Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tooth or Consequences

I was reading a blog this week that documented the writer’s uncomfortable history with dentist visits and apprehension of getting more work done.

I can relate to this completely.  I’ve been an “on and off” dental patient since I was a teenager.  The trouble started when I was a senior in high school and broke my front tooth.

I wish I could tell a really cool story about how it happened, but in fact, I was just screwing around with my brother, Ed.  We were in our upstairs hallway, playing a made up football-type game where one person had to get by the other, as if he was running with a football.  The hallway provided a narrow lane for us to negotiate.  I ran up on my brother and attempted to execute a nifty “spin” move and deftly spun my mouth smack into the wooden railing alongside the stairwell.  Knocked my front left upper tooth clean in half.

Man, for a kid, I could really string together the swear words.  I was so pissed, because my brother had just wrapped up his own dental adventures from breaking his teeth in 4th grade.  He had fallen on the tiled gym floor at school and someone else fell on his head.  He smashed out both front teeth.  He’s worn temporary caps until his mouth had fully grown, but in the meantime, a number of years later, we were playing catch with a baseball and a ball I threw to him skipped off the top of his glove and hit him square in the mush.  I had my accident shortly after Ed finished getting his permanent caps, so I knew what I was in for.

I went in to the dentist’s office the next morning, before school.  He couldn’t find any hidden damage and arranged for me to go to a special office where they would make me a permanent cap, hand-painted to match the surrounding teeth exactly.

Meanwhile, I had to go to school with half a tooth, still steaming mad at the stupidity of the whole thing.  I went through the entire day, not talking, not smiling.  My buddies were wondering “WTF?”  It wasn’t like me.

Finally, in study hall after lunch, they applied the screws, trying to find out what was wrong with me.  I was tired of dodging and figured I couldn’t keep it up indefinitely, so I just gave them a big smile.  They were like, “Holy shit, dude!  What the hell happened?

I must have told them 3 or 4 different stories before I finally copped to the real one.  But on the bright side, at least I’d already had my senior picture taken.  Also, I looked really tough.  If I sneered, I looked like a real rough dude... just as long as I didn’t actually say anything.  You can only be so tough when you have a lisp like Daffy Duck.

Eventually I got my tooth nicely capped, but it didn’t last long.  I started getting this persistent pimple on my gum, right above the capped tooth.

I know, right?  Gross!

So I had it checked out and my dentist said that there was a small crack in the root that he must have missed on the original X-ray, and it was abscessing.  He’d have to pull the whole thing out, file down the 2 surrounding teeth and apply a 3-tooth bridge.

Lovely.  My dentist and I saw a lot of each other that summer.  And that’s when I learned about the wonders of nitrous oxide.  Great Flaming Jesus; that was the best stuff ever.  I’d only recently begun drinking beer and partying, but this was just the greatest buzz, and there was absolutely no side effect.  Doctor would switch the hose to oxygen and I’d be fine and dandy almost immediately.  No hangover, no nausea, no headache… just a desperate longing for my next appointment.

I began to look forward to going to the dentist.  I’d practically skip up to his office door, but as soon as I got in, I’d have to act nervous.  See, that’s why he gave me the nitrous… to calm my nerves.  I figured I had to play the part or else he might cut me off.

I think they had me pretty well figured out, though.  As soon as they’d put the nozzle on me, I’d be breathing like a veteran phone-sex line perv: “Heeeeeeee-ha heeeeeeee-ha heeeeeeee-ha!

He’d go, “Bluz, you better stop that, or I’m gonna turn it off…”

So I’d try to suck it in with shorter breaths, like, heeep-a heeep-a heeep-a heeep-a heeep-a…”  Lord knows, I was gettin’ while the gettin’ was good.  Plus, I needed something going for me if I had to endure the Novocain shots.  They were just the worst.  But the funny thing is that they used to give me the nitrous even when I just came in for cleanings.  My dentist rocked!

Once he pulled out the bad tooth, I had to wait a couple months for the tissue to heal, before he could take the imprints to have a bridge made.  In the mean time, I had to wear this device that looked like a retainer with a single tooth stuck on the end of it.  It was bizarre. 
Yes, I still have it.  Also featured is the knocked out piece of tooth.  I really need to clean out my dresser drawers.

I never knew how integral the roof of your mouth is, in the eating process.  The device cut off all sensation there.  And eating with the thing in would get it all gunked up, so more often than not, I’d just take it out to eat.  Luckily this happened over the summer so I didn’t have to deal with it at school. 

The cool part was I would fuck with people.  I could suction the device up and down with my tongue, which would naturally make the tooth move up and down.  So sometimes when I was out in a bar or something, I’d smile at someone across the room and make the tooth go up and down, then turn back away.  They’d be left wondering exactly how drunk they really were.

Once I got that cap done, I had one more thing to take care of before I was off my folks’ insurance.  The dentist recommended that I get all four wisdom teeth out.  I had to go to an oral surgeon for that, and as you may know, they don’t play around with nitrous or Novocain, they just knock your ass out.

I hadn’t had a general anesthetic since I got my tonsils out when I was 4, so I was curious to see what it would be like to drift out of consciousness like that.  I’m still wondering.

Doctor said, “Count backwards from 100.”

There was no drifting involved.  I went, “One hundred, ninety nuh…” 

Next think I knew; I was awake with my mouth packed with cotton. 

I was lucky with the whole thing.  Mom took me home, with my buddy Billy G there for backup in case I couldn’t walk.  Mom would have had to drag me by the foot, otherwise.  But I was fine… I practically danced over to the car.  We picked up my meds and I went home and slept.  For a day and a half.  I vaguely remember being woken up so I could take more pills.  When I finally arose, there was no swelling, no bruising, no problem at all.  (OK, there might have been some discoloration, but I had a full beard so I couldn’t tell.)

After that, I didn’t get out to the dentist much.  I just brushed my teeth and went on with life.  Unfortunately, I spend 20 years brushing my teeth with the toothpaste equivalent of sandpaper.  (Avoid prolonged use of Ultra Brite, no matter how zingy it tastes.)  Over the years, I managed to brush away a great deal of enamel.  I was on my own then and spent most of the time without dental insurance coverage.  So rather than go to the dentist, I learned how to smile with my mouth closed.  It wasn’t exactly a satisfactory solution, but I made do.  I didn’t have the cash to dump into a shitpile of dental work.  When I was married, I saw the Future Ex’s dentist a time or two, and he kind of “spackled” over the trouble spots.  But that wore away over time as well.

When I finally moved to Baltimore and got a job with proper insurance benefits, I began to see the dentist my brother and his family used.  Remarkably, I still didn’t have any cavities… just the enamel damage.  We discussed a plan of attack and I had time to build up my “war chest”.  Even with insurance, I still had to pay 50%.  And I was lucky for that!  The first time he submitted the paperwork, they claimed it was only a cosmetic fix.

It totally wasn’t.  There were parts where the enamel was totally gone.  Anyway, I changed insurance providers and he applied to the new company for me; this time with pictures.  They accepted and shortly after my new dentist replaced my 25-year old bridge and put on 5 more caps.  It was nice to be able to smile again.  It was at that time that I decided to shave the full beard into a goatee.  By the time I made both upgrades, I was a whole new dude… Bluz 2.0

On the down-side, I learned that they don’t use nitrous any more, so I didn’t get to refine my dental-chair huffing skills.  I could have used it too, because my new dentist really wasn’t so new.  In fact, he used to work on my sister-in-law, when she was a little girl.  He was getting up there.

On one hand, it meant he really knew his stuff.  But on the other hand, he often had to use my forehead for leverage when trying to work on a stubborn tooth.

It was like, “Ow, Doc!  My nose!

Although it probably sounded more like, “Ahh Daghh!  Ghie hose!”

Dental patients ought to come with sub-titles.

21 comments:

  1. One word: Whippets. (Talk about misadventures. Not mine though, of course.)

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  2. Sherry,
    I never tried a whippet. I was sure I'd be wearing the whipped cream all over my face. And with my beard, the mess would have been considerable.

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  3. Kunitz just got a freaking hat trick two seconds after I said, "He's so going to get a hattrick tonight. I feel it."

    Anywho - on subject, I find it amazing how well a dentist and those techs can understand what the heck anyone says while drilling, cleaning, whathaveyou. I kind of relate it to trying to understand what 1 year olds are saying. I can speak fluent Luca, however, I'm sure most people are thinking, "WTF did he just say?"

    My dentist is the absolute best, FYI, if you ever move back here.

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  4. Wow, this entire post is such a great fable for children about why physical activity is awful and sitting on the couch in front of "Sesame Street" is great. I approve.

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  5. Cassie,
    I always wonder why the dentist asks you questions when he knows damned well he has his fist in your mouth and you can't say shit. Maybe it's some kind of distraction technique they teach in dental school.

    Also, it's totally unfair for parents to have their little kids talk to grownups they don't see very often. We always have to appeal to the parental translator, lest we say something totally inappropriate for the situation and scar the kid for life.

    Mundane,
    I agree, but it takes a while to learn that lesson. So now I sit on the couch and watch ESPN. (Sesame Street just doesn't cut it any more.)

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  6. Oh do I remember NO. I went to the dentist stoned once (I was in high school) and then asked for nitrous, and pretty soon everyone was talking like Charlie Brown's teacher. Mwah ah mwah ah. They cut me off soon after that.

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  7. Wow, your poor parents. That must have cost them a fortune with their kids knocking their teeth out all the time. Weird, I also had a dental related post yesterday. Glad to hear they got you all fixed up!

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  8. I haven't been to the dentist very many times in my life, but I can relate to the wisdom teeth part. I remember coming in and out of consciousness while a dear friend helped me trade out cotton balls. What a sweetheart he was.

    I've had a dentist tell me that I brush too hard, too, and that I should treat it more like polishing than scrubbing. I thought that was a great analogy.

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  9. I'm still laughing over this little gem right here:
    “Bluz, you better stop that, or I’m gonna turn it off…”

    That made my whole week. Incredible.

    And your old one tooth holder looks like the egg tooth that birds use to get out of their shells.

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  10. Billy G. was brilliant in your dental crisis He had a big watch he consulted every hour to make sure you took your medicine. You were fine. He drove me nuts. Bless him.
    Our dentist used to give us Nembutol, a potent tranq, and talk for about a half hour just to calm us down. We really DID enjoy those visits. My sister was in love with him until she found out he was only 4'11".
    This is a real horror story told with your characteristic aplomb. Here's to the new Bluz 2.

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  11. Raven,
    Nitrous oxide almost made me want to apply to dental school… if it wasn’t for having to work in people’s nasty gaping mouths, that is.

    Jessica,
    I think they were always covered with insurance… I really don’t know how much of a beating they took. When you’re a kid, you just assume everything is OK as long as there’s dinner on the table. What I remember most, for both my brother and me, was how much time and aggravation it was… so many appointments and follow-ups. It really cut into our time playing wiffleball (in my brother’s case) and drinking beer (in my case).

    Cristy,
    Yes, I definitely brush more lightly now, and with a “softer” toothpaste. Lesson learned.

    Sally,
    Honest to God, that’s exactly the way it happened. He threatened to cut me off if I didn’t stop huffing the gas. (Although it might have been his dental assistant… I’m not sure, what with all the gas that was flooding through my brain at the time.) Maybe I should have tipped them. “Hey, doc… here’s $10… go take a break.” He should have outfitted his office with lava lamps and psychedelic posters.

    Oh man, I almost forgot… You know how helium makes your voice go up? Nitrous has the opposite effect. I hated having to talk when I was on nitrous. I sounded like the disembodied CIA voice that interrogated Jamie Lee Curtis in “True Lies.”

    Mary Ann,
    Billy probably just needed something to do that day. You probably could have just brought me back to the car with a 2-wheel dolly and left him out of it completely. Or a wheelbarrow.

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  12. Oh my God, I hate hate HATE the dentist. I'd 10 times rather go to the gynecologist than the dentist.

    But unfortunately, my teeth are made of chalk, apparently, so I have to face the dentist often, and it SUCKS. Novocaine gives me the shakes really bad, though, so they load me up with extra nitrous, which is nice.

    P.S. You write dialect (I guess that's the category that huffing noises and dental-patient-speak fall under) better than just about anyone I've ever seen.

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  13. When I got my wisdom teeth out, they gave me sodium penthathal. I know, truth serum. I woke up in another room. I thought I was knocked out, but the Mrs. said I was awake enough to walk to the other room. I had no memory of this. She just said, "What? You think they carried you in here?"

    I did tell my wife I loved her while on sodium pentathal, though. I was unable to lie. I got big points for that one.

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  14. Mrs. Bachelor Girl,
    I bet the best thing about having chalk-teeth is that you can just erase the cavities!

    Geez, the Novocain… I used to DREAD that shot of Novocain. I think there are still claw marks on the arm rests of my old dentist’s chair. It took a while before all the dentists started giving mini-shots first to numb the shot site, and THEN going in full bore. And then you have the joy of feeling your face droop right off your skull. (Bill Cosby has the best bit about the dentist, in that concert movie he did in the 80s, “BillCosby – Himself.” You must have seen it… if not, look up “Bill Cosby + Dentist” on YouTube.)

    Lastly, thank you for acknowledging the “dialect.” Coming from a real, live, professional writer, that means a lot! That was the hardest part of the entire post… I had such a time trying to decide how to spell the puffing/breathing sounds I usually make when I tell the story out loud.

    Carpetbagger,
    Wow. Pentathal… I bet you’re glad you said that to the Mrs. But answer me this… are you sure she didn’t take the opportunity to ask you anything else? Like, “What do you really think of my family? Do you like my cooking? Do these pants make my butt look big? Although, if she did, it still sounds like you still passed w/ flying colors.

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  15. That one-tooth thing scares me! You actually put that in your mouth?If you had broken that tooth yesterday, it could have been saved and would have re-attached successfully. Since that was not the case, I am sure you have FABULOUS teeth anyway!!
    Not to brag, but I have NO FEAR of the dentist. I am my dentist's poster girl for excellent teeth, thanks in part to Rod's dad, who helped to invent the high-speed drill that is in use today. He invented the part that cools the drill with a stream of water so you don't smell that awful burned tooth smell, and your mouth doesn't catch on fire. He and his partner were written up in Time magazine for their invention! He made us very afraid to not take care of our teeth when we were young! He was very creative except when it came to money. His accountant told him once, "Dr. McEwen, you simply must start living within your means." Dad told him, "That simply is not possible! I have an image to uphold!"
    Please make sure to bruch twice a day and floss every night so you don't get what my daughter-in-law calls "old man breath."
    xoxo

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  16. Yes, that nasty appliance went right in my mouth like a retainer, with the tooth lining up perfectly with the big hole in my smile. It was not a fun experience. I have no idea why I kept it... maybe I'm subconsciously afraid of losing the tooth again and I want to be prepared.

    More likely, I knew it was very expensive and couldn't bring myself to just toss it out.

    Old Man Breath is the worst. Funny how so many dentists have it. Maybe that's why they wear the masks. It doesn't help. Maybe a Tic Tac would.

    I used to hate the sight and smell of the Tooth Smoke... like your face was on fire. Please convey my thanks to Rod's dad.

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  17. Going to the dentist should require mandatory drugs before you enter the office. Why is it every dental office smells the same? And I almost choked when you said you used Ultra Brite and scrubbed off the enamel! Honestly, I would brush my teeth at least 10 times a day just so I could have whiter teeth. But it didn't happen. The dentist told me I had brushed away all the enamel too! So...I had them all crowned extra white and now I brush only after I eat and before bed. The problems we cause ourselves! Rich calls teeth "God's bad design." I think he is right!

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  18. Yeah, between the Ultra Brite (which I picked because the taste was so strong) and Diet Cokes with every meal, my poor choppers didn't have a chance. (I also cut my Diet Coke intake in half, down to 2 glasses a day.)

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  19. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  20. Hey Spammer Dennis,
    Stop putting those ridiculous psuedo-comment/spams messages here. I'll delete every fucking one of them as soon as they post. Trust me.

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