Two weeks ago, I arrived bright and early at my dentist’s office for what was supposed to be a routine crown replacement on tooth number 14. It didn’t go quite as planned.
In a mouth full of otherwise relatively healthy teeth, tooth number 14, a molar on the upper left side, has been nothing but trouble ever since it first poked through my gum line. When I was a teenager, it was always one of the teeth most prone to cavities. When it was time to have some fillings replaced in my early 20s, it was tooth number 14 that needed more than one.
Later in my 20s, progressing from minor issues to major ones, an abscess formed at the root of tooth number 14, necessitating a root canal and crown. When I asked the dentist who performed the work why I’m not having similar problems with any of my other teeth, he dispensed with any pretense of higher understanding. “Some teeth are just bad,” he said.
For the last twenty years or so, the tooth hasn’t given me any obvious trouble. One of the advantages of a tooth being essentially dead is that it’s not likely to cause any pain. However, the thin piece of metal that separates the crown from what’s left of a tooth creates a blind spot on x-rays. If anything is going wrong in that blind spot, you don’t find out until it spreads.
Well, about a month ago, during a typical cleaning and examination, tooth number 14 showed it wasn’t done being a pain in my ass. The new set of x-rays showed indications of decay near the edges of the blind spot. So a plan was made to remove the old crown, drill away the decay, and set a new crown. Like I said earlier, this is all relatively routine. I scheduled some time with the dentist a few weeks out, and away I went.
When I showed up two weeks ago, everything was going just fine at first. They didn’t even need to give me novacaine since they were working on a tooth with no nerves. The old crown came off relatively easily. Then the drilling started. And continued. And continued.
Then I saw the expression on the dentist’s face change, and I knew there was a problem. Apparently the tooth had a lot more decay hiding in that blind spot than anyone realized. If he kept drilling, there wasn’t going to be any tooth remaining above the jawbone, and therefore nothing to attach a crown to. There was no other choice. I would be leaving the office without tooth number 14.
Well, that’s not exactly how it worked it out either.
Now that this was an extraction procedure, I definitely needed novacaine. After it kicked in, the dentist began the process of removing the tooth. Tooth number 14 has three roots, so the tooth is first drilled apart, and then the remnants are extracted. After about ten minutes, he got the first root out. After about ten more minutes, he got the second root out. He spent another ten minutes working on the third root before pushing his stool away. He then said words I hope none of you ever has to hear after spending an hour in a dentist’s chair:
“I’m not going to charge you for today.”
He wasn’t charging me because he realized he couldn’t get the third root out without risking damage to my sinus, which is dangerously close to one of the roots of tooth number 14. He referred me instead to an oral surgeon just a mile up the street, who by shear luck had an appointment available in an hour. He then gave me a lot of extra free novacaine.
The oral surgeon needed another x-ray just to see what he was dealing with. Then he gave me even still more novacaine. After letting the novacaine go to work, he dug in. The longest part was getting the third root out. Since I had decided on an eventual implant to replace the missing tooth, he followed up with bone grafting, and then finally he stitched everything up. It wasn’t so bad.
Because the surgery was so close to the sinus, the surgeon put me on a sinus protocol. In addition to a course of antibiotics, it meant I couldn’t blow my nose for two weeks. Honestly, this has been the hardest part of the recovery, as allergy season hit Arizona hard this week.
I left the oral surgeon’s office around 10 am on Thursday, and that meant I could justify taking the rest of the week off from work. That was probably the easiest part of the recovery.
For the next several days, my left cheek was swollen, and although I wasn’t in a lot of pain, I was quite uncomfortable. It felt like someone had punched me in the face, and I even had a missing tooth to prove it. During those first few days, probably 80% of my caloric intake came from frozen dairy products.
The surgeon gave me a follow-up appointment for a week later. When he checked me over, everything looked normal, so I was cleared to return to my normal routine, except for nose blowing. That’s still off limits until tomorrow.
Although I certainly wasn’t expecting this turn of events, looking back, I think it was probably for the best. If I’d gotten a new crown, I’d probably be jumping through these same hoops again in fifteen to twenty years. This way, at least, tooth number 14 will never bother me again.
Goodbye and good riddance.