“Have you ever had a toothache?” a friend asked me. I hadn’t experienced one, so I could not empathise with him. When, a couple of days ago, I suddenly woke up at night with a piercing toothache, I understood why my friend was so scared of this pain of pains, to borrow a biblical phrase.

Toothache has a strange way of tormenting the sufferer. Seldom does it strike during day time. More often than not, one experiences the shooting pain at night while asleep. It unnerves you at an unearthly hour when there is no doctor around and no medical shop open.

I was always under the impression that heartache would be the greatest pain of them all — until I felt the pangs of a toothache.

It’s strange, why don’t we come across a phrase in the English language that has toothache in it as a metaphor. Instead, we get ‘pain in the bottom’ or ‘pain in the neck’ — which I’m sure can’t hold a candle to toothache in its intensity and persistence.

Many languages have phrases that are related to toothache. French has more than 10 toothache-oriented idioms. Urdu has numerous toothache-based phrases and sayings. The poet Akbar Ilahabaadi wrote: “Dard-e-dandaan ji ke dard se badhkar nikla/ Sar chakra gaya, mooh se na nikla jumla” (Toothache exceeded the pain of heart/I felt so dizzy I couldn’t speak).

“Toothache is more nagging than a nagging wife and more irritating than an ex-girlfriend,” wrote the English poet Ogden Nash.

Well, I’ve not had the exasperating experience of bumping into my ex-, but yes, I’ve had first-hand experience of toothache at its smarting best which will remain verdant in my mind and memory till I go to meet my Maker.

The toothache is as old as humankind. The oldest mention of toothache is from a Greek text, written 3,500 years back on papyrus. The writer vividly described toothache and called it ‘the cumulative effect of all curses.’

It’s no joke. Whoever suffers from a toothache, will not want it to befall even his worst enemy.

sumitmaclean@hotmail.com

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