Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Dentist and Me

At the beginning of the week, I went to a new dentist.  I realize that most folks do not look forward to this, but few I've met dread the dentist more than I do.  I occasionally  feel like Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man about to meet the Olivier dentist. The new hygenist told me for someone who doesn't like going to the dentist, I've certainly spent a lot of time in "the chair." This is true.  I have had a ton of work done, and for the most part, it is not my fault.

To understand my fear of dental work we need to go back a few years. As a child, my family dentist sent me to a specialist in Denver.  I am not sure about this, but I think much of the work was done on teeth I was going to lose anyway. We would travel the four and half hours to Denver for the appointment.  The enamel on my teeth was weak, and I had a number of cavities.  I don't recall much of those visits except, there were at least two, they were very painful and scary, and the dentist gave out a choice of comic books after the appointment.  I also recall the trip home, and that we would stop at a restaurant where I could order chicken noodle soup because the fillings would take several hours to set, and I would need what seemed like an eternity for the novocaine to wear off.  My jaw would ache for hours because of the procedure and the shots to deaden the side of my face that was worked on.   There was no pre-numbing salve used to deaden the shot site either.  Did I mention I was just a kid.  I don't think I was in school yet.

And so my journey with the dentist began.

I lived in dread of going to the dentist.  Cleanings were excruciating, and I would consider myself lucky if I didn't have more than one cavity.  It would be years before I found out why my teeth were so cavity prone. I thought, and so did most dentists, that I was just bad at oral hygiene.  Turns out not so.  Oh sure, I did add to the problem.  Between coffee and smoking and not regularly flossing,  I didn't help matters.

I also broke a tooth in a bicycling accident half of the tooth had to be replaced.

Then I got my first crown.  A molar with a large filling in it cracked in half.  The dentist I was going to at the time had to do a crown to fix it.  With the crown came a root canal.  I would discover years later that the dentist had broken a bit off in the root canal and left it there.  That was discovered on another crown was placed on the tooth above.  The second crown required two root canals.  The first one didn't take, and an infection occurred.  I still have a small scar from the infection on my upper gum. I also have a crown with a filling in it.

I've had a series of dentists who are, shall we say less than stellar.  Besides the three that didn't do well with my crowns, there was the dentist I went to that thought he should replace every filling or put a crown on the teeth that had big fillings.  He saw "micro fractures" everywhere.  I think he probably saw money and insurance payments everywhere.  When he started seeing them in my wife's mouth during her check-ups, we knew something was up.  My wife had always had near perfect teeth.  We changed dentists.  It was then I found the dentist of my dreams.

He told me why I had weak enamel.  I was raised on high mineral probably overly fluoridated well water. It created brownish stains or  rings in my bones, including my teeth.  Also, the fact that my mother did not drink milk had an impact on my enamel growth.  It explains why I had so many cavities.  When my wisdom teeth came in, I had space for them, but there were so many cavities in them, it was simply easier to have them extracted.  My new dentist practiced pain free dentistry.  He didn't just say it; he really was pain free.  After years of painful cleanings and even a few times actually finding cuts from the instruments in the roof of my mouth, I had found the perfect dentist and his highly qualified hygienists.  We had developed a way of maintaining my teeth.  I had come to expect no...that's cavities.

Then it happened.  My insurance at work changed, and my dentist didn't take my new insurance.  I couldn't afford him.  I had to go elsewhere.  Enter one of those dental chains.  It was recommended to us.  They too practiced pain free dentistry.  Take my word, they needed more practice.  Several of the dentists for example would use the pre-shot deadening salve but would never give it time to take effect before giving me the shots.  In the several years I went to them, I don't believe I ever saw the same dentist or hygienist more than twice.  Hard to form a relationship with someone you only see once or twice.  It was this group that gave me the wonders of the infected crown.

 My final adventure with them was when my original crown, you know the one with the drill bit still in the root canal, came off.  I met yet another dentist at the "dentist factory" as I called it.  Her broken English and heavy accent made her very difficult to understand.  She put on a temporary crown and told me I had to go to a specialist for another root canal.   Two visits later to the specialist, I returned.  It was then that I was told I she needed to do cavity work.  It seems the reason the other crown came loose was because it was badly fitted and decay had caused the crown to loosen.  When she was done, she told me there was not enough tooth to hold a new crown and off I was sent to another specialist for crown lengthening.  Not to gross anyone out, but crown lengthening means they cut back the gum and put a notch around the tooth socket to give more surface for the prosthetic crown.

A few weeks later, I returned from that specialist for the crown.  I had another new dentist back at the factory.  This one too had an accent, but at least I understood her, and I didn't need her assistant to translate.  My retirement was about to kick in full, and that meant I was about to change insurance again.  I told the dental office that it was crucial that all bills be done before that change occurred.  They assured me that I was paid in full, and my new dentist fit me for the crown.  Two weeks later I came in for the crown.  We had moved to a new office. It had digital x-rays and a  little TV camera that let the dentist show you what the problems were.  She was fascinated by her new toys.  I, on the other hand, have no desire to see inside my mouth.  A new crown, two dentists and two specialists later I went on my way.  Four weeks later I got a threatening letter that I owed several hundred dollars that the insurance did not cover.  It was the first "bill" I had received.  The insurance had maxed because of all the specialists.  I told them they had said I was paid in full and had not actually received any bills.  They did remove the late charges, but I still had to pay the difference.  Good to know that they were able to pay for their in-the-mouth camera.

And so I went to a new dentist.  He too is highly recommended and so far has been pain free.  He also could tell why my teeth are the way they are.  There may be hope.  I go back at the end of the week to have the broken tooth filling replaced, something that's needed to be done for awhile.  Every dentist I saw back at the dental factory had said so.  I never saw one long enough to actually get it done.

The irony of this all.  My mom wanted me to be a dentist.