In 36 years, I’ve never been subject to medical modification. I’ve suffered cuts and bruises, of course, but have never had a doctor use tools on me with even local anesthesia. No cavities, operations, or even orthodontics. All the usual suspect parts are still with me: appendix, tonsils, wisdom teeth.

I’ve known this cannot last. Nonetheless, over years of carefree somatic integrity, I only grew less prepared for the inevitable. The need to entrust another human with a knife, drill, or laser pointed beyond the skin has remained a curiosity of other people’s stories.

A week ago, though, I discovered a sharp edge in my mouth. It didn’t take long to discern a gaping void where one of my molars has spent decades solidly preventing my tongue or wayward food from exploring. There was no pain, but this clearly could not be ignored and my years of dental negligence were at their end. Especially after Shannon frightfully exclaimed that a quarter of my tooth was missing upon inspection.

The timing was perfect; we still had months to go before leaving Munich.

Around the corner from work, a dentist keeps an office above a side-street cafe. If you didn’t know where to look, you’d be unlikely to find it; the building otherwise appears to be apartments. The office felt more like an apartment itself, with a foyer that happens to have a large stone desk.

My new dentist was an older gentleman with darkened, leathery skin and hands that shake as if Parkinson’s is setting in. When he grasped a pen, at least, they become as rock steady as his evaluative gaze. He explained that my insurance card was useless to him, but we would worry about money later after he inspected the “defect”. One of his assistants, a tall, young, picturesque blonde, lead me to the exam room, which was dominated by a large terrarium enclosure. Finding me inspecting that, he casually explained that there are no snakes at the moment, for they did not survive the winter. I proceeded to sit down, and he waved off my apologies for a tea-soiled mouth and went right to work poking at teeth.

So, I experienced my first anesthetic under the blinding glare of an operation lamp with a gruff old doctor taking a needle to my mouth while shouting German to his other assistant (the shorter young, picturesque blonde). This is pretty much how I always expected being a patient would be.

The ordeal wasn’t that harrowing, really, and I left with an epoxy-rebuilt tooth that’s indistinguishable from the original, with records and clear directions for a long-term dentist in Seattle.

I’ve now crossed a line. Rather than “repaired”, I feel I have been augmented via the introduction of synthetic material. My new bit of molar is superior in many ways to the original, so I wonder why I don’t have more replaced. Perhaps I can have a sensor-laden molar installed that can report on the timing and composition of my food intake.

The state of medical augmentation technology is quite impressive, with artificial bones and organs commonplace. With an increasing appreciation for self-measurement, how long must we wait before sensors are developed for voluntary implantation? Will sports regulators allow a simple blood sugar sensor, which could be a valuable training tool but also a safety device? How will they confirm that you don’t have a VOMax-boosting oxygenator woven into a lung?

Now that I’ve accepted a man-made improvement to my physical self, I’m eager for more.

I posted this in May 2010 during week 1888.

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