Monday, February 13, 2006

The Great Crack-Up; Or, "I'm Coming Out"

For those of you poised at the edge of your seats to hear the latest installment of What's Wrong With Me, here's what's going on with my back molar.

I got a late appointment at the dentist today. I like my dentist. He's fun, at least as fun as a dentist can be. He pipes the local oldies station all through his office and sings along. He's also a pilot and a World War II buff, so every room is filled with model airplanes and aviation artwork -- never a dull moment sitting there, unlike my doctor's exam room where all I have to look at are Viagra posters and scoldy notices about insurance billing.

They've gotten my history of this problem and taken my X-ray, and I'm sitting there in the chair listening to "Dancing Queen" while examining a framed print of a fighter plane when the dentist comes back in. He is not singing "Dancing Queen."

"You have got a big problem," he tells me somberly.

He shows me the film. There's an ominous dark splotch underneath the root of my tooth. It's an abscess...a big, ugly one. But the molar itself looks fine.

"Have you had any kind of recent head injury?" the dentist asks.

"No..." I think back to my recent parking-lot tumble. "Well, I fell on the ice around Christmastime. But I didn't fall on my head."

"Hmmm. The thing is, if you hit at a certain velocity, with your bite in a certain alignment, you could have significantly damaged something down there, without it showing up right away on an X-ray."

Long story short: No matter how healthy it looks on X-ray now, the tooth is going to die. The dentist told me I could choose a root canal, and all the hassle and cost that that entails, or have the thing extracted. He said, "If I were you, I'd just get it out of there." I said, "That sounds like a plan to me."

So...I am taking massive quantities of antibiotics, and tomorrow morning I have to call an oral surgeon.


No one on either side of my working-class extended family has ever been too fastidious about dental health; they all lived under the assumption, I guess, that they'd have dentures by age 30 anyway, so why bother. I've always rebelled against that. I always told myself that, by golly, I'm checking out with the full set of teeth God gave me.



Quotidian Grace said...

Yeah, I've been through the root canal and extraction wars myself. So sorry. I hope they have great painkillers and nitrous. I love nitrous.

bls said...

I had a wisdom tooth pulled out about 3 years ago. It was perfectly painless and no big deal at all; if I remember right, you have to swish salt water around your mouth for about 5 days afterwards, eat soft foods, and take some painkillers if you need them. (I'd describe some of the more colorful and interesting aspects of the procedure, but I think I'll wait till you're done.)

Really, dentistry is quite amazingly good these days. It's not barbaric like it was when we were kids; the needles are tiny, like pretty little shiny filaments, so thin that they don't even hit nerves anymore. They go in like buttah. You're totally numb the whole time and hardly know anything happened.

Really. Take heart; you'll be surprised how easy it is.)

LutheranChik said...

Oh, it's not the pain. It's just the idea. (Although, if you've got to have a body part removed, a backmost molar beats losing a lot of other body parts.)

I don't include wisdom teeth with my "original set," probably becasue my wisdom teeth were neatly buried in my jaw for the first 35 years of my life. Then I got braces -- something I wasn't able to do as a child -- and, to my horror, as my other teeth were shifting, these deformed vestmoving igial things started around inside my jaw, the tip of one actually breaking skin. Turned out they were all impacted against one another, their roots all twisted together; a real mess, necessitating some major oral surgery. Anyhow, I got them reamed out, in an operation involving the absolute best drugs you can imagine -- a Demerol and Versed cocktail. All I recall of the whole ordeal, which took a couple of hours, was sitting in the chair, looking out the window at a sunny day and contentedly listening to Frankie Valee and the Four Seasons: "Sherrrrrrie, Sherrie, Sherrie, bay-ay-bee..." I still remember that. I hope I'm that zonked this time around. Now I just have to bum a sympathetic ride for the 90-mile round trip.

MikeC said...

I know the feeling. And I appreciate your willingness to vent. "Shit!" is the appropriate response under the circumstances. Having gone through major periodontal work, I understand where you're coming from. The good news is that, though you may lose one tooth, you have every chance of keeping all the rest.

Nicodemia said...

Better out than in LC!! I had all the nausea of root canal work, etc. etc. and then the damn thing broke in half whilst eating a particularly crusty piece of Greek bread on holiday in Greece!!

Rather took the shine off the rest of the holiday!!

HereISit said...

The problem with the root canal is that afterwards you also have to have a crown, so we are talking big money. Of course, the oral surgeon is big money also.

Do you have to be zonked out for this proceedure? If not, I'm surprised that the regular dentist isn't suggesting taking it out.

You may have to have some sort of fake tooth put in, so that could also run into big money.

I had an erupted wisdom tooth extracted by the regular dentist, which was $80 compared to well over $1500 for my kids wisdom teeth being extracted at the oral surgeon.

Rainbow Pastor said...

I had a root canal done on a front tooth (not one of the center two, but one to the side) which I had smacked with an umbrella handle (don't ask). I was terrified, having gone through a gamut of dental work since I was a child (I probably had a cavity every time I had an examination, plus braces, plus crowns where I had more filling than tooth, wisdom teeth pulled--all four at once--and did I mention that I have a small mouth--really!--and I can't open wide, so it's really difficult to get at those back teeth?).
But it was a breeze! The oral surgeon worked through the back of the tooth--no crown required--and I went on to class two hours afterwards! I had to eat soup for a couple of days, but it was much easier than a lot of my other dental work.
Take heart, LC!

LutheranChik said...

I always wind up with the weirdest injuries...a couple of autumns ago I was taking down the fence around my then-vegetable garden, and in doing so a piece of fence wire suddenly snapped loose and whipped into my ear, gouging out an ugly L cut. Wouldn't stop bleeding. I had to go to the ER, get a tetanus shot, get stitches from the ER doc, who was having a hard time maneuvering in my was quite A Thing. My pastor, who is also famous for hurting himself in strange ways while pursuing his extracurricular interests (welding, sculpting, car-tinkering and such like), was really impressed that I had managed to scar myself in such an unusual way.;-) My dad used to have the same experiences farming, come to think of it...he'd come in the house mauled by barbed wire or livestock or machinery, and my mother would say, "I don't even want to see it." And his therapy of choice was topical application of gasoline.:-o

ding said...

i had major oral work done about 18 months ago - all my wisdom teeth pulled out and some root canal stuff. i was knocked out completely - yes, it's pricier but you can always pay it off on an installment plan. AND you get really good (cough) drugs. and they're legal!

it's relaxing to just lay back in a drug haze and put your tongue in the new hole in your mouth. you read magazines, pop some pills, mumble to your friends, sleep and spit out fluid. it's a week well-spent. really.

seriously though, i understand the fear. it's someone in your mouth. but it'll be fine in the long run.

RuthRE said...

Can I have some of your antibiotics? I've got me a respiratory infection and the quack I saw at our employee clinic refused me. I need to finally get my own general practitioner.

My sympathy for the dental work. I've got some upcoming next month myself. Were I closer I'd offer you the ride!

cheesehead said...

Well, Ive had my own dental dramas recently, including stage 2 of a root canal without the benefit of drugs. (Don't ask.)

But in seminary I had two extractions on the same side done all at once; one was a gnarly old impacted wisdom tooth. My best advice: if they offer twilight sedation, take it! It's awesome stuff!