Jim Patrick tried to relax during his dental exam, but the severe pain made it hard for him to think of anything else. It had begun as a dull toothache, only a few days prior, and Jim had delayed making an appointment with his dentist, Dr. Godbere. But that morning, he was in such agony that he had pleaded with the office receptionist to be seen immediately.
“Well, Jim, overall your teeth look great, as always. There’s just a small cavity on one of your bottom third molars,” said Dr. Godbere. “Christ, it’s rare that I come across a full set of wisdom teeth that have as much room as yours. You’ve got great genes.”
Jim grabbed his cheek and sighed. “I’ve never had a cavity before. I didn’t know it would hurt this much.”
“The amount of pain you’re experiencing is out of the ordinary. But in the realm of teeth, gums, and nerves, nothing surprises me anymore,” said the dentist. “We’ll drill it and fill it.”
“Go ahead and drill, Doc. I’d never thought I’d be saying that to a dentist.” Jim smiled faintly as the dentist clapped him on the shoulder.
“I’ve known these teeth since the 90s. You’re in good hands.”
Godbere began preparing for the minor dental procedure. Jim tried to distract himself with a daytime talk show on the exam room’s TV, but he was already beginning to sweat. He was neurotic about his dental care, and was disappointed in himself for having to undergo a procedure that was fully preventable.
“Jim, I’m surprised you have a cavity. Has your diet changed since the last time you were in?”
Jim threw up his hands. “That’s the thing, Doc — I’ve been eating healthier! More fruits, smoothies, even drinking this special kombucha — my son said it did wonders for his gut flora.”
“Ah, I see. Fruits and juices are really acidic, eat at the enamel — not to mention the sugar,” said Godbere. “I’ve heard kombucha can really stain the teeth — and that it might be more hocus pocus than digestive aid. But we can talk about your diet later.”
Godbere tested his drill; the whirring of the motor made Jim cringe. The dentist then retrieved a long needle from his assistant and prepared to inject Jim with some novocaine. “You ready?”
Jim nodded, gripping the armrests on the dental chair.
“Then let’s get to work.”
Jim returned home later that morning, satisfied that he had dealt with his tooth troubles. It wasn’t until the early afternoon that the novocaine wore off, and he again felt the dull ache in his jaw. Dr. Godbere had told Jim it might take a day or two for the pain to completely fade, and had given him a prescription for Percocet.
By the time Jim was ready for bed that evening, his pain was on par with what he had experienced before visiting the dentist. Jim took the medicine, and still he barely slept that night. He called the dentist during his lunch break the following day, as he had been forced to down multiple painkillers just to get through the morning.
Dr. Godbere managed to get Jim in for a late-afternoon appointment. “Jim, you look good. I can’t believe you’re still in pain — it really was just a surface cavity, which I normally wouldn’t even bother filling. We’ll do some x-rays and figure this thing out.”
After the x-rays were taken, Godbere went over them with Jim in the exam room. “Here. Here’s the filling we just did,” said the dentist, as he pointed at the black-and-white film.
Jim followed along with the dentist, but he also noticed another blemish further down the tooth, and pointed it out. “Doc, what’s this dark blotch here?”
Godbere leaned over Jim to get a closer view of the film. “It’s not a cavity, and it’s probably not on the tooth itself. You sometimes see this sort of thing with wisdom teeth. They tend to pull up extra tissue, since they rarely have enough room to fully irrupt without disturbing the canals. Wisdom teeth are what we call ‘vestigial structures.’ They serve no purpose; they’re evolutionary holdovers from millions of years ago.” Godbere sat back and wrote out a prescription. “I’m prescribing you a rinse that’s meant to treat serious gingivitis. It should alleviate the gum pain itself — if this is a gum issue.”
Jim left the dentist’s office that evening feeling like he had received no real answers. He filled his new prescription, followed the rinse regimen, and popped a Percocet before retiring for the night.
To say Jim woke in pain each morning following his visit with Dr. Godbere would be an understatement. He was taking so many pills that he could barely function. He was a zombie at work and slept at all hours when he was at home. Jim was worried about getting hooked on opioids — he had heard the horror stories — and worse, his whole jaw ached when he wasn’t loaded up with Percocet. He called around until he could make an appointment with a new dentist and get a second opinion on his condition. He no longer trusted Godbere’s judgment.
“So, you say you’ve had a cavity filled and now your jaw hurts?” asked Dr. Robinson, as he examined Jim at his private practice.
“Just look at the x-ray I brought, Doc. I don’t think Dr. Godbere got all of the cavity or something.”
Dr. Robinson picked up the film and looked it over briefly before setting it down. “We can get the filling out and take a look, clean up anything that needs to be corrected.” The dentist was all too eager to replace the filling and collect an easy $800. He knew Godbere was an experienced dentist and considered the possibility that he was dealing with a hypochondriac.
Robinson’s office was built above a remodeled garage adjacent to his home. Jim certainly preferred the clean, modern, and professional setting of Dr. Godbere’s office, but he was desperate. The dentist employed one receptionist/hygienist, an older woman named Mary, who had greeted Jim earlier while chainsmoking in the driveway.
Mary entered the room, turned on a monitor, and laid out the tools of the dental trade on a pan over Jim’s lap, before telling Robinson that she was headed out for another cigarette.
“Okay, Mr. Patrick, I’m going to give you a shot to numb the area; then we’ll get the filling out and see what’s going on with my new camera.” Robinson lifted the long, thin camera and flicked its light on and off before attaching it to the drill. He placed the drill in Jim’s mouth and turned it on. “I can move the monitor if you don’t want to watch.”
“Oh, it’s fine, Doc. Do what you have to do.”
The dentist nodded and went to work. He soon had the filling out and was prodding around in the depression. “Jim, I think I’m going to have to drill more. There’s still some discoloration. I can see how Dr. Godbere may have missed this if he didn’t have a camera to really get in there.”
“Yeah, I don’t think he went down far enough,” said Jim, after the dentist had removed his tools. “Drill, baby drill!”
Robinson chuckled. “Okay, okay. I’m going to place this O-guard in your mouth, just to be safe.”
Soon enough, the drill was back in Jim’s mouth, the two men viewing its progress on the monitor. Jim watched as the drill slipped through the small hole, suddenly, and Robinson unceremoniously yanked it back out of his mouth.
“Shit!” said Robinson. “There may be some serious basal decay. The drill went all the way through and into the gum — as if the bottom of the tooth was hollow.”
“Wha’ now?” mumbled Jim, throatily, the guard in his mouth obstructing his speech.
“Well, let’s take a look,” said Robinson as he put the drill with its attached camera back into the man’s mouth.
They could see some blood pooling around the tooth and gum as the camera approached the rear of Jim’s mouth. When the device was placed into the opening in the tooth, the dentist gasped. Jim couldn’t quite make out what Dr. Robinson was seeing on the monitor. From Jim’s point of view, it looked like a dark, hairy patch in his tooth.
“This is unbelievable. Let me increase the magnification.” When Robinson magnified the hairy patch, Jim could make out a sickening mass of tiny, black worms living within his tooth and jaw!
Both men revolted, and the camera and monitor lost the image. Jim tried to say something, but he could only wrench out a shrill series of gasps.
“Bone worms?!” exclaimed Robinson, now incredibly curious. He maneuvered the drill back into place so they could again examine the issue. “Relax a minute, Jim. Let’s take another look.”
But before Robinson could get the drill into the tooth itself, both men spotted the worms emerging from the hole, snake-haired. The wriggling abominations had made a home of Jim’s mandible and seemed to be erupting, their hideout exposed. Jim panicked and grabbed the dentist’s hand and drill, and the drill whirred to life.
“No, Jim, don’t!”
It was too late. Jim had already jammed the drill toward the bewormed wisdom tooth. First missing and scraping a jagged line across the dentin of another molar, then adjusting and finding the mark — all while watching on the monitor above. It happened so fast; Robinson was powerless to stop the frenzied man from drilling into the tooth, then through the gum tissue, and eventually into the jaw, each of which had been hollowed as the worms progressed toward the surface. There was the whirr of the machine and the hideous crackle of broken bone and severed tissue. The drill easily broke through the passage made by the parasitic creatures, and Jim only ceased drilling when he had punctured through the flesh of his jaw.
“Mary! Get the hell in here, now!” screamed Dr. Robinson, as he finally unplugged the drill and restrained Jim from further injury.
Jim writhed madly and kicked the pan of tools set on the table hovering across his lap. Mary ran in, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, and helped the dentist keep Jim in the chair. Blood was running from the drill emerging from Jim’s jaw, dripping down his neck, even spurting when he turned his head too far.
“What the hell is that?” asked Mary, as worms as thin as human hair began finding their way out of Jim’s jaw, slinking down the drill itself and falling onto his shirt and into his lap.
When Jim passed out, Dr. Robinson and his assistant quickly contacted an ambulance. The ER doctors were able to remove the drill, Jim’s injuries were treated, and he was given a regimen of medications to kill off the parasitic worms.
The write-up on Jim Patrick’s diagnosis and treatment became a well-known case-study. It took time and effort on the part of the medical researchers, but they were able to determine that the worms had originated from a natural kombucha which Jim had purchased online from the Philippines, only weeks prior to his first symptoms.