My trip to the dentist!

June 10, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 10, 2015

It was a little after 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 9. My left cheek and the left side of my tongue felt swollen. Those parts were also tingling. Two and a half hours earlier, I’d gone to the dentist to get three fillings.

I’ve gotten out of the habit of getting regular dental checks, despite having had dental insurance for a while. After I went recently, the dentist’s associates handed me a treatment plan that involved three visits. Tuesday’s was the first of these. (My next one is scheduled for month’s end.)

It might not be fair to say that I was terrified by the prospect of dental work, but — well, let’s just say I found it distressing, especially because I just wasn’t sure what to expect from it. The actual experience was stressful, too, mostly for those reasons.

There wasn’t much pain involved. This was due to the use of local anesthetics, for which I am extremely grateful. The dental hygienist applied a numbing agent to my upper and lower gums on my left side, which was mildly uncomfortable, mostly because I had the taste of cotton in my mouth.

When the dentist came, she injected both my upper and lower gums with, I assume, a more powerful anesthetic. I won’t lie: I made some anxious noises as this happened, especially because there were some pinching sensations when I got the shot to my lower jaw.

Most of the rest of the procedure was straightforward, although a couple of times I found breathing to be trickier than I prefer. I typically have a lot of nasal and sinus congestion. Normally, this isn’t a problem. But when a mouthpiece inserted between the upper and lower teeth on the right side of my jaw is helping to hold my mouth open, and saliva is pooling, and the dentist and her assistant are holding a bunch of implements inside my mouth, and there’s no easy way for me to signal, “Hey, can we take a break so I can get some oxygen into my lungs and some carbon dioxide out of them?” — well, when all that is going on, my sinus congestion becomes a different matter entirely.

(Spoiler alert: Reader, I lived!)

Fortunately, enough saliva got suctioned that I didn’t drown with my mouth open at the dentist’s office. The dentist also offered me a couple of opportunities to take a break. At those points, I sat up a bit, snorted, snuffled, swallowed and made other adjustments to help ensure that air inhaled through my nose could flow smoothly into and out of my lungs. After the first break, I wasn’t quite as nervous about what was going on, and nothing physically threatened to obstruct the passage of air, so I could breathe more or less normally.

From a psychological standpoint, the fact that I wasn’t getting much of a look at what was going on helped keep me from panicking. Around the start of the appointment, the dentist lowered the chair into a semi-recumbent position and turned on the lamp so she and her assistant could see and reach into my mouth comfortably. I’ve never particularly enjoyed the sight of partially glimpsed dental instruments and latex-covered hands protruding from my mouth, especially as small saliva particles randomly shoot up, so I removed my eyeglasses and closed my eyes.

Shortly afterward, the hygienist asked if I wanted to wear my glasses or theirs. “Yours,” I said. She put the shaded plastic spectacles without (to my knowledge) any vision-correction properties over my eyes, which I proceeded to keep closed for most of the time. Occasionally, out of curiosity, I would take a peek. Most of the time, I didn’t find the view edifying, and I would shut my eyes almost immediately. (Often, they never even opened fully to begin with.)

I made a conscious effort not to be tense. Aside from my breathing, this mainly involved keeping my hands relaxed. I started off with them on the armrests. After a short time, I remembered that during my exam the previous week, it had been more comfortable to have my hands folded together on my chest, and I shifted them to that position. (I often fall asleep with my hands clasped atop my chest.)

Whenever I noticed my hands balling up, I tried to unclench them. Occasionally, if I felt my shoulders tensing, I relaxed them. I started off with my legs crossed at the ankles. This was a bit awkward, so I uncrossed them, and ended up bumping something or other (probably the TV screen). Once, I rolled each of my feet to unkink my ankles.

The dentist spent a lot of time at the end of the procedure shaving my fillings so they felt normal. She apparently applied a lot of material to a particular tooth in the back on my lower left jaw, so that took several tries to get right. She repeatedly told me to bite down, tap my teeth together and then slide them side to side so she could see how things were looking. Then she’d get back to work.

After this happened three or so times, the dentist asked me how things felt. I swallowed and gingerly closed my mouth. “I’m not sure what to say,” I said*. “I think the back lower left tooth is still tall.”

She filed it down a little. The next time the dentist instructed me to close my mouth, things felt normal.

When the procedure was done, the hygienist removed my bib and my seat back was lifted up so I was no longer lying flat. I patted down the front of my polo shirt, which was slightly moist from escaped bits of spittle.

The left side of my tongue and face felt swollen, although when I gingerly probed the area with my hand, I found no inflammation. I couldn’t talk without slurring slightly.

As best I could — not only was my mouth awkward, my head was getting readjusted to having blood flow to my brain normally — I asked the doctor, “Was I the most terrified 43-year-old man you’ve done a procedure on?”

The dentist and hygienist laughed and reassured me that if I’d been scared — which I had been! — they couldn’t tell, and it hadn’t interfered with their work. This assuaged my machismo.

The dentist told me that the anesthetic would wear off in around an hour. My mouth might be sensitive to cold for the next few days, she cautioned. Drinking hot tea, which I’m wont to do, would not be a problem, she assured me.

I took a moment to gather my wits, stood up, picked up my jacket and bag, and went to the front desk, where I made my next appointment. Then, feeling only slightly shaky, I walked down the stairs, went to my car, discreetly spat onto the ground, and drove to Cary, N.C., to get some tea.

I wasn’t able to speak as clearly as I would have wished, and I was gun-shy about drinking tea, but everything went more or less uneventfully. (Because of the lingering effects of the anesthetic, I had to probe the plastic lid on the cup to make sure that its hole was properly aligned with my food and drink hole — that is, with my mouth.)

I was a little wary of eating, but I was also hungry, and a little thirsty too, so in the evening, I ordered a small portion of jambalaya and a cup of water (“Only a little ice, please!”).

The left side of my mouth and face continued to feel both numb and swollen until perhaps 9 p.m. Eventually, I noticed that (a) I was able to speak clearly and (b) the sensation of phantom inflammation had vanished.

Unfortunately, this came with a tradeoff: I felt a dull ache in my mouth. I assumed this was my gums objecting to having had needles plunged into them.

I was cautious about chewing and drinking with the left side of my mouth, but these actions were pain-free about 99 percent of the time. I ordered a bowl of gumbo and consumed it without incident. I still was suffering from an unpleasant sensation, but it was a generalized thing, sort of like a headache, only it wasn’t emanating from my brain.

By Wednesday morning, all of the pain had disappeared. My mouth still feels a little different, but it’s not bad. I assume that within a few days, everything will seem completely normal.

Until my next appointment, that is!

~~~

Standard disclaimer: Since I wasn’t taking notes or making recordings at the time of these events, all dialogue and thought bubbles are guaranteed to be only kind of, sort of accurate. Fortunately for you, the valued reader, this free blog comes with a money-back guarantee! 

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