I've just returned from more than three hours in the dentist's office--the first dental emergency I've ever had.
I'm pretty compulsive about taking care of my teeth. I brush and floss and have my teeth cleaned twice a year. While this is all part of good hygiene, I have a special reason for doing this: Novocaine, Lidocaine and Xylocaine don't seem to work on me. The nerves in my mouth just refuse to give up the ghost.
When I was thirty, I had surgery to break both my jaws because I suffered from TMD (commonly called TMJ). While I was considering the surgery, I asked for references and spoke to three patients who had previously undergone the operation. All three said my surgeon was correct when he told me that the nerves in my jaws would be so traumatized by the surgery that I would have no pain following the operation. In fact, two of the three told me it was months before they got all the feeling back in their jaws and one still had a dead spot just below her lips. All talked about difficulty in speaking correctly for a period of time.
I woke from the five-hour surgery with my jaws wired shut and in pain. When I tried to tell the surgeon, he patted me on the shoulder and said, "Go back to sleep."
For the next twenty-four hours, I continued to tell anyone who visited my room--doctors, nurses, residents, cleaning people--that I hurt. Everyone said, "Go back to sleep."
Twenty-seven hours after my surgery, my best friend told me the surgeon was lecturing a group of medical students in the hallway, explaining about "phantom pain." I muttered through my wired jaws, "Get that bastard in here NOW."
My surgeon later told me I resembled the head-spinning demon in The Exorcist when he walked into my room. He said he'd never heard a patient shout through wired jaws before.
I told him to test me for feeling, and I'd show him some "phantom pain." Five minutes later, after he blindfolded me and tapped my face in various places with the end of a pen while I pointed to exactly where he was tapping, I had all the morphine I wanted. The next few days passed in a blissful haze of non-feeling punctuated by visits from various hospital administrators trying to ensure I wouldn't sue the hospital.
A psychologist friend of mine later suggested that, given my background, I was unwilling to surrender my most powerful weapon--the ability to talk my way out of tough spots. According to her, my body just complied with my unconscious.
I'm saying all this to explain that, when a tiny piece of tooth fell out of my mouth recently, my first thought was, "Sweet mercy, not the dentist."
I wasn't having any pain, but tooth fragments falling out of one's mouth suggest a visit to one's friendly, local dental expert might be in order. My previous dentist retired a year ago, and my new dentist had done nothing more than clean and check my teeth. We hadn't had the "Xylocaine doesn't work on me" conversation yet.
The dentist confirmed what I already knew. The cusp of a lower right molar was missing. She advised I'd need a filling to replace the missing cusp because otherwise food would keep getting caught in the tiny space between the molars. Since I'd already experienced the singular pleasure of frantically searching my desk and bag for dental floss in the middle of the workday, I signed on for the filling.
The only catch was that she would have to shave the existing filling before doing the new filling.
I really have an objection to being put to sleep by someone other than an anesthesiologist in a hospital. So I decided to go with the flow and see whether I could make it through the filing of the filling.
She gave me a shot and, fifteen minutes later, she started shaving the filling. By gripping the armrests, I lasted almost twenty seconds (I was counting) before I jumped.
We waited another fifteen minutes for the local anesthetic to take firmer hold of me. This time, I lasted twenty-three seconds before jumping.
My dentist decided a second shot of anesthetic might be in order. A half an hour later, we had another go at it. I lasted all of thirty-seven seconds.
I'll spare you the gory details of the next ninety minutes. Suffice it to say, I now have a filling where my cusp once was.
I have not as yet dealt with the fact that I've been clenching my jaws together tightly enough to crack a tooth.
I'm also not feeling up to commenting on the several interesting bits of publishing news I uncovered before leaving for the torture chamber.
Talk to you later.
Postscript: It's 3:30 AM, and I've just woke with my jaws aching. Looking for the ibuprofen.