I'm having two wisdom teeth pulled next month, and it's got me wondering: Why do we even have wisdom teeth if all they ever do is get pulled out? Anyway, I'm pretty freaked out about it. I asked the oral surgeon to put me out early, like maybe tomorrow, so I don't have to spend weeks worrying. But he flatly refused, saying the soonest he could possibly give me the anesthetic is 15 minutes before he operates.

"That's pretty narrowminded of you," I said. "What am I supposed to do until then?""Live your life?" he guessed. Not much in the compassion department, if you ask me.

The man has no idea who he's dealing with. Saying I'm afraid of having my teeth pulled is like saying Bill Gates is "getting by." This is a phobia of mammoth proportions. Until quite recently, not even my husband knew how deeply the problem affects me.

When I was growing up, our family dentist was chosen on the basis of his having successfully swallowed oysters that were attached by a thread to the bumper of a moving vehicle. He accomplished this dubious feat during a blindfolded fraternity hazing with my father. Besides not throwing up, which earned him Dad's respect and admiration, he was the only other Jew on campus.

Other than that, Dr. Stein had little to recommend him. The empty waiting room suggested that our family was his entire patient load. His personality was AWOL, his hands shook and he looked like a serial murderer.

The only anesthetic he used was the promise, "If I hurt you, raise your hand and I'll stop." This worked exactly once, since when I raised my hand, he didn't stop. He said it repeatedly anyway, in his boring monster-voice monotone. (Of course, my memories of him date back to when I was nine or 10, but to this day I could pick him out of a lineup.) My anxiety got so bad that I couldn't sleep or eat for weeks before a dental appointment. Finally my parents stopped telling me I was going to the dentist, and instead my mother said we were going shopping for new underwear.

We would drive to the mall across the street from the dentist's office, and I'd hold out the hope that we were actually going shopping until my mother would look me in the eye and cheerfully suggest, "Let's pop in and say hello to Dr. Stein!" This was always followed with, "Believe me, some day you'll thank me."

I never did. Maybe I should have, since she's saved me thousands of dollars in the long run, hating shopping as I do. And getting new underwear is the worst. Even those catalogs from Victoria's Secret make me nervous.

Just the other night, Mitch was rummaging through a pile of laundry looking for his Palm Pilot. Holding up a pile of my tattered undies, he asked, "How long have you had these?"

"Since college," I told him. "Buying new underwear makes me nervous. Haven't you ever noticed?"

Amazed at his short memory (not to mention his lack of observation), I reminded him of a time early in my pregnancy when my phobia was at its peak. One of the first things I worried about was how I would ever be able to take my own child to the dentist.

"Promise me you'll take the baby to the dentist," I begged Mitch.

"I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure babies are born without teeth," he said.

"I mean when he gets them. I'll do anything. Just promise I won't have to be there when he needs a filling."

"Are you saying you'll buy the groceries, do the laundry, clean the house, pay the bills, walk the dog, and feed the cats, and all I have to do is take the kid to the dentist?"

"Yes."

"Throw in shoveling the walk in winter and rotating the tires twice a year, and you've got yourself a deal."

The man is a saint.