Wednesday, March 08, 2017

From the dental diaries

November, 2016.

The walk back from the dentist's office this evening was long, introspective, and evoked a deep sense of sadness. I needed some time to let it all sink in. It started innocuously enough, when a crown came off, taking me to my first dentist in the US (I always saw dentists in India). The visit opened a can of worms in my life. I went back again today for a full X-ray. We ended up chatting for more than 2 hours. I was interested in knowing everything to the root (pun unintended). Long story short, I have undergone major tissue damage and bone degeneration over the years. So I will be regularly visiting the dentist at least for the next 6 months, if not a year. The visits will not be as chatty as today's, but will involve several invasive procedures, some with partial numbing, and some, full.

Apart from being terrified about degenerating health, dealing with pain, time involvement, and money, in that exact order, I feel an overwhelming sadness to the core. All this was preventable, had I started seeing a dentist like this 10 years ago. But being afraid of going bankrupt on student insurance, I never did. I always went back to India to get my teeth checked. In air crash investigation videos, they always tell you two things- one, a significant number of crashes are caused by human error that were preventable, and two, a plane can never go down based on one malfunctioning; it takes a series of events gone wrong like a chain reaction to bring a plane down. My thoughts are on similar lines.

In a 4-page long questionnaire they asked me to fill out the other day with questions ranging from dental history to mental history, I honestly wrote, "I am terrified of dentists. My apologies." I was not lying. Since age 5, I have had a history of experiencing traumatic dental incidents. At 6, a doctor had pulled out the wrong (and healthy) tooth without numbing me first, by mistake (he was old and had poor eyesight). In my late teens, I had my first root canal that involved a scary looking man with huge, hairy hands pinning me down for hours every Sunday morning. A few years later, I shifted to a female dentist to do away with the huge and hairy hands shoved in my mouth, only to have hands that smelled of cooking spices that induced a strong gag reflex in me. The gag reflex never went away, but only got worse over the years. The recent one was no better. I have been terrified of dentists all my life.

The sad part is having to go through all the pain every few years, spend huge amounts of money summing up to tens of thousands every time, and then learning today that I have lost massive bone tissue over the years. The root canals were never done well, the gutta percha fillings from 16 years ago didn't go all the way to the core. The crowns never fit properly and needed to be redone. The upper right wisdom tooth has grown at a precarious angle, hurting surrounding tissues. From angles that I have never seen myself before, my mouth literally looked like an airplane crash site.

Was this preventable? Possibly. I have only two responsibilities I take pretty seriously- staying alive and staying healthy. I brush more number of times than anyone in my family does. I don't do drugs or alcohol or soda or nicotine, I try not to do stupid things, get run over, speed while driving for cheap thrills, or voluntarily put myself in danger. Yet I have had freak accidents and lived with injuries that occurred inexplicably. The dentists addressed injuries but never did preventative care. Even the one last year, who said that he cleaned my teeth, lied through his teeth. The injuries were all there for me to see through a series of more than 24 X-rays I brought back with me, for posterity, thanks to Dr. Roentgen.

Am I upset? I am devastated. Losing teeth is losing a part of my body that I can never build back (unlike shedding the uterine lining, nicking my skin, or breaking a nail). I feel violated. It's not that I did not act on time. I never even knew until today that there was a problem.

I am prepping for a long and cold winter of suffering, bleeding, not talking, surgeries, sutures, implants, associated headaches (I already have one since morning), and a long recovery period. The optimist in me sees that I don't have oral cancer (they checked for that too), I live in an English-speaking country (imagine if this was Germany!), I have some form of insurance, am otherwise healthy (or so I think, god knows), and will eventually heal. But I keep wondering, was this not preventable? Because if it was, I would have camped outside the dentist's office in a heartbeat and made sure that today never happened. Sometimes, things in life do not add up, leaving you confused, with so many unanswered questions.


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