| Part Two
| Part Three
| Part Four
| Part Five
| Part Six
| Part Seven
| Part Eight
| Part Nine
| Part Ten
By: Jean Johnson for Dental1
I’m two days out from my last prosthodontist appointment and I still feel it. I’m not walking-wounded as I was yesterday granted, and at least I have the marbles to write now. But, my left cheek is still puffed up like a chipmunk’s and the inside of my upper lip is darkened and chapped from dehydration. Also, even though I slept 12 hours last night and just woke up, I’m already fatigued.
“You must be exhausted,” my prosthodontist said about an hour before we finished up the appointment.
He wascorrectamenté, I now realize. But at the time I was too much in shock to appreciate the trauma of what the three of us had just been through.
|Getting Comfortable in the Dental Chair|
The dental chair experience is a two-fold situation informed by both science and humanity.
Just like surgeons, dental professionals can encounter unexpected problems that required longer than anticipated appointments. The rule of thumb here is that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
Patients who take the trouble to find a dental clinician who does good work and is pleasant company are wise.
Finally, there is much to be said for the security and safety of the dental chair. It is there that patients have all the professional help they need. Consequently, there’s nothing to worry over – and one might as well do what they can to enjoy the ride.
“It’s you and Cindy – particularly you – that I’m worried about,” I replied, focused on the long-term outcome for my teeth. Not that I didn’t realize that his dental assistant’s two children were home alone waiting for their mom, or that my prosthodontist had missed his annual meeting where he serves as president for Oregon’s society of prosthodontists.
“That’s just an annual thing,” he said. “What we’re dong here is a lifetime thing for you.”
I appreciated him acknowledging that because the quality of work in my mouth was at issue – work that would impact my life for years to come. Even decades perhaps, since he has said that some of his crowns last practically forever.
My prosthodontist’s wonderful and first-rate, as I’ve mentioned before in this long dental saga, but he’s only human and humans fatigue. Especially over the course of a nine and a half hour appointment – “The appointment that never ended,” as my prosthodontist put it. Or, “the longest appointment on record for our office,” as Cindy, his dental assistant, said.
What worried me – not that something doesn’t always worry me when it comes to my teeth – is that the impressions wouldn’t have the perfection they needed. Unfortunately, all the gorgeous restoration work in the world comes to naught if after a couple years thin dark lines start to appear at the margins between the gums and the crowns. It’s the metal showing beneath the work and can be a result of a zillion things, including a so-so fit at the time of cementing. And getting a perfect fit at the time of cementing is dependent – among other things – on impressions that knock your socks off.
I was already wigged out when I walked in the door of the office that day, so much so that the spray of snap dragons, zinnias, tulips and tiger lilies in hot orange, buttery yellows and pinks got only my passing notice. The official appointment was scheduled for a five-hour ordeal – final impressions for my permanent crowns. Cause for joy if you saw the look on my prosthodontist’s face when he greeted me.
“Today we are going to take the final impressions for your teeth, Jean,” he said, his eyes lighting up very handsomely as they can do.
Of course, he always comes with the bright side; the glass half full, a reminder of where we are going with each step all through the journey. I’m sure I’m not his only patient to need encouraging.
For my part, I dreaded the appointment for weeks before because to take impressions, he has to pull off the temporary crowns and expose all the grisly work beneath – the implant screw caps, the gold posts, the whittled down teeth. It’s not like I hadn’t seen everything piecemeal over the past year as he worked his way through my mouth quadrant by quadrant, but I did not relish the site of the complete unveiling. No, I was not looking forward to seeing as Neil Young put it years ago in a song: “the damage done.”
Immediately upon arriving I told him about how Per-Ingmar Branemark, the father of dental implants, called people like myself dental cripples. My prosthodontist brushed that nomenclature aside, of course.
“Cripple? That’s not PC. Maybe a dental handicap or dentally challenged,” he said, laughing “Besides, you’re not dentally challenged. You’re restored. We’ve restored your teeth, Jean.”
Yes. Yes. That’s true. He’s right. The sad days of denying how horribly my teeth were decaying and the poor to mediocre dentists I found to treat them are all over now, all behind me.
I have paid for top flight restoration and implants and have every confidence in my prosthodontist. Not only did he come highly recommended, his peers elected him president, and his rates are higher than others. All that, plus the way he treats me and his other patients, points to the idea that I made a good decision when I dialed his number that very first time two years ago.
But in the heat of the moment, it can be hard. And today when he did the first injections of Lidocaine and Marcaine, first the light weight stuff and then the long-acting anesthetic, silent tears slid from the corners of my eyes. More, while we were waiting for it to take effect and I used the bathroom, I had to struggle to not break down. I probably should have let myself cry. A good sob can drop-kick a load of tension out of the park – or the dental suite. But I didn’t want my eyes all red when I went back in and have them think they had a patty-cake sissy on their hands.
It was a good thing, I guess, because at this appointment more than any before – including the implant surgeries – I got a sense of what a dead-serious business dentistry is. In part it was because of the nature of what we got up to: pulling off every last tooth in my mouth, fiddling about some in very major ways, and then reinstalling the whole works at the end. But, it was also because of the full court press they staged when they did the final impressions.
Stacy, the office manager, even stayed late to help since it took three to load the mouth pieces, and mix the ingredients, and gob the stuff into every last crevice around all the hardware in my mouth. A more than very tense moment in which I was not to talk or write or move – including the eight minutes following while his fingers gripped the underside of my jawbone as the impression material set up.
“Okay, Jean,” he said, with the urgency in his voice I’ve only heard a few times before when he took various impressions and worked with fast-setting materials. “Here we go. We’ll suction. We’ll do everything. We’ll get it done.”
The impressions came out perfectly of course. And somehow both he and Cindy summoned the energy to stay the course and get me glued back together. All the while I watched the sky change from blue to velvet to black.
He hadn’t planned it that way, of course. But when you’re working on a mouth as involved as mine, things happen. In this case, the molars he prepped way back when needed more sculpting. And he pared down the front posts a bit more while he was at it too. That’s my guy. He takes pains no matter how many hours go by.
We made the best of it, though. And in fact, that’s been one of the reasons I’ve written these stories. These people are nice. They don’t get all grumped out, and I’ve learned to trust them as genuinely good folk.
So when he was packing the cords – a job no one really likes since it’s repetitive and fairly boring – we visited some. Cindy talked about her family’s beloved dog, Everett. A lanky sled dog type who, with her children at their aunties and her husband out of town, was feeling quite bored and decided there was enough room in the bed for him.
“At first he laid on my husband’s side, but then Everett decided he wanted to stretch out across the foot.” The upshot was that all through the night Cindy couldn’t get the comforter up over her shoulders and had to sleep all curled up because there was a massive dog where her feet usually went.
“Everett, the bed hog and blanket stealer,” she said.
But enough on how we managed to make the time pass, the main thing is that we all hung in there. When it came time for the end-all-be-all impressions, he seemed to be satisfied that what he got was up to snuff. For me, I have no choice but to keep the faith. I made my decision when I put my teeth in his care. Now, all I have to do is honor my choice and his judgment.
My prosthodontist and his assistant parked on the opposite side of the building from where I left my car that day. So when I walked down the two flights of stairs from the third-story dental suite and opened the door of the building into the night, my teal blue Saturn was the only critter in site. The clock on my dash read 9:30 p.m. What a day. The threat of tears that had dogged me at noon was long gone. In its place was relief that the dozen or more vials of anesthetic and the pain pill it took to get me through an appointment like that were behind me – and that with any luck, I’d be in my own bed under a comforter weighted down by only a mere two cats within the hour.