Originally published at brigidkeely.com/wordpress. You can comment here or there.
I have an incredibly high level of dentist-related anxiety, much of it due to a dentist who apparently didn’t know how to inject Novocaine and who also didn’t believe me when I told him I was in pain, and some of it due to a dentist who I don’t even remember except with terror. Something about being alone in an office (like, desk and chairs office) at the age of 3 or 4 with no parent, while he threatened to handcuff me to something (a chair?) if I didn’t behave while he was cleaning my teeth. Stay classy, medical professionals. Stay classy. Also, I had an orthodontist who found my mouth too small for his fat fingers so he broke my jaw while trying to cram his hands in there, and who refused to trim my wires because I could just “bend them back with a spoon when I got home,” even though I was physically there in his physical office and they were gouging great big bloody furrows in my cheeks.
What I mean is, my reactions to the dentist have a root in actual physical and emotional pain. While they continue to be irrational and overblown, they didn’t come walloping up out of nowhere. I have a long and established history of dentists causing me pain and either not believing me or else insulting and belittling me when I talked about that pain. One dentist, for instance, physically restrained me (shoved me back against the chair and held me down) while he worked on me. I wasn’t a little kid (not that it would have been appropriate for a little kid, mind), I was in high school. He tried to do the same thing to my brother, who is larger and stronger than I am and who managed to get away from him.
I also haven’t had dental insurance in a long time. While I did have a dental care plan worked out a few years ago, a sudden financial emergency that ate up all our savings, the money I had set aside for my dental care, AND all my credit, put an end to that. I also took a medication that caused dry mouth that lasted for years after I stopped taking the medication. So, you know, I have some pretty bad cavities. Two of these cavities are so big that they need root canals.
I did see a dentist about them, but I was pregnant at the time. I thought it would be a simple matter of filling one tooth. Some very quick X-Rays later I was told brusquely that I needed two root canals, my teeth were in bad shape, and the office was going to give me a referral to another place but I had to figure out who I could see (my insurance situation sucked ass and hardly covered anyone in the area). I was reluctant to get major work done while pregnant so just sucked it up and waited and withstood tremendous, searing pain that fortunately didn’t last for very long. It came and went, luckily. At least for awhile.
And then it came and didn’t go. It hurt so badly I wanted to claw my face off and pull certain teeth out with my bare fingers. Or die. You know. Whichever. So I arranged to see a dentist.
He took a bunch of X-Rays, told me my teeth were shit, mocked me for having so many cavities, and had a dental tech “polish” my teeth. Then they took the bib off and told me it was time to set up an appointment. For five weeks later.
Granted, the dentist was going out of town in two weeks, but five weeks later? There was no way to squeeze me and my SEARING FUCKING PAIN in earlier? Apparently not.
And then the pain settled in and wouldn’t leave. It hurt so bad I couldn’t sleep. I’d just sit on the couch and fold laundry and watch PBS specials on Peru and whimper and sob, tears running down my face, trying to keep quiet so I wouldn’t wake Nesko up because it was like 2:00 am. I was downing Tylenol III, extra strength Tylenol, and 4 Excedrin at the same time, and still longing for death because the pain was barely being touched. And then my stomach started hurting from all the Excedrin, which is one of the few non-prescription pain medications that works for me.
I turned to the Vicodin left over from my C-Section. I only had 8 left and didn’t want to use them up. What if the pain got even worse? I tried to space them out, take them with non prescription pain killers, not eat or drink anything that would make the pain worse, not let my teeth touch each other, that sort of thing.
I was able to get an appointment yesterday and went in.
Apparently it’s impossible to do more than one root canal at a time, so I had to chose which tooth to get worked on, which was an ass choice to make because they both hurt like hell. No matter which one I chose I’d still have terrific pain. I chose the right one, though, because since making the initial appointment that tooth had begun falling apart, and at least the left one still seemed stable.
The dentist gloved up and got a cotton swab with numbing gel on it. As he brought it towards my mouth, something jabbed me in the lip and I flinched away. He gave me A Look and said in a voice dripping with contempt “It’s just a Q-Tip.” I told him that yeah, I knew what it was, and that something had jabbed me in the lip or given me an electric shock or something. He checked out the swab and yeah, the wooden shaft of it had a splinter that had jabbed me in the fucking lip. Maybe I’m just a demanding, needy, asshole but I really don’t think it’s professional or decent to treat someone who is obviously on edge and nervous with contempt. “It’s just a Q-Tip.” Fuck you.
He swabbed my gum (no dentist has done this before; one used to give me an injection before the Novocaine that hurt like HELL and I’ve mostly just gotten Novacaine shots. They aren’t THAT bad) and then injected Novocaine into the outside of the gum, near the lip. Then he started drilling. And it hurt.
I’m pretty used to drilling hurting. I mentioned that I had a dentist who didn’t know how to administer Novocaine, right? Because I have so many idiosyncratic reactions to pain killers, I just assumed that Novocaine didn’t work on me. I even have had cavities drilled out with no Novocaine whatsoever. When I had a dentist who administered Novocaine correctly for the first time, I was surprised and thrilled. People had been telling me for years that I was just a fucking coward with a low pain tolerance who couldn’t tell the difference between pressure and pain.
In point of fact, I know what pain feels like.
I mentioned that the drilling was hurting and that it felt really cold. Very cold. Like when you stick an ice cube against a metal filling and the metal conducts the cold up the nerve and you feel like you’re being stabbed in the brain with an ice pick cold. Ok, I didn’t explain it THAT much. I was too busy trying not to scream, punch him, and flee the room. He gave me another Look and told me that he could give me “40 injections of Novocaine” and I’d still feel stuff. Then he started drilling again and it hurt even more. I gasped and made this terrible high pitched whimper and climbed 3 or 4 inches up the chair, white knuckling the arm rests. He asked where the pain was and I said it felt like it was right up the middle of my tooth and up into my eye socket. He let out this huge sigh like I was incredibly inconveniencing him and give me another shot, this time in the roof of my mouth.
He started drilling again, and I knew he was fiddling around with my teeth and I felt pressure and the occasional bits of pain that didn’t last long. But it wasn’t that OH MY GOD I WANT THIS OVER JUST PULL THE FUCKING TOOTH pain.
He didn’t think my pain was real.
Which, honestly, is pretty par for the course when I see any dentist or doctor.
He drilled and drilled and did stuff and I tried very hard not to pay attention so I wouldn’t freak out, and then it felt like he was drilling other teeth, including a back molar– possibly the wisdom tooth that I need to have pulled. I didn’t want him to touch any other cavities; I’m pretty sure he’s not covered by my current (State issued/funded) insurance and I wanted to go to a specific place that IS covered, so this little adventure might well end up costing me a hell of a lot more than I thought. He didn’t ask me what type of fillings I wanted, he didn’t tell me what filling is in the premolar he worked on (pretty sure it’s temporary, but he didn’t say anything), didn’t tell me if I needed a crown or anything, didn’t mention root canaling the other tooth, just told me to make another appointment. I was too shaken up to really ask any questions, although I did ask about pain relief.
He advised me to take Tylenol, which can cause migraines in me and usually doesn’t work at all on pain (not that he’d know that, that wasn’t part of any intake evaluation and isn’t really a common thing) or midol.
Because apparently I can expect cramping and bloating in my mouth in the near future.
I was too rattled to really push the issue, but brought up the OH MY GOD SEARING PAIN and he told me that it was because I was grinding/clenching my teeth.
Which I haven’t been. I have never done that except under very specific stressful situations which this isn’t one of.
He told me that no, I have been! Most likely while asleep.
I said no, I don’t grind or clench my teeth, and most of the pain has been while I’m awake.
He argued that no, I must just not be noticing it, but I’m totes grinding/clenching my teeth and if I don’t believe HIM then I can ask his RECEPTIONIST who either grinds/clenches his teeth or else is psychic and knows my mouth better than I do.
Considering that touching tooth to tooth is painful, and that I have TMJ and so really really notice when I clench or grind my teeth, I really don’t think that’s what’s going on. But hey! He’s a DENTIST! He obviously knows me better than I know myself!
My entire body hurts today. All my muscles were tensed up as I braced for pain after pain yesterday. I had to keep opening my mouth, knowing that he was going to shove more instruments in there that were going to hurt me. I had to keep my mouth open while foul tastes and odors and pain wafted around and my jaw hurt more and more from staying open. My tooth that was worked on hurts like fuck because, duh, it was worked on (this is normal and will fade soon) and my other tooth hurts like fuck because it still needs work. And pain is radiating out of that tooth even when I’m sitting with my teeth far apart; my jaw doesn’t quite align right and my molars are crooked enough that it’s not really comfortable for me to have my mouth shut “normally” most of the time. Either my top front teeth rest directly on top of (but slightly to the side) of my front lower teeth, or else my lower lip is caught between the two of them. (My teeth/jaw aren’t as fucked up as this sounds, really.) Trust me, I am not grinding or clenching my teeth, and I still have searing pain that makes my eye socket hurt.
I’m not sure if this tooth will withstand the week and a half wait till the next appointment, and I’m literally sick at the idea of how much this will all cost. Literally. My stomach’s in turmoil. When people talk about the high cost of being poor, this is part of that. If I’d had dental insurance OR the money to properly deal with this crap when it was JUST small cavities– hell, if I’d been able to afford regular dental cleanings and thus prevented the cavities– this would not be the huge expensive pain-wracked issue it is now.
*for the less nerdy out there, the title is a reference to a Simpsons episode where the Union Homer is a member of has to renegotiate benefits. The existing Dental Plan is at risk of being discarded, but Lisa needs braces. Homer winds up fighting for the Dental Plan so his kids can get adequate dental care.