Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chew on this

This post may be painful to read. I know it was painful in person. But the whole time I was in the chair, I just kept thinking about how much was going on, how rich for explanation the experience was. How many sensations were happening all at once: smells, sounds, and flying debris. It was disgusting through and through, and did give me some perspective into why dentists can charge upwards of $500 an hour.

Yes, this is the tale of a tooth. Or partial tooth, as the case may be.

It was last Thursday night when I was flossing my teeth (I kid you not), when I heard as a slight "pop" and had the sensation that something had broken, then exited my mouth. It happened quickly, and was a complete surprise, so I was not sure exactly what had transpired. I searched the sink vanity, even the basket of shells that sits atop it, but I could not find the mystery shard anywhere obvious. I found nothing, not even in the inside chambers of the faded green urchins. Did I simply imagine it?

I tried to blow it off, I really did.

But lack of physical proof was unable to convince me that something monumental had not occurred. You simply can't ignore the wisdom of your tongue. You know what I mean. As soon as there is the most minuscule change in your mouth it is constantly seeking out the difference. Exploring what, exactly, has changed, shifted, or twisted.

My tongue was feeling a new sharpness on the outside corner of a bottom left molar, and a new tenderness in the gum below.

But honestly, flossing? How could that, the standard of good dental hygiene, create such a shift?

It seemed impossible.

I went to bed.

Friday things were no better. My tongue continued its relentless pursuit, and lunch time proved irritating. Was there actually food getting under the tooth? My thumb nail was now in the game, gingerly removing debris that my tongue was too think to dislodge. Ew. I know.

I called my dentist; he doesn't work on Fridays. I left a semi-desperate message.

The weekend proved to be more of the same. But with more pain. Flossing became quite adventurous. I could get that string halfway under my molar. Some of the morsels that were dislodged? Not choice, let's just leave it at that. My jaw line under the tooth was growing ever more tender and my gums increasingly scratched from my constant meddling.

Monday finally arrived, no appointments were available; Tuesday at 2 was the best I could do.

Upon arrival I was asked to explain the situation. I tried to impart that something was very wrong, something more sinister than the need for a new filling. But my chart history and last round of x-rays led Dr. Jones to believe this was the solution. He simply thought he'd numb me up and re-work the filling.

Dr. Jones underestimated the work at hand.

After the dratted and freakishly long q-tip dunked in local numbing goo was pressed against my inner jaw for what seemed like forever, the scary needle was introduced to the very same, hopefully by now numb, spot. "You might feel a twinge," Dr. Jones uttered just seconds before the pain descended. It was minor though, and short-lived, and so worth not feeling the true pain of a metal drill bit on my naked nerve root, that I did not really mind.

I sat there by myself for a few minutes waiting for the numbness to spread, wondering, not for the first time, why Novocaine makes you feel as though the whole side of your mouth is disproportionately large. Giant, in fact. It's as though you have sprouted a grotesque half lip in mere minutes.

Dr. Jones set into work. It was not long before things went awry. I can't recall his exact words of surprise. But surprised he was. My tooth, apparently, had half crumbled right then and there. His assistant was impressed as well.

"We're going to have to change course, here," he said.

Whatchagonna do? I was numbed up and drooling, leaned all the way back in the mechanical chair, with that annoying little napkin-like pad resting on my chest, secured with those silly silver clips.

"Okay then," I replied, although I almost felt like saying, "I told you so."

My tooth was so damaged at this point that it needed to be "built up," but not until it was thoroughly cleaned out. This involved drilling. I sat there while pieces of tooth and old filling broke off into my mouth, while the smells of rotting food and later, burning enamel, wafted by, and a delicate fine mist of my own spit and the water they spritz in your mouth to keep things clean settled on my face. I could literally see the fine fountain spray. It was disgusting, but oddly pretty. The odors were nothing but gross. As were the chunks of debris I was asked to try to dislodge when I "rinsed out" (an aside here, when they say sit up and rinse, who the hell waits for the chair to be lifted? it takes forever. And if they then see that you're already sitting up drinking from that ridiculously small Dixie cup, why do then THEN raise the seat, forcing you to then wait for it to again descend before they move on. Most of us have enough core strength to sit up and rinse, right?)

The torture went on and on, at one point I heard Dr. Jones say to his assistant, "No not that one, not in this case; this isn't normal."

The abnormal was time consuming. After the drilling and cleaning, they built the tooth up with god knows what. He'd ask for the material, dab it on, then they'd "cure" it with some magic light saber they'd  press against said molar. Dab, cure, dab, cure, dab, cure. Repeat.

Finally they present me with a gooey plate to bite into. It was oozing with what looked like melting silly putty, and took me right back to my orthodontist's office on Joppa Road. How long did I sit there with the silly putty dripping under my tongue? I don't know. Long enough.

Sadly, that impression was for the permanent crown I'll be getting. So a similar impression still had to be taken for my temporary tooth topper, which when you peer into my mouth now, looks like a small piece of chewed Original Trident stuck there, reminiscent of the flattened gum "retainers" we all used to make and stick to the roof of our mouths in grade school.

But this Trident tidbit was not from a pack of 20 that cost 60 cents. No, this temporary was part of a bill that set me back $977.00, which was after the $200 patient discount.

That's right, after 1 hour and 20 minutes in the chair, I walked out to nothing but a credit card beating. And the best part? I get to go back on March 10th and do half of it again.


Have felt your pain in PA said...

My mouth hurts just reading that!

I chose not to write about my nightmare crown from several years ago, so thank-you (i think)for documenting yours.

I guess I should feel lucky that Central PA dentists only screw you for $600...and that my dear friend, and fellow school board member, was a dentist. This came in handy when the "1 in a million" chance of an infection happened, and he met me at 10:30, after a cummunity dialogue, to shoot me up with enough pain med to get me through the night. I have given birth, drug free, 3 times and would prefer that over dental pain EVER AGAIN!

Might I also note that our district's teachers have a dental plan SO SWEET that they get root canals and crowns for a $20 co-pay...crazy, huh?! Wish I was a district employee and not a volunteer elected official.

Have fun on your return visit and wear a gum retainer, just for fun!

Me, You, or Ellie said...

Oh. My. God. The horror! That is so awful, Beth. And the bill, ye gads! On the bright side, you are such a gifted writer. You should send that in to a dental magazine or something.

Flossing is overrated.

And thank baby Jesus that I'm married to a teacher, which for now at least covers my family's dental needs for the cost of a copay.


Pickles and Dimes said...

Aw, God. This is awful! Now my teeth have that weird tingly-itchy sensation. THANKS. :)

Me, You, or Ellie said...

Oh. Dear. God. I read this with one eye closed and the other eye hidden behind my hand. I can give a kidney without blinking but I cringe in terror at the thought of the dentist. And the orthodontist. And there is nothing even that wrong with my teeth. Well, not yet.

Poor you. This is terrible. And the bill is criminal.

Something must be done! [shaking my fist at the heavens.]

Good luck, Beth. And my condolences.


Logical Libby said...

WHAT THE HELL MADE YOUR TOOTH CRUMBLE? I was riveted, but really, what made that happen?