Warning: this will not be a sugar-coated account of my recent visits to the dentist.
I had my own teeth for 62 years and 9 months…not accounting the first years of life when they were still coming in.
Early on, I went to the dentist as a child on a regular basis (thanks, Mom & Dad). After leaving home, those visits to the local giver of pain became less and less frequent. As as teenager, I even had braces for a couple of years. I had a nice, straight smile. But over the years, neglect, based on extreme dentist fear, has led me to to be what I am now: a wearer of dentures.
Understand that I now have a great set of choppers, albeit at this point in time, they are more for decoration than function. It takes a while to get used to the foreign “appliances” in my mouth and to learn how to make them function properly, ie, eat, chew, talk. Most of the drooling the first days following has subsided!
The decision to move in this direction was not a hard one. Over the years, especially the past two years my dental situation had deteriorated quite a lot. Between old fillings breaking up, a few extractions, and another several “falling outs”, it was time to (pardon the pun) pull the cord! The chemotherapy seemed to expedite this.
After the initial xrays, exam, and consultation, the dentist agreed that dentures would be a judicious move for me. The old ones would come out, and the new ones would go in. Let me say at this point in time, “implants” were not an option, mostly do to the extravagant cost – about $1000 per tooth – times 32, you get the picture. And that wouldn’t include the extensive exodontist surgery leading up to new teeth. Hell, George Washington had false teeth at a much younger age, of course they were made of wood, but now things are different. Let me say this right now before I get into the procedure. What hasn’t changed? The pain involved with having that many teeth extracted. And, in my case, I opted for having them done all at once, in one sitting.
Here’s the deal. There isn’t enough novacaine in a dentist office to offset the pain and discomfort one experiences with extractions, especially that many at one time. Yes, I was conscious the whole time. I am a bit surprised there aren’t straps on the side of the chair for your arms for this type of agenda.
I could have had the teeth yanked in four separate sessions, one every couple of weeks or so. Again, I chose for all at once to, number one, get it done in a shorter amount of time, and number two, I wouldn’t have to go through four different periods of anxiety leading to the next appointments. Ah, dentist anxiety! That’s what got me here in the first place. “Let’s just do it!”, I told the nice little, Asian female dentist. “OK”, she said, “We make you nice new teeth – we make you nice dentures”. No, I didn’t go abroad for this…it was in Modesto. She was very comforting. That day, I got impressions made and chose the shade and size of my new teeth. The shade “samples” were hung on a little rack, side by side. On one end were overly-white, toilet porcelain colored teeth. The other end were teeth that looked liked Boston baked beans! Who would ever choose that? I surmised they were for people in need of “partials” and wanted a match to their 50 years of smoking teeth. I chose a shade somewhere in the middle. And I also had to choose a size. I certainly didn’t want Mr. Ed choppers, but did go for a size a bit larger than the dentist recommended. My case was off to the denture technician…and I was on the way home for a 3 week wait.
Do to my medical conditions, I had to get clearance from my doctor(s). This led to a consultation with the dentist/manager of the office. It went something like this…”I must tell you”, he said in a very stern tone, “that this procedure you are having will not be easy. I just want you to know that it will be painful, and, it will remain painful for days following”. I can’t say that I was shocked or surprised with this disclosure, I kind of expected it. He also went on to say that he will guarantee that they will not only look good, they will function properly…eventually. He said it is more of a concern for me (him) that they function properly than look good. I wanted at that point to remind him of Billy Crystal’s Fernando Lama’s impression, “You know…it’s better to look good than to feel good!” – but I declined. I just wanted to get out of there, go back home, and worry…2 weeks to go.
Getting injected with copious amounts of novacaine is at times worse than the procedure itself. In this case, it was no different…pretty much of a toss up on the discomfort scale. I laid there in the chair for what seemed an eternity as the anesthetic took affect. My whole face from the nose down was “gone”. Touching my nose and lips was almost nightmarish in itself – they weren’t mine any longer. It felt like someone else’s skin. So be it – let’s get this show on the road!
From the time Doctor S&M got started until he said, “We’re done!”…maybe an hour and a half. That time period seemed like the longest hour and a half I ever spent. Without sounding like I’m describing a scene out of the movie “Hostel”, each and every extraction was a painful, crunching, cracking wrestling match. Even though I tried to keep my eyes closed during most heinous bouts, I did catch glimpses of large, long stainless steel instruments, various forms of plier-like tools, more novacaine syringes, and teeth being dropped into small plastic cups right in front of my eyes. “Aren’t they supposed to keep those visions out of the patient’s sight?” I kept asking myself. The dentist kept asking me, “Are you OK?”. I would nod my head and he would get back to work. He did continue to tell me what a great patient I was being under these circumstances – “Some patients don’t handle this as well” he reassured me. And then…it was over. “We’re done”, he said, “Now a few sutures and it’s over”.
He stitched me up, reiterated what a great patient I was, and he was gone. The original little, Asian lady dentist reappeared…with my new teeth in hand. She removed the large amount of bloody gauze and without much of a pause popped the upper and lower plates into my bloody mouth. Yes, a lot of blood. She handed me a hand mirror. I hesitated to look, but did anyway. I couldn’t see much save for the blood on my new teeth.
At this point, she said I needed to leave them in for at least 3 days and she would make an appointment for 10 days out for a “soft reline”. “Have a nice day!” I was out of there lickity split. I made my way out to the lobby and waved at Loretta to follow. I was in no condition to talk to anyone in the crowed lobby. “Let’s go!” I couldn’t talk at that point anyway – the numbness and the foreign objects in my mouth prevented that.
The surgery ended about 11:30. I spent the remainer of the afternoon in my office chair trying not to drool bloody material out of my bottom lip. If I kept my head raised up I managed to prevent that. Throughout the next several hours, the full face and lip numbness subsided, giving way to excruciating, deep pain in my face and jaw. Strap in, it’s going to be a rough ride just like the manager dentist had warned, he wasn’t far off. The vicodin prescribed wasn’t nearly as effective as I had anticipated. In fact, it didn’t really help at all due to the magnitude of the things that were done to me earlier. Considering all I had done to me during the previous year, I assured myself that it will all soon pass – and, it eventually did.
Now, a few weeks later, as predicted, I am still adjusting to the fit and to minor discomfort on the surface of my gums. This also will eventually go away. I still can’t chew much of anything tough with any success, the looseness and soreness prevents that. It will get better, I know that. Loretta went through a similar (upper only) process 14 years ago.
I write this somewhat gruesome blog for two reasons. One, that anyone contemplating getting dentures know exactly what they’re in for. Yes, perhaps some people are able to have it done with nitrous oxide (laughing gas), but I was not a candidate. It won’t be fun and there will be a several month adjustment period to include a soft reline in a few weeks, then a hard reline in a few months when everything settles in. Second, that anyone putting off going to the dentist should go..now. Pay the dentist now, or pay the dentist later…just like car repairs.
I’ve told people many times that my fear level of going to the dentist is way beyond even having something like colon surgery, bipass, or chemotherapy – I’ve done them all. “Painless” dental work? Unless you are put totally out (as I had done with a couple of extractions in the past), there is no such thing. It’s a conundrum to say the least.
In closing, I will tell you that I went to Western Dental in Modesto. I wouldn’t recommend them. Even though the dentists and technicians were very capable and professional, the front office staff is a joke! Mindless, unfriendly, young little girls with little or no people skills, some with really shitty attitudes considering it’s a dentist office. Geeze, you would have thought they worked at Walmart! LOL Wait…Walmart people are friendlier.
Dentures – just another necessary indignity of getting older(er). But, geeze, to tell the truth, I’ve got a great smile now – almost as good as it used to be.