More Agony, Same Teeth

Or, rather, same tooth – the infamous #27. Don’t know what number has been assigned to your teeth?  Neither did I until I got to spend so much quality time talking about this particular tooth with various dental professionals. A lot has happened since The Agony of the Teeth and if you go back an re-read the post there is a little clue that all was not well in my final paragraph about the pain being worse after the root canal than it was before. I’m happy to report that the only real agony I’m experiencing these days is to my pocketbook and even that is more a nuisance than actual suffering. In fact, at this point this post feels a little more like it should be called, “middle class white woman whines about toothache,” but for inquiring minds here is the story…

After returning from Hawaii in March, I felt better, but not what you would call great. I was still living on ibuprofen and a few weeks after the procedure when it didn’t seem like I was improving, I called the dentist but they reported that sometimes it can take a long time to fully recover. It was a rough few weeks at work, but eventually the pain faded into the background and I moved on with my life. It was still kind of awkward to sleep on that side of my face, but I just adjusted the way I held the pillow and kind of figured that would be the new normal. Fast forward to June and I did the Seattle Rock N Roll Half-Marathon with my friend Sandy Hickey. Sandy is a photo-taking maniac and she took roughly 1 million pictures of the two of us at every stage of the race. As I was looking over them at the time I noticed that the same side of my mouth as the root canal was crooked in every picture (you can see two of the pictures in my half-marathon recap). I emailed the photos to the dentist and asked if that was something I should be worry about, and he suggested I come to see him, oh, say, right away. He took x-rays and I knew immediately that all was not right. There was a very brief, almost imperceptible, pause and for that moment all the sound (and oxygen) were sucked out of the room. I like to call it the “oh shit pause” which is the brief moment when the medical professional takes a quick breath and prepares to face the patient. When he came back around to my side of the chair, I already knew bad news was coming. That bad news was that there was ‘something’ there, a lesion (dentist-speak for they have no idea what the hell it is) and he referred me to an oral surgeon.

Off to the surgeon I go where they take another x-ray. The technician announces that he’s sure I’ll need a CT scan, then proceeds to take my blood pressure where he remarks that it is a little high. Maybe in his universe CT scans are no big deal, but in my world, that is something scary that only happens on TV shows like House (and if you watch that show you know bad stuff always happens in the CT and MRI machines). I meet the surgeon and he shows me the “thing” on the x-ray and says (surprise, surprise) that I need a CT scan. Another referral, this time to radiology. The upshot is that it could be a variety of things, but regardless it has to come out, and good ‘ol #27 is at risk for having to be removed altogether, but we’re all optimistic so we’ll leave it (for now).  On August 26, I had minor surgery and had what turned out to be a garden variety cyst removed. Ironically, the recovery from the surgery was much easier than the root canal. I did not need anything other than ibuprofen for the pain, and even that was minimal. Eating was a challenge with the stitches, but aside from one ill-fated attempt to eat a grape, I managed quite well on chocolate shakes and mashed potatoes. Today, I am pain free. My jaw is still a little stiff and I do still use my modified pillow sleeping position, but there is a lot of work going on in there as the hole left behind heals itself  and it will take a few months for everything to go completely back to normal. My smile is much improved if not exactly symmetrical just yet. The surgeon told me to come back and see him in 6 months (March 2012) and if all goes well, it will be a boring visit and we can officially stop obsessing over #27.

I recently went back to my regular dentist for my 6-month check (amazing to think this whole  process has been going on for that long) and of course I had to cap it all off with a couple of cavities, so I got to see him two days in a row.  The dentist remarked I must really love him since I come to see him so much and I told him, nothing personal, but I didn’t want to see him again until next year thank-you-very-much.

In my typical style, I have been anxious to share my woes with anyone and everyone, but in what must be a cosmic lesson of some sort, every time I have started to talk about it I discover that the person I’m with has suffered injuries or surgeries far more extensive or serious than me. In what has to be one of my most classic foot-in mouth blunders, I was blathering on to my hair dresser about how I had maxed out my dental insurance and was having to pay the rest out of pocket. I caught myself and commented that she must not even have dental insurance and she told me, in fact, she has no health insurance at all. I won’t rant about healthcare in America. Okay, maybe just a teeny rant – I don’t have all (any of) the answers to how to manage healthcare, but there is something that somehow seems fundamentally wrong with the notion that on top of having to cope with whatever medical ailment you have, the uninsured have to also cope with how they will pay for their care, or if they can actually afford to get any.