Not-So-Sweet Teeth

Well, the fog has finally lifted.  I’ve spent approximately 24 hours in a drug-induced stupor following a tooth extraction.  I can’t understand how people can function on a daily dose of pain pills.  (I picture Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House popping oxies like Tic-Tacs.)  They make me so nauseous, I can barely sit, let alone stand.  I just want to lie down.

After going to bed at 9 p.m (with a brief wake-up at 11 to finish closing up shop for the evening, especially since it was garbage night and I had a larger-than-usual pile due to no pick-up on Good Friday and my daughter cleaning out her room in preparation for a move that may or may not happen, at this point, but that’s another whining for another day …), the mouth and head pain came back with a vengeance at around 2 a.m., so I took another half of the Tylenol with codeine that my dentist had prescribed.  A few hours of fitful sleep later, and I was back up with the pain so I took the other half.  Of course I woke up full of narcotics but I had some work nonsense to deal with so I had to rouse myself.  Tried to eat oatmeal but that made me even more queasy (if I actually COULD vomit, I might have felt better, but the poisons just stayed roiling in my gut).  So back for another nap at 12 noon – how decadent, naps in the daytime! – which did leave me feeling a bit more refreshed.

Then I had to venture out to the post office to send a work-related package, and the sunny skies and fresh air, in the form of a brisk March wind, further perked me up.  And now, late in the afternoon, I seem to be almost back to normal – no tooth pain, no nausea – although I still feel like if I closed my eyes, I would instantly fall asleep, no matter my position or location.

My teeth have been an issue for my entire life, and after yesterday’s extraction, I’m down to six “real” teeth on top (I say “real” in quotes because none of the remaining teeth are WHOLE; they consist of posts sticking out of root-canalled roots covered by caps of varying ages and sizes and shapes).  I’ve been diligently using my WaterPik Water Flosser™ every night.  (I used to have one as a kid, hoping to fend off the tooth decay that plagued me even then, despite my best efforts.  I remember one dentist’s visit when I had 32 cavities – that’s like one in every tooth!)  The hygienist who cleaned my teeth last week (and who discovered the mega-cavity of doom) even complemented me on how clean they were, but somehow that cleanliness couldn’t prevent the severe decay in my holdout upper molar (the last in its line!), which bit the dust yesterday afternoon.  I have some smaller cavities in my lower molars as well that will need to be addressed in a couple of weeks, but curiously, my bottom teeth are largely intact (although also covered in caps and lacking live roots of any significance).

Of course I have a partial denture, which will need to be modified now to add an extra tooth.  And all of this needs to be paid for out of my own pocket, given that I don’t have dental insurance (and dental insurance notoriously pays very little, unfortunately).

Over my lifetime, my teeth have probably cost me hundreds of thousands of bucks, all told.  My favorite dentist was also the most expensive one, with an office on Park Avenue South.  Marc Lowenberg was, even then, a “dentist to the stars”, and I always imagined I’d see some famous person in the waiting room (although I never actually did!)  Dr. Lowenberg was the first dentist I ever knew to have a TV in the examining room, and he was also the one who introduced me to nitrous oxide, my beloved “laughing gas”.  (I asked the hygienist the other day if all that nitrous leaking out from the nose piece affects the people working on my mouth, and while she wouldn’t admit it outright, she agreed that most hygienists and dental assistants and even dentists she knows are happier than your average person in their workplaces).  I can remember getting extensive dental work done by Dr. Lowenberg, dashing with his full beard and – yes – perfect teeth, and laying back in his comfy chair, listening to the laugh track on “Three’s Company” go all wobbly, with that metallic echo that always serves as proof that the sweet air is having its desired effect.  Before gas, I would get so tense that I would squeeze a tissue in my hand hard enough to turn it into a small stone by the end of the torture.  (Who knows?  If I was stuck in the chair long enough, it might have even become a diamond!).  It wasn’t even the pain so much as the ANTICIPATION of pain that gave me such anxiety.  But gas solved that problem.  Now I almost look forward to going to the dentist, just so I can enjoy my legitimate (and legal) happy buzz.  It’s just too bad that it comes with injections and drilling and post-procedure pain!

I always have such interesting THOUGHTS when I’m under the gas, but of course I’m not in any position to record them, or even share them with the other people in the room, given all the appliances sticking out of my mouth.  And by the time they pump the oxygen though the little rubber nose cup and sadly bring an end to my “trip,” of course I’ve forgotten every genius nugget.

I’ve considered getting implants but (a) they’re too expensive and (b) I’ve had so much bone loss on top that they’d have to build it back up with multiple rounds of surgery before they could even begin installing the implants.  So it looks as if I’m stuck with the dentures.  And soon I will probably have no teeth left at all on top, and instead of a partial I’ll have a full denture.  Then I’ll know for sure that I’m really getting old, although given that my teeth are basically made of chalk, I won’t actually be that old – I’ll just LOOK old, especially at night when the teeth are removed.  I’ll have that little glass at my bedside, magnifying through the water the tooth-and-wire-and pink acrylic resin creation that enables me to actually chew and look normal and not like a backwoods hillbilly grandma before I even hit 60.

Remember:  Life is short. Smile while you still have teeth (or really good dentures).  (Quote courtesy of Mallory Hopkins, whoever that might be.)

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