The 4-Hour Dentist Visit
It was 8:45 AM. I reclined in the dental hygienist chair thinking that I would definitely make my 10AM work conference call.
Something in the back of my mind chastised me though because it had been a year and a half since I visited the dentist last.I made excuses with my breast cancer diagnosis, the mastectomy, the chemo, then getting over chemo, until I realized I could make excuses forever.
X-rays were taken as I awkwardly bit on the winged inserts.
“So how does it look?” I asked, my voice trembling a little. I still had vivid memories of the communist era dentistry with no Novocain and general disregard for the patient’s comfort.
“We’ll just have the doctor look at it.” The hygienist dodged my question.
Alarm bells rang in my brain. That’s what they tell people when things are bad. Everywhere. Not just the dentist.
She put on a face mask, handed me the OSHA required clear plastic glasses and bent over my mouth. She cleaned vigorously and when I rinsed, little pieces of bloody tissue swirled down the tiny side sink.
The doctor came in and peered in my mouth.
“You have two old fillings in your molars.” She frowned and went on to explain that all the silver leaked out of them and only the bad material remained. Or whatever she called it. Bottom line was I needed them replaced.
“But your teeth are not strong enough, you will need a crown.” She announced. “On both teeth.” She added.
“OK.” I stuttered. I had a faint idea of what a crown was.
However, I had no idea how much a crown cost.
The receptionist informed me that the doctor had time right then to do my crowns. I hesitated for a brief moment but decided to get it over with. I pulled out my credit card, paid close to $3,500, went to re-park my car and settled in yet another dentist chair.
Two assistants and the doctor filled the tiny room. Two Q-tips dipped in red numbing gel were put in my mouth. As the gel melted and numbed my gums, I was forced to swallow small amounts of it, thinking about how I had not eaten anything yet that day.
The doctor picked up the dreaded Novocain shot and I closed my eyes. Just as I started to relax thinking that maybe the red gel numbed me so much I wouldn’t feel the injection, the doctor steered the needle directly to my nerve. Despite myself, I jerked unexpectedly as the pain shot out of my lower left jaw. The doctor finished the shot as I felt my armpits soak with nervous sweat. After that, everybody left the room.
I sat there, waiting for my mouth to numb. Everybody returned 10 or 15 minutes later. I ran my tongue over the back left part of my mouth. To my alarm, I could feel almost everything on the inside of my gums.
The doctor started drilling and the sound of the machine sent my mind spiraling into the times I sat in the dentist chair as a kid, twitching in pain as my teeth were drilled with no pain medication.
My whole body was tense and I had to force myself to breathe slowly and deeply. Periodically, I tried to un-tense my muscles, only to find myself rigid as a board a few minutes later. My palms sweated, my stomach hurt and my body was on a super high pain alert.
And then it happened. I could feel it. I could feel her drilling. I jerked. The doctor stopped, surprised by my reaction.
After explaining I really could feel it, she proceeded to push in another injection. As she squeezed the plunger on the syringe, my heart started beating uncontrollably. It beat faster and faster. I started getting hot and heard the heartbeats drumming in my ears.
Oh my God, I thought, I was going to die right there, in the dentist chair. After all that I had been through. I was going to die this stupid way. Did they even have resuscitation equipment in this office? I wondered as my heart sprinted. My hands shook and my legs trembled. I looked like I was being electrocuted.
The assistants left the room again.
“You let us know when it feels like you have a fat lip, OK?” The doctor said over her shoulder as she left the room as well.
I spent the next 20 minutes leafing through People magazine touching my lip and being nervous that I could still feel it. Eventually, my heartbeat calmed down and my arms and legs stopped shaking as much.
The doctor came back in and inquired about the numbness of my lip.
“It’s better than before but I can still feel it tingling a little.”
The doctor decided to proceed with the procedure.
The next 15 or so minutes of drilling went well except for my sweating, drooling and tensing. Then a new problem emerged. At that point, my jaws had been opened for almost 3 hours and despite the rubber wedge in my mouth “to rest my jaw”, I felt like I would never be able to close my mouth again.
I could only guess what was happening in my mouth but at that point I figured that the old fillings were removed and some very plasticky smelling substance was poured in to fill the holes and create the stumps on which the crowns would sit.
Then the doctor picked up the drill again. My eyes widened. The Novocain surely wore off by now. I lay back, clenching my fists expecting the first jolts of pain.
And, as if on cue, it happened. The sharp stab of pain from the not-so-numbed-anymore nerve. The doctor paused and appeared bewildered that I could still feel something.
“Just keep going.” I said, exhausted, thinking she surely must be almost done. “It feels great.” I continued as they made me bite down on some paper.
“Well, I want it to be perfect.” The doctor smiled.
“I don’t care, it feels fine, just finish it.” I breathed out.
The doctor drilled for another 5 minutes or so and I felt a couple more painful jolts but the end was in sight.
She finally hung up the tool on the side table, impressions of my teeth were taken several times over and temporary crowns were placed and cemented in place with two of the assistants working in unison inside my mouth.
They pulled the blue rubber “comfort wedge” from my mouth and buzzed the chair in an upright position.
My head spun, I was shaking, I felt dizzy and exhausted. I walked out of the office with the instructions to come back in two weeks for the real crowns. It was 12:30 PM.
By the time I got home, all traces of Novocain disappeared from my body and an enormous headache and jaw-ache settled in. I googled best pain killing method for toothache and based on that advice, took one Ibuprofen and one Tylenol. I wrapped my head in a soft blanket and lay on the couch, moaning in pain.
About an hour later, I started to feel like a human being again. Until I realized my jaw was so sore I could only open my mouth about an inch.
In a week, I go back in for round two. Wish me luck.