Years of dental procrastination finally caught up with me this week.
Last Friday, i started to get a bit of an ache in the back right of my mouth, and it grew worse over the next couple of days. My teeth ached, my gums were increasingly sore, and began working my jaw to relieve the discomfort, causing my jawbone to click where it meets the skull.
Something similar had happened a couple of times over the past decade, but each time the pain had peaked in a couple of days, and then subsided. By Monday, however, it was as bad as ever. Luckily, aspirin actually did a pretty incredible job of relieving the pain. I almost never take painkillers of any sort, but dropping two aspirin every 6-8 hours kept me sane over the weekend.
I had to work on Monday, but when i woke up this morning i decided that something had to be done. We’ve been in southern California for just over three years now, and i still didn’t have a dentist. Hell, i hadn’t been to the dentist since before leaving Australia, over ten years ago, partly due to my usual tendency to ignore my teeth, and partly because i never had any money or decent insurance as a grad student.
But now, armed with my toothache and my dental insurance, i hopped onto Yelp and found a five-star rated dentist in my neighborhood. I called, and they managed to fit me in for an emergency consultation at 2.00 this afternoon. It didn’t take them long to work out that i had pericoronitis, essentially an infection of the area around the back molars, most probably caused in my case by food getting caught in a hard-to-reach area and infecting the tissue. This condition is
apparently not unusual in people with partially-erupted wisdom teeth.
After diagnosing the problem, the dentist told me my options. It would be possible to irrigate the area, give me some antibiotics, and probably fix the pain and swelling, but the fact was that the arrangement of my wisdom teeth made this likely to occur again. My previous brushes with pain in the area, which i mentioned above, were probably lucky cases where the infection was mild and fixed itself. Anyway, they said it would be best to get the lower wisdom teeth out.
The people in the dentist’s office were amazing. Despite the fact that i was a last-minute emergency on a busy day, they were patient and informative, and called an oral surgeon who could fit me in immediately. They even refused to charge me for the visit, and said that once i fixed my emergency i should come back for routine checkups to keep my teeth healthy (which i will definitely do).
So i hopped in the car to the oral surgeon’s office, and after a set of full-mouth x-rays, they agreed with the dentist’s suggestion that i get the bottom wisdom teeth removed. I now had to decide whether to do it under local, or go the whole hog with full anesthesia. The only problem was that knocking me out required that i not eat or drink for 6 hours before the operation, and that someone be there to drive me home. All that would have required putting it off until Friday, so i jumped in and decided on the local.
The whole thing only took about 20-25 minutes, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. There was very little actual pain. The only thing that hurt was the initial injections of local anesthetic. The needle felt like it went in a mile, and stayed in forever. And there were about 6 or 8 or them, although by the last one the area was already getting pretty numb.
After that, the main discomfort just involved keeping my mouth open for 25 minutes, and also bracing my jaw, my head, and indeed my whole body against the pushing and drilling and prying required to get the teeth out. One of them was impacted at an angle, and it seemed to me like removing it was essentially a process of chipping away at it and removing the pieces, sort of like bringing down a concrete wall with a small hammer. There was water and blood and bits of enamel flying out of my mouth, and i could also see the bloody mess being sucked up the tube by the suction equipment.
At one stage, on the second tooth, the guy almost looked like he was wielding a shovel, as he stood over me with shoulders hunched, trying to dig my recalcitrant tooth out of its hiding place.
On the way home, i filled a prescription for Ibuprofen and Percoset, and for the next few hours i changed out gauze pads every half-hour or so, soaking up a whole bunch of blood in the process. The bleeding on both sides finally slowed to almost nothing about 5 hours after i got home, just about the same time as the local anesthetic wore off. I could now speak without sounding like i had a pair of socks in my mouth.
The pain on both sides now is just a sort of dull ache. I took an Ibuprofen about 6 hours ago (just after i got home), and i’ll take another before i go to bed, but i’m already in considerably less discomfort than i was last night, with the infection. Unless it gets much worse, i can’t imagine that i’ll use the Percocet. I have to teach tomorrow afternoon, but unless there’s some major setback i should be able to cope with a one-hour class without too much trouble. And i’ve been keeping ice on my face, per instructions, to help keep swelling down; we’ll see tomorrow and the next day how successful that was.
All in all, the experience could have been far worse (knock wood!), and having a decent dental plan means that my out-of-pocket expenses for the whole shebang were under $250, which is less than i expected. Wallet pain has always been, for me at least, the most compelling reason to stay away from the dentist.
Anyway, just thought i’d share. Feel free to ask questions, or to share your own stories of dental adventure or misadventure.