To keep “4” (that’s what they call him) in my mouth, we have taken extraordinary measures. He’s had his roots dug out and refilled twice, then he got sliced into from the side. If I had taken 4 to my vet, he would now be buried in a box in my grandmother’s backyard.
Partly because of the fourth tooth on the left side of my mouth, I’ve had four major dental procedures in the last year. This has coincided with a year of dating my boyfriend. Since I have had a hell of a time maintaining a relationship, I am reluctant to break up and pair him with another woman merely to test his tooth-destroying skills. I am curious, though.
Last fall, I had a wisdom tooth abscess, then in the spring, a tooth on the left side of my face went evil. The wisdom tooth we pulled. The other tooth we tried to save.
Before my last procedure, an apioectomy, I got the fancy x-ray, instead of the usual side zapper. You stand up and hold these handlebars, like you are going to blast aliens in a virtual-reality game, and then bite down on a covered piece of plastic, which mostly takes the fun out of it.
“I suggest you close your eyes,” the hygienist said. “It’s going to zoom all the way around you, taking pictures.” Of course, I had to open my eyes after she said that. I peeked. I am not blind so far.
The amazing revolving x-ray showed that the infection in my tooth was in a quite inaccessible spot. Mr. Endodontist rotated 4’s image so we could see all the way around it. “It looks like that root grew all the way through your jaw bone, so we couldn’t get at it with the other procedures,” he explained. That was gross, in an intriguing way.
In fact, it was the most interesting thing he had said, except for my favorite quip: “Are you still speaking to me?” This is his line when he returns after giving you five shots to numb the hell out of your face. I wonder if he uses it on his wife.
So the root of this tooth grows through the jawbone, meaning that we could get to it with the procedure I’d been obsessively reading about on the internet at work: the apioectomy. It sounded actually more horrible than a root canal.
Cut into the gum, drill and slice out the infected tissue and root from the side, and stitch the whole thing back up. Gum stitches mean a whole new category of swelling and rules about hot foods, which you don’t have with an easy-peasy little root canal.
Of course, I had many questions. “What happens if we do nothing?” Well, nothing. My gum would hurt there forever. The infection was trapped on its own little island, and wouldn’t go anywhere. “What are the odds it will work?” Oh, maybe 3 out of 4. I don’t do that many of them.
(Yes, just what everyone likes to hear from a medical professional.)
“Well, how much will it cost?” Oh, I won’t charge you. I’ll just run it through and see if your insurance pays. I’m just sorry you’ve had so much trouble with this tooth. Maybe he also means: I wish I had done that fancy x-ray earlier.
So there I was, sitting in his damn chair again, and I had a perfect out. He told me it would be fine. He told me I could skip the novocaine, the drill, the stitches, the oatmeal and applesauce slurping, the special They Might Be Giants playlist, and the tapping of my foot that keeps me focused away from anticipating a potential poke at a sneaky, live nerve.
On the other hand, how often do you get offered free dental surgery? And was I really planning to wince every time I rubbed makeup over that age spot on my left cheekbone? Every time I stabbed the tooth brush the wrong way up there? Every time, forever?
He’s given me a hell of a time. Still, 4 and I had been together so long. Was I the sort of person who gives up on a tooth when the going gets tough?
Unfortunately, I was not.
The endodontist could cut me up that afternoon, but first I had an hour to go for a walk around the office park. It was a gorgeous day. Lemon lacing on the hostas, bitter red leaves on the baby oaks. A good breeze. Occasionally I felt a rush of anxiety and adrenaline, like I had been standing at the top of a waterslide for too long. I slowly ate a rice krispie treat. Those would be rough going pretty soon.
I went in, and got shot up. One of the shots, this time, went into a blood vessel, causing a spasm up by my eye that was more odd than painful. “Are you still speaking to me?” the guy said, time three.
I started up the “James Ensor” track of my special dental work playlist and the little Irish dance I did with my feet: tap, tap, tap. “You know what they say,” the hygienist reminded me before the disfigurement began, “the third time’s the charm.”