Like pulling teeth

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Like pulling teeth is an idiom. We will examine the meaning of the expression like pulling teeth, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

The phrase like pulling teeth describes something that is difficult to do, something that requires a lot of effort, something that is tedious, tiring or unpleasant. Something that is like pulling teeth usually requires unremitting effort that is exhausting and frustrating. For instance, trying to coax a picky child into eating his spinach may be like pulling teeth. Like pulling teeth is also a simile, which is a phrase used in a sentence that is a comparison of one thing with something else using the word like or the word as. A simile may compare two things with qualities that do not seem related, though there must be some similarity that is either literal or figurative. Occasionally, the term is shortened to pulling teeth and is used as a metaphor rather than a simile. The expression like pulling teeth to describe a difficult task has been in use at least since the 1830s, and may be older. Before modern dentistry, pulling teeth in a literal sense was a long, painful process that involved perseverance and physical strength on the part of the tooth puller, as well as the patient.


“I thought we played a little better basketball in the second half, but the first half was like pulling teeth at times.” (The Sandusky Register)

“To ask their CEO or someone senior to spare a couple of days or even a couple of hours for the common good is almost like pulling teeth.” (The Duke Chronicle)

For many years, convincing tribal citizens to fulfill their civic duties by participating in state politics was like pulling teeth. (The Lakota Country Times)

Heck, it was like pulling teeth even to get coach Fred Hoiberg to acknowledge what Parker had said less than 24 hours earlier. (The Chicago Sun-Times)

Progress is, however, like pulling teeth and with some evidence of a latent desire to keep rotting teeth in place. (The Irish Times)