Wednesday, December 11, 2013


When I read Agatha Christie's description of Hercule Poirot's terror at going to the dentist I originally thought it was amusing.  Although as a child I usually had cavities that had to be filled, the dentist was just another one of those painful things that I had to experience, along with shots from the doctor, and when I realized that if I relaxed before the shot, it wouldn't hurt that much.  That was a good thing when I had to be tested for allergies, and the tests were endless needles stuck under the skin with every allergen known to man.  My mother was with me and she later asked me if it hadn't hurt.  When I told her that of course it had, she said my face never showed any pain.

In contrast, my husband had developed a fear of needles that was so severe that when we went for our blood test before we were married, he nearly passed out!  He didn't really overcome it until he was diagnosed with cancer and then was having blood tests and I.V.'s regularly.  He also had had a dentist who believed that children who got cavities deserved the punishment they got so he used a slow speed drill to do the fillings.

When I was ten, being a very obnoxious child, I grabbed a pepper shaker and stuck it under the nose of one of my cousins, and he took the salt shaker, intending to do the same thing to me, but instead, he hit my front tooth and chipped it.  Eventually I had to have a root canal, and, again, it was just one of those things that I thought children have to put up with.  When I was an adult, I had to have the root canal redone.  I asked one of the priests I was working for to give me a recommendation, and off I went.
However, this dentist (whose first name was Adolf, ominously) was not a great believer in anesthetic, and I wound up having five shots during the course of the root canal, only when I yelped in pain.  Later I realized that the priest who had recommended this dentist had been tortured by the Chinese so a little pain at the dentist would never have seemed like a big deal!

From that point on, I developed an intense dislike of going to the dentist.  Right before I got married, I had to have the injured tooth pulled and a bridge installed.  Money was very tight, but the image of possibly having the tooth fall out in the middle of the wedding persuaded me that it was well spent. There were many times when I went in for a cleaning and that's all that happened, but there were too many others when I received the news that I needed a root canal or a crown.  I am just thankful that I was born without wisdom teeth and avoided a whole array of problems that way.

A few weeks ago I once again went in for a cleaning and all went well.  It was time for my annual x-rays, and as I was ready to go, I asked the hygienist if everything was fine with them as well.  She took a preliminary look and said, "Oh, yes..." and then she said, "Actually..." and went on to say there was something on one of my lower front teeth.  The dentist looked at the x-ray the next day, and I was called back in.  This time I had more elaborate x-rays and when we met, he said the best outcome he was hoping for was only a root canal.  That should have warned me that there was a much bigger problem.

He thought that it was lingual external (as opposed to internal) root resorption, which is rather like a dental autoimmune disease, but wasn't sure because the x-rays were not extremely definite.  He sent me to an endodontist, who agreed that it was external, which is more serious, and said they could try a root canal and medicate with calcium hydroxide.  Her long term prognosis was not hopeful, and she said it might be better just to extract the tooth and do an implant. Until the actual implant was in, she said they could put in a "flipper," which sounded as if I were going to be outfitted with something more appropriate to dolphins!  But of course if they extract the tooth, then its long term prognosis is terminal right then.

I was telling my French horn teacher how they hadn't seemed particularly concerned about my horn playing even though this tooth is part of my embouchure, and he suggested I see his endodontist since whether he was able to pay her depended upon her doing a good job with his teeth.  I drove half an hour downtown yesterday and saw her and learned that she is actually also a prosthodontist who specializes in full mouth reconstruction, and she said that ultimately the best thing might be to remove all four front teeth and put in a couple of implants and a bridge.  When I mentioned my teacher, she said, yes, but he has much larger teeth.  So I came home and called the first endodontist and said to go ahead and plan for the root canal, but not till after the Christmas concert.  The only good thing about all my dental travails is that the endodontist uses anesthesia where I will not remember the procedure, so perhaps I will not have another episode to add to my dental horror stories.


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