Carpe Dentum

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February 4, 2009 by skwishface

Brush your teeth. Every day. But that’s really not enough. Also visit your dentist regularly. Do it.

As of about a week ago, I had not entered the presence of a dental professional of any kind in about eight years. I’ve always had healthy teeth (only one cavity in my life, and that was on a baby tooth that was getting pulled out anyway to make room for my grown-up teeth, which were growing in rows not unlike shark teeth), and the combination of years without dental insurance and a certain youthful false sense of invincibility had convinced me that I had no need of such things as dentists. Also, I hate everything about dental anything. I hate other people’s fingers in my mouth, particularly when clad in latex. I hate metal tools scraping my teeth. I hate merciless bright lights and the wretched sucky-hose thing they use to get your mouth as dry as uncomfortably possible. Having spent years in braces as a teen, I felt that I had done my time with the dental industry. I could just brush my teeth every day and swish with mouthwash every now and then, and I would be fine.

I was a fool.

About two months ago, I was happily munching popcorn when an almighty crack in my jaw heralded the beginning of the end of my dentistless existence. I had broken a tooth. Not just any tooth, but the very very back molar on the upper right. I poked at the tooth with my tongue, and diagnosed it as no big deal. It felt like just a chip, nothing major, and it didn’t hurt at all. Clearly I would be alright. I completely forgot about the entire thing until about two weeks ago, when a chunk of that tooth just fell out.

Understand, I have recurring nightmares about my teeth falling out. At least every few weeks, I’ll have a very vivid dream in which I can clearly feel every one of my tooth falling loose of its moorings and just floating around in my mouth. I always wake up before I can experience the horror of spitting all of my teeth out into a handful of the devil’s own pearls. According to these flakey people, these nightmares could indicate anything from my own insecurity and powerlessness to the imminent death of a close family member. Whatever it means, I experience this often enough that when a chunk of broken tooth suddenly came loose and started floating around in my mouth during dinner with my family, it was like a dream come true. In a Freddy Krueger sort of way.

The chunk of tooth that I had to find a way to politely spit out was discolored and unpleasant. It smelled bad. This was not a healthy tooth, by any stretch of the imagination. Still, it didn’t hurt at all. While that fact had been reassuring before, it was cause for concern now. Shouldn’t broken teeth hurt? If there’s no pain, what does that mean for the nerves inside the tooth? Crap, time to go see a dentist.

The field of dentistry has evolved, y’all. My new dentist is a very nice man who prides himself on being as painless as possible. Very gently, he pried open my mouth and put this little wand thing in my mouth, which took pictures of my tooth. Then he put those pictures up on a monitor, so I got my first good look at the damage. That was some real third-world mess back there. Half the tooth was just gone, and what was left was all sorts of colors that teeth really shouldn’t be. The general consensus was that the tooth was already rotting when the popcorn attacked it, thus the break. He poked at it with a little device that was supposed to tingle the tooth nerve, and I felt nothing. My tooth was pronounced dead. But there my treatment paused.

I’m almost 32 weeks pregnant, y’see, so my dentist was loathe to proceed with anything. No x-rays, no extractions, no medications, no nada until he got word from my OB/GYN what he could and could not do. So I talked to my OB and told her that I had a paranoid dentist on my hands. She laughed, and then explained to me that dentists are crazy. Some of her pregnant patients have actually told her that their dentists refuse to even clean their teeth for fear of somehow damaging the baby. The major concern seemed to be pain medication and anesthesia. As my doc explained it, if my baby were born today, and she needed pain medication, it would not be withheld from her. So why withhold it from me now, when there are layers of filtration between the meds and the baby? As for anesthesia, I could not be put fully under, but local anesthesia would be just fine. The only dental stuff prohibited would be anti-inflammatories and nitrous oxide (something silly about how nitrous can cause spontaneous abortion).

Armed with knowledge, I returned to the dentist and  started the process of assessing the damage to my tooth. Long story short, there was not enough tooth left to save. The whole thing would need to be yanked out. And since his investigatory drilling had exposed the tooth nerve and the only thing keeping me from mind-blowing pain was the local anesthetic he’d (painlessly!) injected, the tooth would need to be pulled immediately.

If you’ve never had a tooth extracted, take my advice. Don’t. At least not while you’re pregnant. Normally, tooth extractions involve being put under general anesthesia, so you just sleep through the whole ordeal. This makes things easier on the patient and the dentist, since it tends to cut down on the writhing and screaming. But when you’ve got a baby on board, they can’t do that. All they can do is pump your face full of enough local anesthetic to make you wonder where your tongue is (which sounds alot dirtier than it is). The procedure didn’t hurt, it was just very very uncomfortable.

In order to reach the tooth in question (all the way in the back, on the top), they had to put my lips and cheeks through some pretty extreme contortions. The goal appeared to be removing my lips entirely, and splitting my cheek down the midline. The stink of ozone and burned hair (which is apparently what overheated tooth enamel smells like) wafted out of my mouth throughout, and lingered on my breath for hours. And then there was the sound. The grinding, sawing, shattering sound of my tooth being systematically sectioned into easily removable pieces. I would have gladly slept through that sound, which I will be taking with me to my GRAVE. Compared to that sound, the feeling of intense pressure and then blood-spurting withdrawal as the sections were removed was almost a relief.

It wasn’t that bad, really. I felt no pain, and the anesthetic wearing off was cushioned nicely be half a Vicodin. The Girl in my belly remained active throughout, balling up under my ribcage and pummeling my kidneys in protest of all the racket. Which was strangely reassuring. The whole thing was uncomfortable, but it was a temporary discomfort. I squeezed my eyes shut and reminded myself that in a couple of months I’ll be labor and the real discomfort begins. The dentist was stunned at how calm I was, kept making comments like “what a trooper” and “you’re a good li’l patient”. Li’l. The man is at least twice my age, so I’ll let it slide. Just this once. Since, ya know, he had tiny whirring blades of death inside my mouth at the time.

Ultimately, the aftermath is not that bad. The pain is manageable by Tylenol, which is good because Vicodin turns me into Crazy Fun-Time ADD Girl. She’s a fun girl, but not great in a work environment. I woke up this morning looking like I’d gotten soundly slapped on my right cheek, all swollen and faintly red. As I sit at my desk with an ice pack held to my face, coworkers keep passing by and asking me if I’m alright.

Sure, I tell them, I’m fine. I just got mouthy at The Husband last night, but he put me in my place. No worries!

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