Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Teeth are something that we don’t think about too much until they call attention to themselves in some distracting way. I was thoroughly enjoying a dinner of peking duck at Dynasty restaurant on Sunday. We were feeling very pleased that the 4 of us had an entire plate of duck for just us alone. In our childhood and in my children’s childhood, peking duck was something to be savored and rationed - one piece of meat and one piece of skin rolled up with hoisin sauce in one pancake, and there was never enough for thirds, maybe seconds if you were lucky. So here we were, giddy with delight, the skin was crisp, the buns warm and soft, and there was so much for all of us. I had consumed my third and was feeling satiated and very content. Suddenly, it felt like a bit of bone or something hard was stuck between my two molars and I couldn’t quite remove it with my tongue. Oh well, go home and get some dental floss. But hmm, after a while, it seemed there was a hole there--that was a bit odd. Oh my goodness, there was definitely a hole there.

Oh shoot, Dr. C, you were right. The hairline crack in my tooth that you warned me might fall apart, has fallen apart, and the $500 I didn’t want to spend until it got worse, probably now will cost me more. The “it got worse” time has now arrived, and I am sitting in a restaurant with a hole in my tooth, thinking that I have a tour of the agency to do at 11 and no time to go to the dentist. It means I have to get up at 7:30am when the office opens in order to get an appointment, and will they have to pull the tooth or what?

But you know what? It was my lucky day on monday because someone who was going to have a crown, cancelled their appointment and would I like that time slot? I felt like I should write this person a thank you note for deciding they shouldn’t have their crown done that day. How lucky can one get?!

I was reminded about the reason why I never get novacaine. The pain of the needle is worse than anything else that needs to be done. First, the needle is about a foot long with a huge handle at the top, big enough to inject an elephant! Then the needle goes in and the fluid comes out, more fluid than can fit in the crevasses of my jaw and feels like it is seeping up into my cheek and ear. He decides that one needleful is not enough and that I will require a second. I wince and squeal and my bottom is now up out of the chair, and he tells me I am a 2 on a scale of 10 in terms of tolerating this needle. He was not amused! He proceeds to start talking to me, asking me questions about how was my summer? “It was great until the needle went in.” I responded. They put a plastic glasses on me, “To keep the silver from flying at you.” Indeed, when he starts grinding on what was left of my tooth, pieces start flying all over the place and I am reminded of the stories my kids tell, when I insisted they get novacaine instead of anesthesia for their wisdom tooth extractions. “It sounded like a jackhammer and machine saw in my mouth,” they reported.

Now the big decision, porcelain or gold? Gold I am told will last forever. But vanity takes over and I have this horrifying picture myself, a wrinkled old lady with a mouthful of metal teeth. Yuck! Porcelain, I learn, comes with a choice of 10 shades, which the nurse and dentist carefully try to match with my other teeth. It is so much more elegant and dignified. I choose porcelain and picture myself the eternal youthful woman with gleaming white teeth. They finally settle on one, that they say is not too harsh, and matches the top and sides of the teeth I still have. Isn’t modern medicine remarkable?

It is not the next day, my tooth is fixed until the permanent crown arrives, and I have learned my lesson that waiting until it gets worse, doesn’t pay.

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