On Having Good Teeth, Bad Gums

A few months ago, a loose tooth that I had been ignoring for oh… ten years or so made it clear that it was DONE. That side of my face blew up as if Severus Snape had cast a spell on it. After a few days of downing Tylenol and trying to tame the beast with garlic, salt water rinses, and turmeric, it became apparent that this proverbial can could no longer be kicked down the road.

I’m lucky in terms of health. No chronic aches, not on medication for anything. The one trouble maker is my gums. “Good teeth, bad gums” was the pronouncement of my childhood dentist Dr. Mills. He was kind and gentle, and I was friends with his daughter. I’ve never had a cavity. I did get my wisdom teeth out when I was 17. After that surgery I had jowls like Richard Nixon for days, but you know, ice cream.  So overall, I don’t hate dentists.

Gums and their specialist periodontal docs are a different matter. I’ve had minor surgery on all four quadrants multiple times. This involves prodding tender areas, gadgets holding your jaw open, scraping and digging and needles jabbed in your gums. It’s one quadrant at a time, so you get to look forward to the invasion four months in a row when you have bad gums, good teeth. Thus, you’ll understand why upon arriving at the periodontal office, I couldn’t stop shaking. The Tylenol was wearing off too.

The hygienists eyeballed me from the back office and had a heated conversation over who was going to have to take me on. They foisted me onto the new girl.  She had to call in an experienced nurse to hold me still while they took x-rays of ‘the affected area’.  I did natural childbirth with no drugs whatsoever so don’t go thinking I’m a pain wuss, this was out of the park, a 12 on a scale of 10. The nurses spoke in very soft voices and patted the air near my arm, as if my pain were contagious. The doctor, when he finally came in also adopted sotto voice mode with me. “It looks,” he said in muted tones, “like you need to have this out.”  No kidding, I wanted to retort but didn’t.  Not good to goad or piss off your periodontist in any way.

The doctor went over my options. The tooth was coming out, he was going to need to do some extensive jaw reconstruction and while he was in there, scrape out all four quadrants too. He then continued. “Would you like a local anesthetic or to be put under“?  “BY ALL THAT’S HOLY, PUT ME OUT,” I shouted with the half of my mouth that was still functional. Maybe it just felt like shouting in contrast to the murmur maintained by the doctor and his staff. “It will be a three-and-a-half-hour surgery,” he said, and asked if I had any other questions, clearly expecting me to have none. “Where’s the bone coming from that you use to reconstruct my jaw?” I expected him to admit they were slicing open my leg to get fresh bone for the job, because all of this really couldn’t get any more horrible.  His eyes widened slightly, then the Doctor leaned forward for emphasis. “Cadavers.” It was extra creepy coming in the whispery voice. I paused, then had to ask.  “Is there a donor name?” He looked surprised, and said he thought maybe at some point there was, but by the time he got it, it was a number and it came in vials. My brain, being my brain, thought of the “Skele-Grow” that Mdm. Pomfrey uses on Harry Potter to grow his arm back. I was relieved by that idea.

I was given three prescriptions to fill prior to them rummaging about in my mouth. One was for extra-strength Advil, the second to get rid of the raging infection that my little tooth had imparted as its farewell hurrah, and the third was for an opiate.  I didn’t want to fill the opiate, but I’m a rule-follower. After applying my insurance, those 12 opioid pills cost me a grand total of eighty cents. Jeez. No wonder there’s an epidemic. Did I immediately realize that I could sell them on the street for a profit?  Yes, and don’t tell me you wouldn’t have thought of it too. I promptly squashed the idea, as I have a fondness for personal freedom.

On the day of the surgery, I warned the softly speaking nurses that anesthesia and I were not on good terms. That I would need more of it than they thought I would. They smiled benignly at me and nodded.  Maybe an eye roll. They didn’t LISTEN though, so it’s not my fault that I kicked one of the whisperers in the face when they started drilling. I wasn’t out yet. There may have been screaming as well as the reactionary kick, not sure if it was me or the unfortunate nurse. The doctor remained calm. “Looks like we need to up her meds, is your nose broken?” That’s the last thing I remember.

They woke me up and I saw my strong-looking tooth sitting forlornly on a wad of cotton. Evidence of successful extraction, and how bad gums beat good teeth. I felt sorry to leave it there, but I’m not enough of a packrat to want it rattling around in my sock drawer. They sent me home with instructions that I promptly forgot. Don’t remember any of the episodes of “Sneaky Pete” I watched either. I spent the next three days on the couch taking Advil (not the opioid) and applying ice packs and waiting for the weird-feeling stitches to dissolve.

It’s mostly healed up now. I poke my tongue in the surprising large gap my tooth used to live in and wonder about who my bone donor for the jaw reconstruction was, and if perhaps due to their DNA influence I will suddenly develop a new skill, like becoming a harmonica player. It could happen. Years ago, I had an emergency C-section that resulted in nearly all my blood being replaced, and for seven years afterwards craved fried chicken weekly. But that’s another story. Moral of this one is: floss.

photo courtesy of mentalfloss.com

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