Thursday, November 01, 2007

Nothing But the Tooth Redux : Root of all evil

Some of you might be familiar with my last rendezvous with a dentist, which culminated in an extracted tooth. Those who aren't, better 'brush up'.

The last time I fell in trouble, I decided that I won't let it happen again. Like every time else. I did try, mind you. I brushed at nights for 2 nights straight before I realised that brushing before bedtime at 4 AM and then again at 8.25 AM before turning up for lectures doesn't make a hell lot of difference. I used a funny tasting, funnier looking medical toothpaste to kill those goddamn germs. I gave up because it produced no foam and did not leave that cool, tangy, minty aftertaste. I am a man with clear cut priorities after all.

More importantly I had vowed not be my own doctor again. The last time around, I had mistaken my toothache for the onset of wisdom tooth; a concept based on the one paragraph I got to read in some school biology course. Some argued that wisdom tooth doesn't take 4 months to grow, which was the duration of my ache with increasing magnitude of pain. It is proportional to the amount of person's wisdom, I argued back. To no logical response of course.

After the extraction last year, I thought I had seen the last of the intimidating sight of a dentist's chair. Unfortunately, going by the turn of events, that was just a beginning. The pain returned after exactly one year, like a much awaited annual event. It returned with an entirely different dogma though, last time it was left, this time it was right. I just have too quote 'The Who' here.

And the parting on the left
Is now the parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight
- Won't Get Fooled Again

When the pain started, I assured myself that it had to be the wisdom tooth this time. No chance of anything else. Even by my standards, it was high time that wisdom dawned upon me. Like last time, and most other times as well, I couldn't be more wrong. Last time it was a fallen tooth fragment while eating a dosa and the instantaneous chilling pain that followed which jolted me to reality. This time it was a toothpick half covered in blood, taken over by searing pain that was the revelation. Each time is a new learning experience you see.

After 15 days of doing extensive study on dentists in the area and listening to a million harrowing tales, I decided to go with the closest Hospital in my area. Proximity beats expertise anytime. The hospital was new, evident by the still freshly painted advertisement boards hanging over neighbourhood trees. Being the gentleman that I am, I decided to give it some serious business.

I took an appointment and waited patiently outside the dentist's cabin. Accompanied by pesky toothless kids about 20 years younger or serene toothless elders about 50 years older, I did feel slightly out of place. I was greeted by an affable doctor who took stock of the situation and laughed occasionally when I narrated most of what I have narrated here. Apparently patients with a sense of humour are appreciated, and it is not hard to see why.

Things took an interesting turn when she learnt that I was from Jamshedpur. She was from Jamshedpur too, and excitedly narrated about her school, Sacred Heart Convent, a name which meant so much back in schooldays for reasons not tough to fathom. Half of the appointed time was spent sharing memories of our hometown, the end of which put me in social situation I am ill accustomed to handle. Delighted to meet someone from the same place, she invited me over to meet her husband and 2 year old kid. I could only smile in return, this time and every other time.

The treatment itself started the second day. It gave me an indication that things were going to be very tough. For about an hour I had to keep my mouth open, to its maximum stretchable limit, while instruments emitting suspicious lights and emanating funny noises were inserted one after another into my mouth. Injections in the palate and obnoxious tasting medicines, which I was warned not to swallow, made the going even tougher. But this was just an inkling compared to what was coming up. I was told that the only way out was the Root Canal Treatment (RCT) which would begin the next time. I was explained about how infection reaches the nerve ending, how the canals are found out and cleared and filled and how the crown is fitted with an excellent illustrated diagram of the tooth. I probably looked like someone who would take an active interest.

The next day's session would rank close to the longest one hour of my life. The ones on the third, fourth and fifth day would give it a tough competition. The premise on which entire RCT is based is where do you experience the pain. And how much. This takes out the option of using a local anesthesia. So first the cavity was cleared and a hideous water nozzle inserted in my mouth. The water jet was directed into the cavity, with increasing force, and I was asked to tell if I experienced any pain. I told I did. I was instructed to hold on till it became unbearable. I would have liked to point out that I could be dead by then. Nevertheless it was managed, and it was established that as suspected, I did, indeed, need to undergo RCT. Bah!

The process of locating the canal comes close to the most sadistic thing that could be done to you (assuming....ahem! forget it..). Needles of various lengths, but invariably pointed and sharp and sometimes with those tiny screws near the end are inserted into the cavity at different angles. As the needle is poked into the cavity, you are supposed to convulse, you can't shout, when the pain takes your breath away. Makes it easy for the doctor to define unbearable. It is like Clockwork Orange with the eye replaced by the tooth. Sometimes two needles are inserted making intersecting angles and x-rays taken in all cases. With the needles and the small cardboard piece inserted for the x-ray and the looming radiation gun pointed at the cheek, it does get a bit intimidating. And more than a mouthful. On the brighter side the x-rays do look kind of cool with needles criss-crossing the tooth, reminds you of the pirate sign.

Locating the canal does take some time. Till then the entire sadistic process is repeated. Poke a needle. Push it inside. Bear it. Bear it. Bear it. Shriek. Wipe the tears. I went home looking like an exhausted warrior after every session. At times I begged to just extract the tooth and let go. To no avail.

Once the canal was found, thankfully, it was duly filled. The process though did not end here. I was told that since the tooth has no source of nutrition would become brittle. I was more alarmed when pointed out that this means that one day while biting an apple, the tooth may remain embedded in the apple itself. Which further meant that I had to get a crown on top. This required a process in which the guilty tooth had to be sized down. Which meant another painful session in which some kind of drill, with an irritating high frequency noise was inserted into my mouth. Tired of keeping it open for so long, I twitched a bit. That was enough for a gush of blood form the cheek to fill my mouth. And it hurt.

Finally after all these gory procedures, my dental imprint was taken and a crown ordered. I was advised to go with a ceramic crown which resembles the tooth, instead of the much cooler (and less expensive) gold one.

The overall bill was handed out to me, and my situation best summed up by the dentist's comment "I guess you guys are reimbursed by your company, right?".

No we aren't. I didn't opt for that plan, thank you. But I do have the satisfaction of telling people that I gifted myself a crown with my first salary. An exquisitely crafted ceramic crown.

I'm still waiting for the wisdom tooth.


Gee said...

Ouch. That reads unpleasant and painful.
Reminded me of that weird Ogden Nash poem we were made to study at school. - except that this was slightly unfunny. Except wherever you tried [don't kill me!] :P

Nikhil said...


That rules out prospects of my works being read as a part of school curriculum in the future :P

I blame old age; for both the tooth and the unfunniness.

No wisdom tooth still :(

Gee said...

Yes, age catches up fast. Too fast for comfort:(

gandhi said...

now i m thinking why the hell did i read this post!! :(
i too have a (little)pain in my tooth and have been asked to get it removed .

though in my case it is the WISDOM tooth that is causing the problem hehe :P

~ Gandhi