Saturday, January 01, 2005

Little Shop of Horrors

[Warning: This is a personal rant; if you want insight,wisdom, or serious news, you'd better skip on down to earlier entries.]

Remember the recommendation to the sadist, in the musical Little Shop of Horrors? "Be a dentist!"

I hate dentists -- actually I hate doctors in general, but dentists have my particular ire. My husband, Jim, just says I have a problem with authority figures. Mostly, it's because I don't like being messed with, or being lectured, and when I go to visit a medical person, I have to submit to both, and pay for the privilege. I also object to a lot of unnecessary follow-up i.e. your kid is given antibiotics for his earache, and after that is complete you are supposed to go back to the doctor so he can look in the kid's ear and say "Yep, the infection's gone.", when you know that already, because you have a well child.

That's just one example -- it just seems like a whole lot more medical care is considered necessary than once was the case. I can't remember seeing a dentist before I was eleven -- now they want you to bring your four-year-old, who has to be sent to a special children's dentist because the whole experience is so scary and they won't sit still. That means, in a rural area, an out-of-town trip, and when our kids were little, we were a one-car family, so that was a major inconvenience. And you are a bad parent if you don't do it. Medical people always act like you have infinite leisure and money to do this stuff.

Before I had kids, I had excellent teeth. That first dentist visit when I was eleven found me cavity-free. I got some through my teens and 20s, but not very many. Then, when my babies were born, it became difficult to go to the dentist -- I discovered from experience that bringing a toddler with you is a bad idea, and I didn't always have babysitting. So, I put it off. I had what I thought was some tooth sensitivity, that I ignored. I have a history of tooth sensitivity, which is made worse by the fact I grind my teeth at night. Finally, by time I went back, one tooth had a deep cavity that required a root canal.

The root canal was a harrowing experience, partly because I had a cold and couldn't breathe well --it left me shaking and sick, and I had to call my husband to take me home. (The large doses of antibiotics I was given after, though, cleared my sinuses within a day.) Then it took four follow-up visits to complete the operation; my late mother-in-law shook her head, sure I was being ripped off. I changed dentists eventually, because he kept telling me I had gum problems and made me come back every three months. I now see a dentist who really is a very nice man-- except for his being a dentist. He doesn't make me come back every three months to have my gums looked at.

However, several years later, the root canal abscessed -- all those multiple trips still failed to get all the tissue out of there. My dentist kind of wanted me to go to an endodontist, but I preferred simply to have the tooth pulled, and swore then and there that if I ever had a tooth go bad again, I would never get another root canal, but simply have the thing pulled. My regular dentist put a bridge on, which is excruciating on my sensitive teeth when he paints the glue on there -- but, as I am told, you have to have a bridge or your teeth get out of alignment. Most older people I know find that notion ridiculous; in their day, dentists didn't make you get bridges. You just waited until you had enough teeth pulled so you could get false teeth. Grandma swears that the teeth around her bridgeless gap haven't budged at all.

That's not the end of the story: My dentist had made my bridge out of some snazzy new material that, as it turned out, wasn't so snazzy, because it deteriorated. He built me, for free, another bridge, but I still had to deal with getting glue painted on my teeth. This second bridge, practically from the time I got it, was loose on one side, but I was damned if I was going to go back and face the glue brush again -- I'd already done it twice. So, I waited until the bridge came completely off, which it did last summer.

The tooth underneath the loose end of the bridge was very badly decayed, but the dentist thought he could probably fix it and put a bridge on it without needing to do a root canal. The bad news was we'd have to pay out of pocket for the new bridge, because we'd reached our limit with both the insurance and the dental credit card. I really didn't want another bridge; I'd had it with the whole mess, but this bad tooth would have to be capped somehow or it would hurt, so I consented, and paid the $2600. (It was a sheer stroke of luck I had the money; I couldn’t do it now.) He gave me Valium to get through the long procedure of getting rid of the decay on the bad tooth and affixing the bridge. I'm a very bad dental patient.

It turned out that this tooth was a very close call, with a better-than-average chance of abscessing -- my dentist, who is a devout Seventh Day Adventist advised me to pray that it didn't. "Literally, pray", he said, to emphasize that he was quite serious about getting God to personally preserve the health of my tooth.

Because if this tooth goes bad, it means another root canal. I said, absolutely not, it was a root canal that landed me in this ridiculous mess in the first place. With my hard-earned wisdom I consider my decision to allow a root canal instead of getting that first tooth pulled one of the worst of my life; second-worst was ever getting a bridge. He says I have to have a root canal; to pull the tooth means the bridge which I just paid cold, hard cash for would have to be taken off, and couldn't be replaced. A root canal could be done through the bridge by a very nice out-of-town specialist, and my devout dentist said, that root canals almost never go bad, and that I'd just had an unusally bad experience. I think I just have unusually difficult roots; unless my mother-in-law was right and the first dentist was ripping me off. Besides, if root canals go bad so rarely, what keeps these endodontists in business?

The tooth under the new bridge has never stopped hurting. The pain can be usually be controlled by analgesics, but I've had to take them nearly every day. Lately, I feel discomfort deeper in my jaw, and I'm very afraid this tooth isn't going to make it. It's January; the insurance will now pay, and I have the choice between throwing away a $2600 bridge and having a root canal, which will require multiple follow-ups to an out-of-town dentist, loss of work, and the possibility that it will go bad and I'll have to have it pulled anyway -- although I suspect my dentist would try mightily to get me to the endodontist first, in order to save the bridge. I’m way past the point of taking the dentist’s advice and hoping things will be o.k.; I just want it to end.

I’ve spent a decade, a lot of pain, and thousands of dollars -- and the more I get worked on, the worse things get. Hmm -- years ago I had a copy of Jeanne Rose’s Herbal; she cured a tooth abscess with garlic. She didn’t like dentists, either. It’s worth a shot.

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