.  Crack!  This time, I felt something smooth and hard and tiny in my mouth along with the plastic.  I spit it out.  Oh, oh.  That looked suspiciously like ... I put my tongue to the back of my tooth.  Instead of feeling a smooth, round surface, my tongue encountered a rough, jagged hollow.

I dropped my book and ran to the small mirror hanging over our kitchen sink.  I tilted my head forward and forced my eyes up to the mirror.  Yep.  My tooth was cracked.  The back half of my molar was laying in my hand.  I took it to Mom.

"Guess what this is?"  I said.  She glanced at it, did a double take and demanded that I open my mouth.  She peered in, then sank into a chair.  "David," she called my dad.  He came in and the three of us had a conference about what to do next.  That is, the two of them had a conference and I sat quaking, half pleased about the commotion I had created.

"We'll have to send her to Honiara," Mom was saying.  "There's no way we can fix it here."

I broke in.  "You mean, by myself?  Who would I stay with?"

"Oh, we'll find someone," said my Dad.  "Well, it is almost radio time.  I guess I'll tell the people in Honiara what happened."

As Dad talked, I mused.  Go to Honiara by myself!  I was dazed.  I imagined the trip there - boat to Auki, then plane to Honiara - alone.  I imagined being picked up by friends at Henderson Field and driving into town, then staying at another translation family's house.  Sure, I knew the people who I would be staying with, but ... travel alone?

I heard Dad's voice again.  "All right.  Yeah, it's good that this happened just when a ship is coming out here.  Don't know what we'd do if it was between ships.  Thanks for everything.  This is SITAG Luaniua, out."  Dad shut the radio off and turned to me.  "Well, Danica, you'd better get packed.  The ship should appear on the horizon sometime tomorrow morning."

I lost my stomach somewhere in the future.  I stood up and managed a smile.  "Well," I said brightly, "This is an adventure!"

Dad smiled at me, "We'll miss you."

For the rest of the day, I lived in a flurry of getting ready.  Mom came into my room and gave me a talk about behaving myself.  I was given a shopping list, money, and a whole lot of do's and don'ts.  While we waited for the ship to come, I tried to go about my regular routine:  choir at night, church the following day, Sunday School, and a game of basketball afterwards.  Through it all, my stomach felt like a whole family of butterflies had moved in and had brought relatives along.

Eventually, I tried sitting down with a book.  Maybe that would be relaxing.  I poured myself a cup full of granola and found a comfortable place to curl up.  I was well into the second chapter when ... crack.  I knew that sound.  I fished out the other half of my tooth, washed it off and called out to Mom.  "The other half of my tooth broke off!"

I opened my mouth for her to see.  She peered in.  She emerged with a funny look on her face.  "Danica," she said, "are you sure that molar was permanent?"

"Pretty sure," I answered, "why?"

"Because," she said, "what we thought was the dentin looks suspiciously like a new tooth coming in!"

We contacted Honiara radio at 5:00pm.  "We have good news and bad news.  Over."

"Roger, roger, go ahead."

"Well, the bad news is that the other half of Danica's tooth cracked off.  The good news is that there is a whole new tooth coming in underneath!  Over."

"Well!" came the reply, "That was an adventure!  Over."

And it was.  "This is SITAG Luaniua, over and out."


  1. Lovely writing, great story had me hooked to the end. What an exciting childhood you must have had.

    Keep up the great blog work.

  2. Love this story! Hope you write more of them :)