Sometimes I think the ruling emotion in my life is fear.
Fear of driving, fear of flights of stairs, fear of crowds, enclosed spaces, power tools and dogs. Fear of being lonely, fear of not being alone enough. Fear of slipping on wet leaves, fear of slipping on ice, fear of slipping on my bathroom tiles.
Fear of death, fear of money, fear of my parents becoming ill. Fear that whatever love people bear me is wholly unearned. Fear that, at the very core of my soul, I am a useless person and that my birth has been a lucky accident and squandered opportunity.
Fear of the teeth in my head.
Anxiety runs deep in my family. It’s just a fact, something I was warned about and built a series of coping mechanisms around using about two generations of shared experience. I know when the panic sets in how to boot on it’s throat and strangle it. I know that most of the things I fear are figments that will vanish if I can just shine a light on them the right way. Even if fear is present I can push it down because the reverse of that coin is a life ruled by it and that doesn’t seem work out well for anyone if all of the A&E television programs I watch are evidence.
But I’ll tell you what, if there is one thing on that list that I ain’t letting go of? My teeth. If there is one thing that induces an immediate terror blitzkrieg in my heart of hearts it’s when something happens to my teeth.
And holy shit you guys has stuff been happening to my teeth.
Way back when I was a tiny Weathington, in about 4th grade,I had a sweet ass bike wreck. Long story short it involved a steep hill, me on my huffy blasting down said hill singing songs from Lion King and trying to avoid hitting a car that parked in the middle of the sidewalk, failing, and eating shit over the handle bars of my bike.
Right on to the adult teeth that I’d just gone to a lot of trouble growing in.
I broke all four of my front top teeth and mangled my right leg.
It was pretty metal, you guys.
What followed I can barely remember but the following series of bridges and drilling under basic Novocaine planted a seed of fear. My pain threshold is reasonably high but it was that sound. The high pitched ‘WRRRRRRHHHHZZZZZZZZZT’ of dental tools and the grinding pressure on bone that drove me into a trapped animal frenzy. I was a little kid during the initial fix though, so that’s just a faded memory.
Less faded is having the bridge on one tooth fixed in middle school. This was when we lived in Ohio, land of staunch protestant backbone. The dental hygenist sneered when I asked to be put under. That right there was what cemented my ass clenching fear. I can still smell the burning enamel. I think i was too upset by the time the dentist finished to really understand what he meant by “Blunt force trauma can cause an abscess and it looks like you’ve got some of that starting in…”.
I didn’t go back to the dentist until I was in my twenties. As far as I was concerned. if nothing hurt, nothing was wrong.
Then the front of my face swelled up and I got dramatically sick. That abscess that was mentioned a few years ago decided it was time to have it’s coming out party right on my fucking face. Did you know if try to ignore those they kind of poison your blood? Haha! They do!
I nearly shit myself when I realized I’d have to go in to the dentist but you know what’s great about California? Everyone is a huge pussy so they just hand out opiates like party favors if you use the word “anxiety”. Two Valium, some laughing gas and my shit was fixed. Hey presto.
I’m not even remotely apologetic at this point about my dental terror. I walk the fuck up in an office now and the first words out of my mouth are, “Yo, You got drugs right?” before I even say whats wrong. I have worked hard to conquer my panic in other spheres of my life but you know what?
I’m keeping this one.
So when I noticed a suspiciously swollen lump at my gum line a few months ago I started calling around for dentists because I knew one of my busted teeth had gotten infected again. Once again I opened up with my usual “Do you do sedation” and securing a yes made my appointment. I was in the dentist chair for less than five minutes.
“Oh yeah.” The dentist said, looking at the X-ray. “I can’t fix this.”
“Eugghh?” I asked.
He sent me to his endodontic colleague in some hard to reach part of the Southwest. I showed up with my boyfriend and his sister who were treated to what it’s like when an oral surgery clinic tells me there are no drugs to be had.
Spoiler alert: It involves tears. So many tears.
I know I’m not supposed to say this, but it turns out if you start crying like a child when things don’t go your way people will work really hard to fix the problem. It’s because they are embarrassed for you and really want it to stop. They wrote me a prescription for Halcyon right then and there and told me to just go get it, it’s fine, they’d wait, take a couple more tissues. I fully intend to try the weeping thing next time I’m turned down at a job interview or a bar doesn’t have my favorite beer on draft. Has anyone else just tried the crying thing? Maybe it only works if you are a young woman…I don’t know, anyway…
Turns out I had not one dead tooth but two. Both would have to be root canaled. I giggled hysterically and swallowed the drugs.
“My face is your playground!” I said as I laid back and put my soothing Bon Iver mix on my ipod. “Do what you must!”
Now I’ll admit I was high when I came out of that office. It’s entirely possible that the nurse told me not to eat tacos or something terrible would happen. Something terrible like one of the teeth would come loose and then fall out.
Which it did. Tooth number 7 to be exact. Which I really wished had not happened.
One of the most frustrating parts of a chunk of face coming out was calling the professionals about it.
“What do you mean it fell out?” Asked the receptionist at the Endodonic clinic
“It’s not there. It is absent. It is no longer present in my head. It’s gone.” I wasn’t really sure how I was being unclear.
She pressed on, “I don’t understand. The tooth is gone? How much of the tooth fell out? A piece of the filling…”
“All of the tooth. All of it fell out.”
The words that were slithering out of the gap in my mouth about the new situation about my teeth were apparently too esoteric for someone who deals primarily with teeth. I had to make another appointment to go in to their office and show them in person what I meant by ‘the tooth fell out, okay guys?’.
I went into the office, sat in the chair, opened my mouth and the endodontist looked in my mouth and said:
“Oh no. I can’t fix this.”
This means I had to go back to the dentist I’d started at. This is the point at which life became slightly more difficult and markedly more expensive. The gamut of procedures is roughly the following: Go back to endodontist and fix the other abscess (did I mention they only took care of the one?) wait three months for it to heal, Go back to Dentist see how it’s healing has progressed, get told that a deep cleaning must be done before we can even TALK about replacing the missing tooth. Do that shit. Get another appointment to discuss options of an implant or bridge, follow through with selected option.
initially I was going to go with the more permanent option of what’s called an implant. This means a bone graft is done and a chunk of titanium is implanted into the bone of the jaw and then a tooth is screwed into place. If you are wondering why there are so many italics in that sentence they are to mark the points at wich I peed a little bit while having this explained to me.
At the reception desk a young woman with very white teeth and exceptionally manageable hair printed out a quote for the procedure. I read the number at the bottom and looked up at her.
“I’m going to throw up on your desk.” I said flatly.
I thought about it for a couple days and called back to tell them I wanted to go with the moderately cheaper option of the bridge. A bridge is where they essentially file down the afflicted areas and glue in a molded porcelain replacement. Before that could happen though the dentist had to perform a root extraction. Now what that means is he has to remove the section of lucky number 7 that was embedded in my jaw, the remaining original tooth that was left over from the ancient accident that started all this bullshit.
If you think this involves pliers you would be correct. If you think that it’s a terrible thing to have done even while huffing a huge amount of nitrous oxide you’d also be correct.
After he was done yanking out the root tip and what felt like not a small amount of the inside of my right nostril I managed to fumble for his sleeve.
“Have you thrown it out yet?” I slurred.
“Put that in a baggie. I’m keeping it. I’m keeping that bastard.”
I came back home to David after they had done their bloody work and place me with a temporary bridge. I held an ice pack to the side of my face and winged the little packet onto the coffee table.
“Brought you a doggie bag.” I said and flopped on the couch.
“Oh, God.” He looked stricken for a moment, wondering if he had made a huge mistake throwing his lot in with a woman who keeps broken body parts laying around the house in baggies.
“It’s my trophy! I’m going to make a necklaaaceee.” Then I passed out for a while.
I’ve had about three more procedures since that one and another coming up. I have had a section of my face yanked out on four separate occasions now and I still don’t like it very much. To be frank I’d like to be done with this.
Also the last time I was in the chair I could totally hear the hygenist and the dentist making fun of me for doing more nitrous than they had ever seen a patient do before.
“Whoo!” I heard the dentist say while he made an impression. “Whooo! I’m starting to feel it! Just sitting next to her is makin’ me feel pretty good!”
I wanted to say, “I’m high, you motherfuckers, not deaf.” but his fingers were in my mouth to remove the mold.
So I’m pretty sure I bit him instead.