Thursday, September 11, 2014

Story time. How do your gums feel?

I have a story that I need to get out of my head so that it will leave me alone. It has nothing to do with video games and everything to do with dentists. If that is a phobia of yours then I will see you tomorrow after I get back from Galloping Ghost Arcade.

My teeth are bad to an almost amusing degree. It would be more amusing if the total dollars spent on my mouth didn't add up to more than my car and motorcycle cost, combined, and that does not include the braces I had as an adolescent. Having spent that much time on my back with strange men and women poking around my gums it is safe to see that I have almost seen it all. I have had a tooth completely knocked out of my face, the bone around the socket crushed, and the tooth placed back in said socket. I have had multiple root canals, more crowns that I can count, something new called an inlay that is like an inverse crown, and cavities in each and every tooth. My dental resolve broke in my mid-thirties and I stopped going. Conscious sedation brought me back - it shifted all of my problems onto the poor soul who had to drag me back to the car, but it got the job done.

I have only screamed once. Like most people I did not go to the dentist while I was in college. I was invincible and drunk most of the time, what did I care if my teeth were rotting away. Post college, when I started getting work done again, I heard the one think you never want to hear a dentist say when he or she has a drill in your mouth.

*whiiirrrrr*crunch* "hm. Oh my."

A gum line cavity had literally hollowed out the tooth. As the dentist drilled in from the side to fill the cavity the tooth collapsed on itself. It was root canal time, right then, right there. Root canals hurt no matter how many shots you get, but what choice did I have? The initial task of scouring the swollen nerve from the tooth was bad but bearable. Once it was clean the dentist went about measuring the depth hole left behind. This was done with a sharp metal spike that was clamped to the side of the effected tooth.

The nerves in your teeth run down through the bottom of the root into a bundle that takes them down your jaw towards your neck. This bundle isn't that far away from the bottom of the root and remember, the root canal hollows out the area of the tooth where the nerve was. That nerve may be gone but all of the other ones are still there.

That metal spike the dentist was using to measure the depth? It was much longer than I thought it was. The clamp holding it in place slipped and I moved my jaw to warn the dentist. The spike hit the top of my mouth and was driven down through the root into the healthy bundle of nerves below.

No one even asked me if it was safe.

The point of that, besides it being a good story, is that I know what pain sounds like. At least I know what sound I make. A few days ago I was back at the dentist getting a crown reattached that I had swallowed a few days prior and an inlay. These were of course on opposite corners of my mouth so I was numb from ear to ear.

There is a lot of dead time when getting a crown put in. It allows the dentist to work on other patients and me to sit up and breath for a bit. During one of these breaks I noticed that the office muzak was a bit louder than usual. Just over the muzak, over a truly offensive Free Fallin' cover, I could hear a whining. It started out low, just occasional, like a child who was being made to clean her room and didn't want to.

Then it got worse.

The child was frantic. No words, just guttural sounds, almost feral.  It went on and on and on. At one point one of the dental assistants left the room, in tears, to try and compose herself. This all happened behind me and around a corner so I couldn't see anything, just hear the child making the same noises I made when my nerves were introduced to sharp surgical steel.

Then it got worse.

I heard the heavy steps of my dentist move past behind me and a door close. The screams stopped for a moment, calmed by reassuring lies that what was going to happen next wouldn't hurt or that they were almost done. There was a drill and the child screamed again, muffled this time. I knew that her mouth was being held open, that a drill was inside. I knew how it felt, at least I thought I did. The difference, and what hurt me the most, was that I understood why the pain was there, why it was necessary and that it would eventually pass. To a child every moment is forever. At that moment the whole world was pain.

When the dentist returned to finish my procedure he could see I was shaken. 'She's okay now' was the best he could come up with. I asked what she was having done. Three root canals in baby teeth, several abscessed. Baby teeth don't drill like permanent teeth, they shatter. And swollen gums don't respond to numbing agents as well as healthy ones. The child was under the same conscious sedation that I had in the past so my only solace is that she might not remember any of it.

But I will. Brush your teeth, boys and girls, brush your teeth.

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