Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ode to Tooth Number Seven

I had an adventure at the dentist yesterday.

Ok, really, I had a tooth extracted yesterday. Only it really wasn't a tooth anymore, it was a "root tip." That's what they call the thing that remains where a tooth has broken off.

Broken. Off.

This tooth, Tooth Number Seven, was the bane of my existence for a very long time. It grew in horribly crooked some twenty-five years ago, and my parents never thought it was enough of a concern to correct. I longed for braces--not just to straighten out my tooth for aesthetic reasons, though that was certainly a huge factor in my own motivation. It also caused me no end of pain, for Pete's sake. Bump the lip? Cut the lip. And suffer the wrath of the ever-present canker sore. Seriously, if I slept wrong, I'd end up with a canker sore.

It was impossible to floss around, being so tightly wedged against its neighbors as to disallow the floss, even the really thin kind, to swipe between them. This meant that despite frequent brushing it fell into rapid decay once the cavity began. I had it filled and re-filled, but the fillings never really sat well...and eventually the thing broke off.

Broke. Off.

In a cheeseburger.

A McDonald's cheeseburger, no less. With no pickles. I don't like pickles.

You know, filling enough to stave off rabid hunger, but soft enough to cushion the head of a sleepy toddler.

In other words, nothing requiring much chewing.

This occurred at the beginning of June, and yesterday, I had the resultant "root tip" removed. Sitting in the chair, sucking like mad on the stream of nitrous oxide, I remember thinking absolutely clear, lucid thoughts. One of them was this: why is it that when that gas hits your brain, you can think clear thoughts but cannot speak clear words? Some things are a bit funnier, yes, but for Pete's sake, why can't I tell these people about the things I'm thinking? It's as if physical actions will only go in slow motion where your voice is concerned, and your lips have turned to inflated rubber raft sides flapping uncontrollably in the wind. But in my mind, I was thinking about blog entries, soup recipes, thing on my t-do list (which certainly must extend from here to the moon) and every-day, ordinary things--and all at average speed.

Despite the inability to speak while gassed, I had not a care in the physical world. Where normally I would have stiffened a bit at the jabs which delivered the numbing medication into my gums and the roof of my mouth, I just sat there and thought about how many cans of red beans I need for minestrone soup. And instead of balking at the idea of someone taking hold of something firmly implanted into my jaw, I wondered if I should make stroganoff again soon or think of something else to fit into the menu. At the end of it all, I discovered that I now display a gaping hole in the space where Tooth Number Seven used to comfortably (or not-so-comfortably) protrude reside. My gums and jaw are a bit tender, but my lip rejoices in its delicious freedom of movement, delighting in the soft friend it's found in the space the tooth left behind.

I must confess, I almost like going to the dentist. This is probably because the people in the office we now patronize are kind and have an excellent rapport, both among themselves, but also with their patients. It's a clean, homey place, and the radio station piped into the treatment rooms is versatile and kept at a low volume. What's not to love? Besides that, they are compassionate, never once uttering phrases which used to ramp up my anxiety--things like, "Boy, do you ever brush your teeth?" (Of course I do.) And, "Haven't you ever thought of braces?" (Daily, since I was ten.) And, "Why don't you come to the dentist more often?" (Um, because you people make me feel sad and inadequate.)

My present dentist and his assistant (who really should be called something more like Guardian Angel, for Pete's sake) are fabulous. They get on so well together, have a delightful banter with each other, and have treated me with compassion and dignity, which I so greatly appreciate. It's terribly important, because I've been spending a lot of time there since my first appointment in July. I've had two root canals (done at another office, but the complements extend to them as well), two temporary crowns, with the second permanent scheduled to be placed next Tuesday, lots of fillings, with a few more scheduled in a couple of weeks, a cleaning, and when the vacancy left by Tooth Number Seven heals, I will be having a partial done which will cover five teeth and make me have a nice, pretty, straight smile.

I have also found that the long appointments afford an excellent time for interior prayer. With your mouth open and capable hands working therein, what else can you really do? There are only so many ceiling tiles to be counted, only so many times you can look for the hidden deer in the wildlife art, and since you already know the settings on the x-ray machine, you might as well throw in a bit of prayer here and there. I've offered Rosaries, prayed to my dentist's (and his assistant's) guardian angel, prayed for those who cannot afford dental care (which really counts me, but my Mother-In-Law is an angel herself!), for those who need far more dental work than I do, and so on. It's wonderful.

When was the last time you were blessed by a trip to the dentist?


hf52771 said...

In 2 weeks. Pray for me. Mine is a regular Dr. Mengele. But...he's funny. If you can imagine...

Anonymous said...

I am going through a similar situation - hope you do not mind if I share my (long) story with you. My number seven was very small (genetic abnormality, as I recently was told by a dental student) so i had a crown when I was a teenager some 30 years ago. About five years ago a dentist convinced me to have the crown replaced only for cosmetic reasons. 10 weeks ago it fell off as I was eating a sandwich (very soft bread) - I was in a restaurant - I thought i was going to faint. The tooth broke off inside the crown - seems the tooth was too small to support a crown. There is not enough tooth for a root canal, not enough room for a dental implant, I refused the three-unit bridge option because i refuse to have my healthy adjacent teeth filed down, this Friday I have an appointment with an oral surgeon that my new dentist highly recommends. I have lost 18 pounds in 10 weeks! I want crusty French bread in the worst way! Also, i went on a job interview missing a tooth! However, I am not in pain and there is no infection. My dentist suggested gargling with Listerine and peroxide since i can't floss at the moment - kind of a weird mouth feel, but my mouth feels cleaner. Best of luck to all you Number Sevens out there! CoCoHa