Some time ago, when I finally picked a dental office to work with, they did a new patient exam which included a 360 x-ray (180? not sure it was most impressive) of my head to see all my teeth. The hygienist noticed I had two remaining wisdom teeth: one was horizontal and un-errupted, while the other sat around doing nothing. Over the course of our conversation she mentioned she’d recently taken her teenage son to have his wisdom teeth removed as she put it, they “knocked him out and pulled all four at once.”
At the time, I thought that course of action was barbaric. All four teeth at once? That’s cruel! Knock them out for a simple dental procedure? That’s crazy.
Then, not too long ago, I found myself reassuring my oral surgeon that don’t worry, “I haven’t gone without local anesthetic since the late 1980s/early 1990s” and that “it was only two, maybe three that were filled without it and they were baby teeth.” Then he mentioned how he would likely need to chisel the remaining wisdom tooth out — the roots ran very deep, and asked what sort of anesthetic I’d picked for the extraction.
My other wisdom teeth had been extracted with local, they’d needed to come out quickly — they were impacted, at least one was infected, and I remembered the experiences very vividly. In the past, had been an urgent phone call to the office, not a consultation to discuss the best course of action — and what would be most comfortable for me. In my mind, it was “a routine extraction” and I’d toughed out two before, why would this one be different?
When I scheduled the consultation and appointment, I’d initially picked local, but after hearing chisel I decided to deffer to his thirty-plus years of expertise and I decided to go with general instead.
I called a friend of mine who used to work as a dental surgical assistant, she talked me through the process and assured me that I would not remember anything. There would be no pain, and I would not remember anything. I could go home and sleep for a few hours, take my prescription pain medication and I would be okay.
It was liberating to know that I didn’t have to be awake for the procedure. It was comforting to know that the oral surgeon was compassionate — sure, he could’ve taken care of the tooth while I was awake, but I would probably still be curled up in bed in tears. In the past I would’ve said selfish, I’m sure it is easier for him to extract teeth from people who are out cold, but I have to agree, it is a win-win, he can work without fear of them freaking out, and the person who is out does not remember the procedure.
I admit, I did a fair bit of crying. Crying because I was terrified of a chisel being used on my tooth, terrified of being put under, terrified of being in pain. Talking to my friend helped with the terror, and the tears turned to tears of anger. If there really was a less painful, less traumatic way to take out wisdom teeth why hadn’t my dentists offered it before? Why hadn’t my parents offered it?
I think it may have been because we didn’t have dental insurance growing up (much less health insurance, pfft, that’s like asking God to cause problems for you), and I already had a well-established terror of dentists, and medical procedures. Dr. Do-it-all didn’t do oral surgery (at the time of my first extraction some were still below the gum line and un-errupted) and I would’ve had to be recommended to an oral surgeon.
I went to my oral surgery appointment with a mix combination of trill and terror. Thrill, that if the oral surgeon and my friend were right, I wouldn’t feel any pain during the procedure and I wouldn’t remember any of it. Terror, because it is dental work, and that’s what happens.
My husband drove, I filled out the paperwork, reassured them that I’d not eaten in “at least 8 hours.” I was taken to one of the rooms in the back, hooked to some monitoring equipment and fitted with an oxygen mask that just covered my nose. I cried a little, oxygen masks make me a little uneasy. My husband told me I looked like a 747. The oral surgeon came in and fitted me with an IV (full disclosure, that part did hurt a little – needles make me squeamish), told me to wiggle my right foot and “think happy thoughts.”
My husband remembers this a bit differently, apparently I was simply panicked: I lay in the chair, frozen in fear, my heart rate and blood pressure climbed — I’d like to blame the wrist-monitors, beeping monitoring machine, and freaky nose-mask. He talked to me, and the numbers went down a little, and as the anesthetic kicked in I slowly started to go limp and the numbers dropped to more acceptable levels.
That’s really about all I remember, except for some very vivid dreams about sand worms on Dune (it was like an odd surreal comic from the Oatmeal), and then waking up with everything surprisingly in focus — they’d put my glasses back on for me, and very tired. I came home, had some liquid yogurt, took some hydrocodon (to keep the pain at bay) and then crawled into bed and slept for two solid hours. Then I watched Nazi documentaries on Netflix, because losing Berlin to the Russian’s is far worse than having a nearly-pain-free wisdom tooth extraction and I wasn’t feeling up to indulging in the pint of comfort ice cream in the freezer just yet.
My husband commented that I looked a lot better than I did the last time, and I reminded him, the last time I was still a Christian Scientist, had been fully aware of what was going on, in pain because it was impacted (and infected), and then I’d gotten to take public transportation home because he couldn’t get off work (in his defense he also wasn’t aware of how deep my dental issues ran at that point, we’d only been married a few months). I also did not hallucinate, because this time the pain medication is worked and I did not have an unpleasant reaction. I also went to an experienced oral surgeon, not Dr. Do-it-all’s East Coast Twin.
The longer I am out of Christian Science, the more I realize that I’m not “giving up” by “giving in” to “materia medica.” I have had enough, I’ve had enough unnecessary and untreated pain, enough infections, enough dental terror. I don’t think dental work under general anesthetic is practical all the time (child care and a day of downtime are not always easily obtained), but for things like wisdom tooth extraction, it was definitely the right choice for me.