Words of Wisdom Teeth

Design by Sara Offer

Twelve-year-old me sat restlessly in the office of Dr. Lee, one of Manila’s most notorious oral surgeons. Perched on the stool a few meters away from me, Mom took a close look at a dental x-ray of mine. “Look,” she said, passing me the photograph.

Two teeth were erupting diagonally from both ends of my lower gums, only millimeters away from pushing the entire set of molars, premolars, canines, and incisors on my bottom jaw closer together. Instead of suggesting a simple extraction, Dr. Lee called for my gums to be sliced open and my wisdom teeth to be cracked apart and removed as broken pieces.

At this moment, there was nothing intrinsically wise about my wisdom teeth. For the most part, they were merely parasites that emerged from the bottom of my gums, leeching off my body’s Calcium and Vitamin D reserves, and potentially forcing my molars, premolars, incisors, and canines into disarray. No matter where in the gums they may erupt, inanimate fusions of bone and enamel will never possess the most life-changing insight or profound perspective. 

A week after my first appointment, I sat still as Dr. Lee pierced a syringe needle through the ends of my gums and injected the anesthesia. With immense force and graceful precision, he cracked apart my wisdom teeth with his miniature chisel and hammer. 

The anesthesia did its job. The only part of my body that felt anything was my ears when the cracking became audible. By the end of the surgery, Dr. Lee passed me the remains of my wisdom teeth enclosed in a small zip-lock bag, now only deformed fragments of bone and enamel, entirely unrecognizable from what the x-ray had shown.

I barely ate for a week. Spoons couldn’t fit in my mouth’s now-small opening. The soft foods Dr. Lee recommended––ice cream, Greek yogurt, or my mom’s green smoothie––tasted sour to the fresh wounds beside my left and rightmost bottom molars. Even with an empty stomach, somehow I looked like I had survived the ‘chubby bunny’ challenge, except with the marshmallows tucked permanently in the spaces between my teeth and cheeks. 

Recovering was painful, yes. But experiencing life with chipmunk-sized cheeks and a stomach far less sated than what my pubescent appetite demanded didn’t come without odd perks. I remember my then five-year-old sister at the time commenting, “You look good like this!” a few days after my surgery. With a new look—an enlarged face and temporarily skinnier body—it was almost as if I was a new man! Even Dr. Lee himself asked, “Who are you?” unsure of who I, the twelve-year-old boy with swollen cheeks, was when I appeared in his office for a checkup a week into my recovery.

But newness always means change. As my grandma would say as I recovered, change from this surgery meant I was seriously growing up. The procedure embodied the forthcoming insight and perspective of my teenage years. But my body felt no new wisdom. All it could feel was pain, as if the strides toward a more sagacious self demanded suffering. 

Today, at age twenty, I am still reliving the process of being that twelve-year-old in Dr. Lee’s office. At my last dental check-up, I was reminded that the wisdom teeth on my top jaw still remain. As I write this, my x-ray appointment nears.

Nonetheless, as unfitting as their naming might be, I realize now that I’m left with an important lesson—one beyond time and teeth.

Karma is a bitch. In threatening the balance and alignment of my lower jaw, my wisdom teeth met a painful and tragic end: an immense overdose of drugs beyond what they could possibly take, coupled with a mindless sedation that culminated in their gruesome dismemberment, where they were cracked and hacked apart by a chisel and hammer. The universe has next to no good fortune in store for those who jeopardize the welfare of those around them. Certainly, my wisdom teeth, who—for the entirety of their brief existence—only lived to threaten the alignment on my lower jaw, met a fateful and well-deserved end. So, don’t be like my wisdom teeth. Be a good person. Have integrity.

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