Tuesday, November 9, 2010

At The Root Of My Fear of Dentistry

I have lousy teeth. 

It's one of those things I mentioned to my husband when we discussed getting married because I knew my dental bills tend to be expensive. Of course, in those day, I had no idea the other kinds of medical bills I'd run up not that much later.

I've always had bad teeth. My mom talks about noticing black spots on my teeth around age 2 that she assumed were food and tried poking at with a toothpick to dislodge. Turned out my baby molars didn't have enamel on the tops, and that was the start of many, many, many trips to the dentist.

Thanks to a sadistic pediatric dentist (who I'm happy to say eventually -- long after I left his practice -- lost his license), I also have a lot of anxiety about going to the dentist. You see, my first dentist didn't believe in Novocaine, or any kind of pain relief. Finally, ten years after I started seeing him and many, many fillings drilled without any pain relief, the baby molars that had been cemented in somehow started to abscess when the permanent molars wanted to come in and the baby molars weren't getting loose and falling out. I still remember my mom's face when I came out of the office and way down the hall to where he required parent to wait (far enough away that parents couldn't hear the kids scream) and showed her the three molars he had pulled, each with full root attached. 

I immediately started seeing her dentist, who was wonderful and kind and gentle, but the experiences I'd had from age 2 to age 12 have always made me tense up at the prospect of seeing the dentist and having anything beyond a regular cleaning done. I remain leery of confessing to tooth pain that might trigger the need for more drilling.

I was less than thrilled when I was told last year that a couple of my very old fillings in my back molars were starting to deteriorate and my dentist recommended replacing them with crowns without waiting for the old dental work to break, which would be worse for my teeth and for me. 

I put it off a year, but last month I went to the dentist to replace the first of the two fillings. I had a typical decent experience, and left with a temporary crown in place. I called a week later to report that the tooth was really bothering me quite a bit, but agreed to wait to see the dentist until my appointment for the real crown. 

She said that because they found cracks in the tooth when they took photos to prove to my insurance company that the work was medically necessary (!), there was a 10 percent likelihood that I'd need a root canal. But when they took a new x-ray of the tooth, she noticed that my sinus cavity was inflamed and suggested that maybe I just had a sinus infection despite the pain being limited to the left side. 

Since I have chronic sinusitis, I wasn't entirely convinced, but it was true that I found it painful when I pushed on my cheekbones, which is what my internist uses to determine whether or not I'm infected so I called and reported what the dentist said and she prescribed antibiotics for me. 

Meanwhile, the dentist referred me to an endodontist for evaluation. 

He went through a lengthy rigmarole of testing for various types of sensitivity and had some cool x-ray software and equipment I hadn't seen before that he used to show me why he thought I definitely needed a root canal, something I've gone out of my way to avoid in the past even when I probably shouldn't have. (He evaluated that tooth too and said I probably should but that it wasn't as urgent as the tooth I was referred to him for.)

Every time I think about procrastinating on the root canal, I get reminder twinges from the tooth in question so I'm guessing I'll be going forward with it. 

On the upside, he's the guy who did my dentist's root canal a few years ago when she needed one, so I figure that's a fairly good referral. 

Anyway, I have this to look forward to later this month. It's going to be a quite a week when it happens; we go see the pediatric urologist with Ellie that Monday, I have my root canal on Tuesday, and Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. I'm hoping I'll be up to chewing turkey by then! :-)

Sorry -- I'm sure there's little more boring than hearing me talk about my fears of dentistry and my need for a root canal. Feel free to blame this post, too, on NaBloPoMo! ;-) But please come back tomorrow (Nov. 10) for the next edition of Patients For A Moment (PFAM) -- I promise you that there are some amazingly good contributions worth your time to read!!


SharonMV said...

Hi Aviva,
So sorry about the tooth and your terrible childhood dentist. I have a friend who told me her childhood dentist didn't use any novacaine and told her drilling didn't hurt, it just "tickled".

I just had a crown put in yesterday - no root canal thankfully. My tooth had broken off at the site of a large filling.

Hope you have an OK experience getting the root canal. a good (& kind)dentist really makes all the difference.

By the way, people with CVID & other primary immune deficiencies often have problem teeth as do people with Sjorgrin's.


Sherril said...

OMG!!! I saw a TV special about a whole corporation doing dentistry on kids the same way you were done when you were little. They liked kids who were poor, or in the social services system so the government would pay. They pulled a lot of teeth unnecessarily. They actually covered the kids' clothing so the blood wouldn't be there to tip off the parents or social workers.

I'm really sorry you had such a terrible experience at such a young age. I thought my root canal at age 13 was bad but it's nothing compared to what you endured. At least my dentist tried to medicate me. He used gas & novacaine; I was pretty out of it but when I woke up I was crying and he told my mom if very many of his patients were like me he wouldn't be a dentist. I have a high tolerance to novacaine. They have to practically numb my whole face to make it where I don't feel like they're drilling unmedicated straight into the root. That's even with fillings sometimes. Seems like they're always "deeper than usual."

I made it through the root canal yesterday, btw. It's still pretty sore and I have to stay still for a couple of days.

Aviva, my dentist told me to take a muscle relaxer (Flexeril) the night before the root canal and one the next day an hour or two before the appointment. My mom has to drive me, but it helps me to not be so sore from tensing my muscles for hours, and to relax when all I want to do is run away. Just a suggestion you might want to consider discussing with your dentist.

Aviva said...

@Sherril: I had dental insurance, and I have no idea why he did what he did. As a preschooler, I tried to tell my mom how much he hurt me, but I didn't have the words. I told her that he hit me and pointed to my belly button as an example of damage he'd done. I was 2. It was the best I could do. But it was silly enough that it meant my mom didn't believe me whenever I complained about the experiences I had with him. So I stopped, probably before I hit kindergarten.

Anyway, I'm very glad you made it through the root canal, and hope you're already feeling much better.

Aviva said...

@SharonMV: I think the endodontist seems nice. I'm hopeful he's as honest as he seems that progress has made root canals almost painless.

Interesting about the relationship between bad teeth and immunodeficiencies and Sjogrin's. Yowch on your broken tooth! That must have been so painful!

Landen Worley said...

I’m so sorry to hear that your childhood experience of dentists was not a good one. That’s why I understand why you harbor some trepidation about them. I’m glad that you didn’t let that overshadow your future trips to the dentist though. Was your tooth trouble taken care of now? If you have, I hope you didn’t encounter any more problems!

Jamar Schaffer said...

I’m sorry to hear about your unpleasant childhood experience with a dentist. I think it’s important that a child’s first few experiences with a dentist should be really good to avoid trauma. A good pediatric dentist makes the child feel safe, and gets them involved in the process of keeping their teeth healthy.

Kristal Byrnes said...

I agree with Jamar! The children’s first visit to a dentist is crucial. It has to be a good experience for them, or else they’ll be traumatized and never go back. It’s important to let them know that dentists want to help them keep their teeth healthy and strong, and aren’t there to hurt them or scare them. I hope you’ve had much better experiences with the dentist than this one, Aviva.