Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Number 11

Prior to October 5th, I was living in a world where the word "endodontist" had no bearing on my life. But on that day, after experiencing heat sensitivity with one of my teeth for several weeks, I went to see a dentist in Keene in an attempt to ease the pain.

I have had a lot of dental problems in my life, thanks to congenital issues passed on from one or both of my parents. Here's a condensed rundown of my major dental defects: I have too few teeth on the top jaw and too many on the bottom; I was born without some of my adult teeth and with certain teeth in the wrong place (like lodged in my skull near my nose); my front teeth have always had a gap, though it was larger when I was a kid, so the dentist tried to close the gap by cutting out the tissue that connects the upper lip to the gums; I got braces at age 12 and wore them for four years; during that time, I had my wisdon teeth removed and, while I was under, had that misplaced tooth (the one that was up by my nose) uncovered and attached to my braces by a wire, so that it would be slowly pulled down into the place where it should have originally rested; and after the braces were removed, I needed a gum graft for the tooth that had been transported from skull to upper jaw.

The best part of this history is the sad fact that I failed to wear my retainer after the braces were off (I was going through a rebellious period), so my teeth drifted, rendering the whole braces experience a general waste of time and money (sorry, Dad). Luckily, I have learned to accept my teeth and my smile, so the fact that my teeth are the way they never bothered me too much.

Until October 5th.

While at dentist's office, I was informed that I might need to have a root canal. Everyone in my family has had one—even Alison, who, by comparison, has pretty great teeth. Somehow I'd managed to avoid those two dreaded words all my life. Now, however, I was facing the prospect of living through the horror that I'd heard others describe. And guess which tooth contained the dying nerve. You got it: that impacted-near-the-nose nightmare from earlier in my life—number 11.

And so it began, the speedy roller coaster ride of emotions and outflow of cash that accompanies all minor surgeries. It happened so fast. One minute I'm fine, chewing away on hot foods like a pro. The next day I'm feeling enough pain to land me in the dental chair. Then it's off to the endondontist's for a consultation that quickly turns into a confirmation of the need for a root canal (which the medical comminity has craftily renamed "endodontic treatment," causing me to inquire about what exactly it is that an endodontist does—the answer: root canals...and nothing else).

I could feel the ball forming in the pit of my stomach when I was given the news about my need for endodontic treatment. It quickly hardened into a little pebble of fear and uncertainty when the assistant informed me that "she had just gotten word from the doctor that he has time to do the procedure RIGHT NOW." I decided to go for it. I mean, what other choice did I have? So they pumped me full of novocaine and antibiotics and set to work with the drill.

An hour and $1086 later, I was told that the procedure could not be finished that day. Since my number 11 tooth had experienced so much trauma from being moved around, it had built up a large deposit of calcified matter in a last ditch effort to protect itself from more trauma (like a root canal). The doctor was not able to get through the calcified area with the drill, so they filled the hole with a chemical that would—if everything went as planned—slowly dissolve the calcium deposit, and plugged that sucker up with a temporary filling. What, I'd asked, would happen if everything didn't go as planned? I probably could have gotten more information about that possibility out of the wall than the assistant, who, in her silence, made it evident that my problems would escalate to a new level if the chemical dissolution failed.

I made a follow-up appointment for a few weeks out and tried to think positively about the tooth in the interim. When I returned for the second half of the treatment, everyone seemed very upbeat. I listened intently, trying to cull any information I could out of the scant, technical conversation that was buzzing around me. This plan was about as successful as the converation I'd had with the assistant at the conclusion of my first appointment, so I just layed there and hoped for the best. Finally, I heard the doctor say that they had been able to get through to the root and the procedure would be successful.

I wish I could say that this whole ordeal is in my past, but I cannot. For those who are unfamiliar with the reality of root canals, after the treatment is done, there is still a whole cycle of processes to sit through. First, I'll go back to the dentist to have the temporary filling replaced with a permanent one. Next, a mold will be taken so that a crown can be made to protect the rootless tooth from cracking—a prospect that would be very unfortunate after spending so much time and money on the endodontic treatment. Last, the crown will be placed over the tooth, thus completing the long and costly attempt to save it.

When everything is said and done, I will have spent roughly 5 hours and $2400 on number 11. The up side is that I can keep my natural, albeit severely flawed, tooth and forgo paying even more money for another set of dreaded words: a dental implant.

Let's not even go there.

1 comment:

  1. Oof-I can feel your pain, physical and financial both. I haven't had a root canal on a while but I need two dental implants. Like you, I am not going there!