There's this to be said about oral surgery: Unlike so many other painful procedures, no one tries to tell you it's no big deal.

On the contrary, the only choice is the kind of anesthetic you sign up for.

It makes me feel for people in the old days. When agony drove them to let dentists or barbers or friends come at them with pliers, they had only bullets to bite on.

I went with local anesthetic, but I could have chosen the unconscious route. Dentists are extremely accommodating. They know the fear they inspire is second only to the fear of public speaking.

I can attest to that, because before the rare occasions that I've spoken publicly, I've wished all my teeth would fall out. Anything to get me out of speaking.

Dental employees are the warmest, friendliest people on earth, more welcoming than Walt Disney World, sweeter than sorority girls during rush. "Hel-lo!" sang the receptionist when I arrived. "Just a few forms and we'll get you right back there." It's the word right that makes the difference. It's cozy, like your favorite aunt saying, "Sit right down and tell me all about it." It also distracts from the anxiety provoked by "back there."

A woman with a clipboard came out. "Ariel!" I heard her say.

I looked around for a mermaid, possibly one clutching her jaw, but my husband poked me and I jumped up.

The woman and I settled in an office with a release form. "Tell me in your own words what's happening today," said the woman.

"Having a tooth removed?" I said. (Didn't they know?)

"We ask, because some people have no idea," she said. "Will you be asleep or awake?"

For a second I thought she meant my plans for later, back on my couch. Then I caught on. "Awake," I said.

"People going to sleep are always nervous about that question," said the woman. "They say, "I thought I'd be asleep!' And we say, 'Yes, yes! You'll be asleep.' We just need to know we're on the same page."

My next stop was a cubicle and a dental chair. The chair didn't look important enough to be the place I'd be getting half a tooth yanked from my head, but then the dentist trotted in with a needle substantial enough to make up for the chair.

He was good-looking in a movie-sidekick kind of way. Not starring-role handsome, but a more than presentable wingman. I shook my head to get the stupid thoughts out before he looked into my mouth and possibly saw them in there.

"A pinch in your cheek," he said, like an affectionate uncle, and went to work. It was fine, though he didn't need to say, "Now the roof of your mouth." Just numb me up, please, and spare me specifics, such as, "Now a needle in your right eyeball."

The procedure itself was over in less time than it takes to pump gas.

I felt tugging in my upper jaw and tooth bits falling on my tongue.

When the dentist called for "the Stryker," I pictured a mallet, but the Stryker turned out to be a drill.

"You won't feel this, but it'll be loud," he said, oversharing again, and I was pressed back in my chair by 115,000 pounds of thrust. I fully expected to take off and concentrated on keeping my head still. I certainly didn't want a little thing such as reaching 10,000 feet to cause the dentist's drill hand to slip.

"Just a little more and we'll get you right out of here," he said. (There's that "right" again.) He filled the socket with bone graft, seemingly in someone else's head, and tidied everything up.

Incidentally, I've learned that dental grafts are done with cow bone, a cringe-worthy fact only until you imagine anything else. Squirrel bone, for example.

Then I was given my party bag of gauze and led back to my husband, and we went home.

It was a lovely day, overall. If you need dental surgery, I urge you to schedule it right away. Especially if you have a speaking engagement coming up.

Write to Margo Bartlett at