The Toothache

I am in unfamiliar territory. You have no idea how awkward this is for me. As I sit in the waiting room, I think about leaving. I keep telling myself, “I can deal with the pain.” The antibiotics seem to have worked a miracle the last few days. The swelling is down. The constant throbbing is gone.

“I can handle this.”

But I’m not very convincing. I turn my head and adjust my mouth just the slightest bit, and from out of nowhere, the evil tooth fairy drives an ice pick up through my gum into my eye socket. I know I have to go through with this.

It’s been 45 years since I last sat in a dentist’s chair. I was 21 and about to get married. My mama was determined that I get my teeth checked before I stepped completely out on my own.

I wasn’t having any trouble. My teeth felt fine. But, sure enough, they found 3 cavities. Before I knew it, a dental assistant swabbed my mouth, the dentist jabbed me about five times with a needle full of Novocain. My head was back. A suction hose hung over the side of my jowls. Then there was drilling and filling and pain for days.

I made a decision right then and there, which I have stuck to ever since. Unless my teeth hurt, I would never put myself through that again.

I think it was back in July. I was having lunch up at the Whistling Pig. The first bite of my BBQ sandwich sent a lightning jolt up through my 3rd molar on the upper right side. I mean, I had to put the sandwich down and gather myself to keep from losing my composure.

I felt the tooth with my fingertip. It didn’t move. A little pressure from the side was fine. But push up? Ugh, my eyes wanted to water up.

I ate lunch that day with a very conscientious effort to chew on the left side. And supper that night. And every meal for about a week. Little by little the pain subsided and eventually, it just went away. Like it had never happened.

About 3 weeks ago, the pain came back with a vengeance. My face ached. I woke up one morning and could tell my right cheek was swollen. When I looked in the mirror and grinned at my ugly morning face, I had only one dimple on the left side, and my eye socket felt like it was going to explode out of my head.

So, I gave in and called a dentist. I don’t have a regular dentist. I remind you of my long-standing resolution. I called the one that Beth always went to; the same one she took the kids to all their growing up years. They said that they could try to work me in, but they were booked well into February.

“I’ll be glad to schedule you in February if that works for you,” she said.

I declined.

I don’t know about you, but I hold on to a few “special” medications for the sake of emergencies like this. I asked my Doc about unused scripts one day. His advice? “Keep the good stuff. You never know when you might need it.”

I had some Amoxicillin in the cabinet. I took one and by evening was beginning to get some relief. I also contacted my regular doctor, who was gracious enough to call in a new prescription for me. I had no idea how long it would take to find a dentist who would see me. The antibiotics would have to get me through the Thanksgiving holiday.

Monday came and it was obvious that I still needed a dental intervention. I found one of those national chain dealerships who would take me the next morning. I shouldn’t mention the name, but it sounds a lot like the name of a ski resort in Colorado.

I have to say, they are efficient. And different. It was kind of like being herded through the process at a car dealership. Everyone was very pleasant and wanted to make sure I was completely comfortable.

“You need anything to drink, Mr. Chappell?”

I went to one room for xrays. Another room for imaging. In another room, I laid back in a chair while a young lady took a gismo about the size of a Swingline desktop stapler and proceeded to shove it in and around every oral cavity I had and some I didn’t think were possible.

“We’re getting a full 3D image of all your teeth and gums. This way, Dr. Cunningham won’t miss a thing.”

“You doing okay?” she says.

“Umm-grh-awhh-rah-mm.”

“That’s good. Just a bit more and we’ll be done.”

I honestly did not know that the human mouth could be stretched wide enough to wrap around a small suburban neighborhood. The things you learn!

Once all the examinations were complete, the hygienist came in and explained how radioactive my gums were due to neglect. The dentist came in and explained how oral science had seen a few ridiculous challenges over the years, but she believed she could pull me through in good fashion.

“If you’ll step right this way, our business manager will be with you in a few minutes to go over your options. Can I get you anything while you wait?”

The whole time I’m thinking, “I’ve got one tooth that’s killing me. That’s all I care about. I hope I get out of here alive.”

The lady behind the desk printed off a pile of paper, stapled it and slid it across in front of me.

“Let’s look over your options today.”

I gotta give them credit for having spunk, or nerve, or swag, or whatever you might call it. The top sheet was the summary page with the total for all work summitted by the dental team. You ready for this? For a mere $32K they could fix me right up.

I’ve always suspected that my teeth might go to pot one day. They’ve never bothered me. I have one tooth with the back half broken off, but no pain. I clean the best I can. Floss. Brush. Swish. Rinse. But this is nuts.

My dad got a full set of false teeth when he was just 28. I remember standing at his bathroom door, watching him hold his dentures in one hand and a brush in the other. I never thought it was odd because that’s all I had ever known.

“So,” I say to her. “Just for chuckles, what does it cost if we pull all my teeth and I get a full set of dentures?”

She clicks on her computer keyboard. “Looks like about $10K.”

I’m thinking, what a deal!

I ended up getting the one tooth pulled for a very moderate fee. Plus, they were ready to take me right back to a room. No waiting and no scheduling another appointment.

I’m still eating mush until things heal. I still hate going to the dentist.

But when I do, I’ll be looking for a second opinion on that $32K.