Monday, December 1, 2008

I'd rather have a root canal

The following are true life stories. Warning: what you're about to read is not for the fainthearted or the innocent. Not that anyone in those categories would actually read my blog. But still, I felt a need to add that disclaimer.

I went to the dentist the first time when I was three or four years old. It was a very traumatic experience, made worse by the sounds of the drills coming from the back rooms. "Don't put that squeaky thing on me!" I cried, and had what my mother called a pure-tee fit. Although I don't remember the rest, most likely I had my tail torn up (to coin another of Mama's oft-used phrases) in front of the whole dental clinic staff and all the patients in the waiting room. No doubt this experience set the tone for all future visits to dentists.

Not long after this, I got really sick and went through several rounds of antibiotics. I'm a "tetracycline baby" - like a lot of kids who took tetracycline in the 1960s, I developed a strange discoloration on my teeth. This has caused me a great deal of personal stress over the years. Fortunately, I've been able to clear it up a little with a couple of very expensive whitening treatments. But the discoloration will never completely go away.

When I was around six or seven years old, routine dental x-rays revealed that I had supernumerary teeth. In other words, I had three sets of teeth. And you suspected all along that I was a freak of nature. Now you know! This weird phenomenon happens in less than 2% of the population.

My "permanent" permanent teeth - that is, the third set - was coming in crooked behind the so-called permanent teeth (my second set.) So when I was around eight years old, the fun really began. For the next two years I would go to the dentist quite often and have various second-set teeth removed, in order to make room for the third set. And of course, when they grew in, I had to get braces.

I forgot to mention that my childhood dentist had Parkinson's disease, so his hands shook often. Once while he was drilling, his hand started shaking and he accidentally gave me a frenectomy. That is, the drill flew up and sliced my frenulum (that stringlike piece of skin that connects your lip to your gum.) Blood went everywhere. It was like a horror movie.

But back to the braces. The town closest to where we lived was so small, it had no orthodontist, so every three weeks or so my Dad would pick me up early from school, and we'd drive thirty miles to Fayetteville for me to see Dr. X. (I don't know why I want to call him Dr. X, because he's dead now so it really doesn't matter. But I'll call him Dr. X anyway.) Dr. X was an alcoholic. He often reeked of liquor and was either very happy or very, very mean. I had several consultations with him before the braces went on. Since my appointment was usually late in the day, it became our habit for Dad and I to stop and get a snack on the way to the orthodontist's office. 

One day, we passed by Krispy Kreme Donuts and the HOT DONUTS NOW! sign was on, so we stopped in. I had a couple of hot glazed donuts, and probably a soft drink of some type. Then we went to the orthodontist. Wouldn't you know that would be the day for him to put my braces on? I asked him if I could brush my teeth first since I'd just eaten donuts, but he said no, that we had to get the braces on right then and he didn't have time for me to mess around.

When the braces came off three years later, I had a cavity behind one of my front teeth, and several dark spots on my back teeth that remain to this day. I'm convinced that if he would have let me brush my teeth first, these things would not have happened. What a jerk he was!!! You can't even really tell that I ever had braces now. Grr!!!

My next adventure came along when I was eighteen or nineteen and two of my wisdom teeth decided to grow in sideways. Again, I'm not kidding - the roots were aiming towards the roof of my mouth, and they were pressing on a nerve. At the time I was doing some really wacky things, and it turned out, my behavior was actually out of my control. The endodontist I went to told my parents that it was really amazing that I was still functioning. 

I share all these things because over the years, I've developed a serious case of odontophobia or dental phobia. I practically have to be drugged before I can go to a dentist. Through trial and error, I've learned some tactics to get by. But nothing, baby, nothing is like nitrous oxide. A couple weeks ago, I had my second root canal ever, and it was AWESOME!!! My endodontist's assistant hooked me up to this tank and . . . WOO-HOO! PARTY TIME!!! I could hear the roto rooter going on in my tooth, I could even feel the jabbing and stabbing and swooshing. I could even smell the funky odor of burning teeth - MY burning teeth. But I DIDN'T CARE!!!

Today, I went to my regular dentist so she could fit me for the crown which will eventually go on this same tooth. She started drilling down my tooth, and I thought I was going to go insane. But nothing happened. There was no pain at all. She kind of laughed at me and said: "Well, you shouldn't have any pain, since you had a root canal on that tooth." (My dentist laughs at me all the time so I'm used to it.)

So for the first time ever - well, maybe just a for a few minutes - I actually relaxed in my dentist's chair without the use of drugs. It's a miracle! But about that nitrous oxide - it sure would be nice to have a little of that just before I go into my year-end performance review meeting!!!