I’m not a big fan of the dentist. I’m not terrified of going and I make my twice yearly visits, but as I’m lying in the chair while a sadistic dental hygienist uses implements of torture to scrape my teeth, scolding me for my lack of proper flossing, I find myself holding my breath and clenching my hands. When I notice, I’ll take a deep breath – forcing myself to think of my happy place (on the side of a lonely road, watching a Mac truck mow down the bitchy hygienist), but within minutes I’m as tense as a Catholic virgin on her wedding night. It’s always been that way, but at least when I was younger we went to a dentist that was next door to a used book store and a small candy factory. Once I made it through my visit, I could at least get a few new to me books and a couple of peanut clusters while the rest of the family was being cleaned and drilled.
This particular story starts twenty years ago in a small, seaside town. At a routine appointment, my dentist informed me that some fillings I had received as a child had deteriorated over time – expanding and contracting when exposed to heat and cold, allowing minute bits of detritus to make their way beneath the fillings, where they promptly started a disgusting party, using my teeth as an appetizer. The dentist informed me that once she drilled out the old filling and the new decay, I would really need crowns on both molars. When I heard what my cost share would be after insurance, I blanched – we were a young enlisted military family with kids – we just didn’t have that kind of money available. I explained my dilemma to the dentist and she told me she could put big-ass fillings in those teeth (OK – those might not have been her exact words, but you get the idea). However, she didn’t think they would last for more than a few years.
Fast forward about twenty years, when I saw my current dentist for the first time. He exclaimed over the size of the fillings and recommended that I get those crowns now. Again, the cost share (even more now) made me clear my throat. I told him I could afford to do one at a time – so an appointment was made and the work was done.
And then the pain began.
My newly crowned molar was so tender I couldn’t chew on that side. It was so sensitive that drinking any liquid, hot or cold, made me gasp. It throbbed constantly and the whole left side of my face, from chin to eye socket, hurt like crazy. I went back for several visits to see if something could be done – x-rays were taken and I was told the nerve was not damaged – just “excited.” I don’t know about you, but “excited” makes me think of a cute little puppy with a tiny, wagging tail, eager to play and please. I think better words to describe my nerve might have been “sadistic,” “angry,” “pissed off,” or even “murderous.” The dentist was scared to secure my new crown with permanent cement. He said that if things didn’t calm down, I might need a root canal, and he didn’t want to have to drill through the new crown in that case. It took nearly a year for my nerve to forgive me.
It’s been three years – I still have temporary cement holding on that crown. The dentist is afraid to touch it, worried that it might “excite” my nerve again. Yet, each time I would go for my cleaning, he would tell me I really should get that second crown. Each time, I thanked him and said I would wait – I didn’t want to have another bad experience.
Last September, he poked around in my mouth a bit and then looked at me gravely. “Your filling is now cracked,” he proclaimed, “You must get that crown – you could lose your tooth if you don’t.” I reluctantly agreed and set up an appointment for January, when I would have Flex Pay money to pay my now exorbitant co-insurance. I didn’t want to do it. Let’s face it – I was scared. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, but the thought of going through that much pain again, for so long, made me whimper just a bit. But I’m a grown woman, so I hitched up my panties and took the afternoon off work last week to park myself in the dentist’s chair once again.
Things went pretty well – although apparently I have an extra small mouth and my jaw doesn’t open far enough to let the dentist get his fingers in there to work. Alas, I’m afraid I may not be popular with the boys now that I’m dating again! He had to resort to sticking a rubber brace in to hold my jaw open and, even then, the corner of my mouth tore a bit. But I left with my new temporary crown and….no pain! I was thrilled! I had been a coward all those years for no reason. That first crown and my angry nerve had just been a fluke!
Four days later I went for Friday night drinks with my friends. I took a long swallow of my frozen mango-strawberry margarita (it had been a rough day) and my molar exploded! Not literally – but the pain that hit was so sudden and intense that it felt like a little bomb had gone off in my mouth. After a few moments, the pain subsided and I dismissed it as cold sensitivity. I switched my straw to the other side of my mouth and continued sucking down liquor like an alcoholic the night before entering rehab. But from then on, my tooth was sensitive to both hot and cold, and it often throbbed with pain for no particular reason. I popped ibuprofen like candy and that made things tolerable — until last night…..
Are you also outraged that dental insurance is so crappy when it comes to big ticket items like root canals and crowns? What is your favorite, “It’s been a shitty week!” drink? Do you hate or love stories with cliffhangers?