When pulling a tooth was agony

People from the older generation will recall that, back in the day, extracting a tooth was a rite of passage in its own right.

Back then, not many of us were taken to the dentist, meaning children's teeth were removed the jua kali way.

Anesthesia was science fiction to most of us, and the jua kali tooth extraction was pure horror.

Today's children have found refuge from the agony of tooth extraction in the person of the dentist.

Still, some parents are die-hard jua kali, such as my friend Odhiambo, who swears he cannot take his children to the dentist to have their milk teeth removed.

Even though he can afford dental services, he still claws out the children's milk teeth himself. "That's one way of making them brave," he says.

All the same, a visit to the dentist is still one of the more ominous and least lovable of experiences.

As much as anesthesia helps, there remains a respectable amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth, literally, in the clinic.

Last Monday, I took Little Tiffany to a dental clinic to have her upper incisors extracted.

There was a long queue when we arrived, and as we did not have an appointment, it took quite a while before she saw the dentist.

We mingled with patients with teeth of all types: brown teeth, missing teeth, crooked ones and some not-so-good-looking teeth.

Ahead of us were two patients — a girl in her teens and a young man, Bernard who must have been Tiffany's age.

The girl was first to go in, and from where I sat, I overheard her conversation with the dentist.

"Just lay still and take it easy. I will be very gentle," the dentist promised, and from the way he said it, you would have thought he was preparing the patient for a back rub.

We waited in silence.

Two minutes later, the dentist broke his promise.

Suddenly, the girl let out a wail.

We heard something that sounded like the dentist was sharpening a metal, followed by what sounded like water gushing out of a tap. Then came the dreadful sound of a drill, and the girl screamed once again.

My daughter asked why she was crying.

Now, I am sure you have seen those publications that dentists keep for waiting patients to go through, right?

Well, those books are also meant to save you from such questions, so I buried my head in one of the magazines and pretended that I did not hear the question.

Just then, the girl emerged from the dentist's theatre, the left side of her mouth so swollen that you'd have thought she was trying to chew a football.

Bernard and his mother went in, and I overheard the dentist once again: "This won't hurt at all."

For a millionth time, the dentist broke his promise.

Before long, the young man was howling and calling for his mother, but this did not stop the dentist.

Then came what sounded like a struggle, but the dentist apparently overpowered Bernard, and the screaming continued.

My little one heard all that, and I knew her confidence had waned.

"Daddy let's go home," she pleaded, her eyes full of fear.

I urged her not to worry, even as we waited our turn.

Bernard finally emerged, having cried to the last tear drop.

Other than that, he looked jovial as he flashed his brand new gap at Tiff before walking away with his mother.

A few patients later, our turn came.

As Tiffany lay on the couch, I smiled reassuringly at her, but this did nothing to dispel her fears.

"Do not worry, you will not feel any pain," the dentist assured, but as you might have guessed, this pledge was not entirely true.

Immediately a needle was pushed in to inject the anesthesia, she started screaming.

In between her screams, she looked helplessly in my direction, but this was one place where daddy could not be of any help.

Happily, the dentist was quick in performing his abracadabra and before long he had mined the two teeth.

Just like that, my daughter had a gap, and except for the jab, the procedure inflicted minimal pain.

At least, she was spared the agony of jua kali dentistry.