Today’s pulpectomy that would soon transform into the beautiful swan of a root canal wouldn’t be, maybe, so terrible if I hadn’t also recently survived the removal of an old bridge, another drilling-for-oil-in-China-episode on that anchoring molar, and then the tooth impressions and a new bridge installment, weeks later, which cost $2,000 after insurance. It’s like I told the receptionist, “It’s nice to see you, again, but I can’t wait until I don’t see you for a long time. I’m sooo ready not to be here anymore.” As most know, dental coverage sucks, there’s a huge deductible, and the starting price for any dental procedure outside of a cleaning (which is when the “hole,” and the bad tooth under the crown were discovered and how this madness started) must be $500. Then it jumps up in $1,000 increments. I cannot imagine life in a 3rd world country.
The nerve on today’s molar was so raw I got a record-number of novocaine injections, which raced my heart and made me feel like I was going to pass out, throw up, and have a heart attack in one simultaneous cataclysm. The funny truth behind all that is I don’t ever want to embarrass myself—which falling down, vomiting, or needing emergency medical assistance in public would definitely do. So, I sucked it up.
I closed my eyes, tight as they’d go, anxious not to glimpse the drill or any sharp instrument that would be used to dig out live roots, and I tried some positive visualization. Others could escape moments they’d rather not experience by traveling in their mind, so I went to the beach. In my imagination, I sat on a sandy beach—not at all like Tom Hanks’ digs in Castaway—where Jesus brushed my hair. (Don’t laugh. He loves me and was happy to do it.) Then, not a care in the world, we tossed a volleyball (no, nothing like Hanks’ “Wilson”), and the savior of my world looked pretty sharp in his swim trunks, I won’t lie. I told him I was scared and he said, Focus on me. So I did. Once I relaxed, my mind moved to summer memories when my son was little, running pantsless through our sprinkler, which looked like a big flower on the end of the hose, flopping around.
When the dentist said he was finished, I was gratefully surprised. I paid what pittance toward the total I could and left, happy to be back in the real sunshine but not confident that driving myself home in this condition was advisable. Sitting in the parked car, I caught my breath and texted my husband and son. To my poor Steve whose teeth are, in his words, “Crooked as all get out, but strong” (so he never has these problems), I wrote: “Dentist visit = RC. And I don’t mean Roman Catholic.” Then, to my first-born and only child, I sent this cryptic tidbit: “Another root canal today. Expensive and painful. TAKE CARE OF YOUR TEETH! (These are all old cavities from childhood gone bad.)”
Anyone who knows adult-me would tell you I’m a freak about flossing and brushing, but the damage to my teeth is from growing up. These are old wounds, in all kinds of ways. Big family, rather poor and chaotic. Suffice to say, toothpaste didn’t make a regular appearance at our house, and I thought floss was a tool only the dentist had. Plus, there’s no discounting genetics, the sort of torture that makes you want to travel back through time to jump across the table and slap your parents. Both of them. For not being on top of oral hygiene, and because my teeth are “soft” like my mom’s. So are my nails. They don’t grow. And, if they do, they snap off. My parents both had partial dentures in their 30s. . .
The upside to this tale is I was able to break that chain for our son, if you ignore the part genetics plays in this for a minute. I never let him sleep with a bottle (unless it was water), I brushed his teeth until he was old enough to do it himself, and then I hawked him nightly until it was done properly. I made sure his teeth had “sealants” when it was “invented” and, to this day, the boy has NO IDEA what a cavity looks or feels like—and this makes me very proud. Ironically, of course, he doesn’t understand my dental vigilance and he’s pretty lackadaisical, but maybe words like “root canal” and “pulpectomy” and “bankruptcy” will scare him into better lifelong habits.