Archive: November, 2023

Dental trauma: pain in the mouth and the wallet


I went to the dentist today. For the third time in a month. It wasn't fun.

I've needed a lot of dental work over the years; ironically, part of the reason I need so much in my middle age is because of orthodontia I had as a teenager. I had braces for three years or so, a fairly intensive realignment of my teeth, and that trauma exacerbated periodontitis. Back then there wasn't a large data set to study, but it turns out one can be especially susceptible to these issues if one gets one's orthodontic treatment as an adolescent.

Great. Well, live and learn, I guess.

So my gum recession has led to a lot of time in a dentist's chair. I've had three gum grafts, only one of which stuck for any length of time. I've had two molars removed and replaced with implants because decay set in at the root level. I never knew this until a few weeks ago, but only the part of your teeth above the gum line has enamel. Beneath that level there's no protection, so decay is way easier down there, which is why those molars—adjacent to each other but several years apart—began to rot from the inside out thanks to tiny cavities forming way down low and letting the demolition crew into the interior.

Those procedures were all quite painful and quite expensive.

I started seeing a new dentist last month; I'd missed my prior scheduled cleaning as I had jury duty at the time, and instead of rescheduling at the place I'd been going for years, I decided to find someone within easy walking distance. Enter Dr. Randhawa. She not only did a fine job with the routine maintenance, she also explained the enamel thing to me and suggested some proactive measures to prevent more of the same inside-out demolition of my chompers, noting that a third molar was already well on the way to meeting the same fate as its neighbors.

This was novel—I do not recall having a dentist focused on proactive prevention before, at least not beyond the typical admonitions to brush and floss regularly. Maybe it's a matter of technological and research advances that allows Dr. Randhawa to do this, maybe she's just way better at her job than my prior dentists.

Anyway, today was visit two of a many-stage treatment plan that began a few weeks back to counter this continuing problem. Last time it was decided that the molar well on the way to major damage could no longer be treated with sealants at the below-the-gums decay site and to save the root and the bone there a crown was required. A temporary one was placed then, today the permanent one went in.

Holy frak, but that hurt.

First, removing the temporary crown was harder than expected because they had secured it so well and when she discovered she'd have to dig down way past where the nerve would loudly complain to pop it out, she opted to cut it off in pieces instead, but by then the initial attempt had inflicted moderate pain. She asked me if I'd prefer to be numbed up at that point as when the permanent one goes in there's a cement in it that will probably be uncomfortable; I said no, thinking that more of the same would be no worse than the novocaine needle.

I was an idiot.

For about five minutes I was in more pain than I'd ever been in from anything tooth related.

It was better after a few minutes and entirely OK after about half an hour with some Advil, but yikes.

So then it was time to pay the bill, and as we all know, dental insurance sucks. Unknown to me when we started this, my shitty policy doesn't cover crowns at all. Apparently only the really pricey policies do, and I was advised by the receptionist there to junk my current insurance, which I will do come the first of the year (in favor of a less expensive and slightly better policy from another provider I found on the exchange—thanks, Obama!). So, $800 later I have hopefully saved myself from a $4,000 procedure later on.

Meanwhile, my favorite currently syndicated cartoonist, Darrin Bell, read my mind and published this for his latest Sunday strip.


 Dental coverage being just one step up from garbage, I suppose I'll need to keep putting more of my collection overflow on eBay. I've made a few hundred bucks' worth of sales lately, but I wish more people would buy the random grab bag sets. I really want to get rid of the chaff.

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