Monday, December 6, 2010

First dental work in 20 years - ouch!

This is the first year since forever that I've had dental coverage through work. So, for the first time in literally over 20 years, I went to the dentist, and lo! They had a ton of stuff to do to me.

First it was a "cleaning". Basically they scraped all over the place, especially in between my teeth. I'm not entirely sure of the wisdom of this because afterwards, it felt like some of my teeth now had more space in between them -- space for food to get stuck in. The dentist of course recommended flossing, and as I hadn't flossed in over 30 years, I really felt sort of cheated because it seemed I now needed to floss because food was getting stuck in between the teeth that the dentist forced apart with her "cleaning" tools.

Anyway, there were a couple of minor cavities, and one wisdom tooth. The x-ray showed that the tooth was what they call "horizontally impacted" -- that is, growing sideways. Moreover, there was bone on top.

Before surgery, there was a huge list of caveats that I had to acknowledge, like the possibility of permanent nerve damage or a broken jaw. The alternative was loosing the molar in front to a cavity, and more serious procedures later.

At this point it felt sort of ironic to me that taking care of my teeth had caused the molar in front to not fall off, and disallowing the wisdom tooth to come up in its place, thus apparently thwarting Mother Nature.

Anyway, I signed off on the list of horrible risks with the faint assurance that "it probably won't happen".

After "freezing" my mouth (applying enough anesthesia to numb half my jaw, so that it felt like it had been frozen stiff by winter), the dentist started work on it, then stopped. She said the bone was in the way.

Well, DUH. Didn't she see that on the x-ray?

So she sent me to a specialist, who assured me that it was no big deal, and it would probably take all of 25 minutes. There was the same list of risks, but the specialist assured me that the list was just a catch-all, and the procedure wouldn't involve most of the serious risks. This seemed much more reassuring than "it probably won't happen"!

As it turned out, it took a bit more than 25 minutes. He had explained the basics -- that he'd chip aside some bone to get at the tooth, then crack the tooth into bits to pull it out. What he didn't prepare me for was the drilling that resulted in the smell of burning teeth, and the use of an instrument that looked like a thin screwdriver to crack the tooth -- and he wasn't going easy on the cracking, either. I could feel real effort put into levering the tooth till it cracked!

The procedure took a bit longer than anticipated because he apparently wanted to go more carefully with the crown area that had grown very tightly against the roots of the molar in front.

Afterwards, I was sewn up and given prescriptions for Tylenol-3 for the pain, and 500mg capsules of antibiotics. There was a caution against driving, and a warning that there would be swelling.

What they didn't tell me was that my face would swell so much it would look like half my family tree was surely made up of chipmunks.

Then there was the horrible sick feeling and stomach queasiness that was apparently from the antibiotics. Plus the pain contributed to a not-so-mild headache. I survived one night of work, but called in sick halfway for the following night. My boss, who'd had major dental surgery earlier this year, encouraged me to take two days, and sure enough, I slept through Saturday and Sunday under a haze of feeling ill and a headache.

I toughed through most of the pain because the Tylenol-3 certainly didn't provide massive relief, and afterwards it was too mild to really justify a pill. Still, it's day four and there's a lingering mild headache from the pain of the still-puffy cheek pressing against my teeth, and being unable to close my jaw fully because I'd bit on a bit of swollen cheek.

No proper chewing possible yet, so I've been having soups and swallowing small chunks of food.

Oy vey.

There's got to be a better way of handling wisdom teeth.
How about sonically pulverizing the tooth and letting the body absorb the calcium?

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