Orthogonal Thought | Random musings from the creator of Cooking For Engineers and Lead Architect of Fanpop





Dental Appointments

Posted 19 April, 2007 at 10:06pm by Michael Chu
(Filed under: Life)

Before I can tell my dentist story, I'll have to tell you something personal about myself. I have a gag reflex. It's really bad. Sometimes I gag while brushing my teeth - and I use a Sonicare Electric Toothbrush so I don't even have to move it back and forth (I just hold it in place!). I used to gag while taking pills (not Benadryl, those guys are small), but after a doctor told me to practice by swallowing pieces of scrambled eggs whole while drinking a lot of liquid (apple juice did the trick), I've been able to swallow pills. Anyway, I have this horrendous gag reflex and there's no way those ginormous x-ray plates the dentist sticks in the back of your mouth is going to result in good times. So, I don't go to the dentist - at least not too often.

I went to the dentist senior year of college - it wasn't really going to the dentist… I had my wisdom teeth removed, so I didn't see a hygenist or anything. Then after that, four years passed before I went to a dentist. Surprisingly they reported no cavities and no problems except for some periodontitis which they took care of with the help of a laser and $500 from my pocket.

Another 3-1/2 years passed, which brings us to last month, when I chipped one of my incisors on a fork (I was eating at a philly cheesesteak joint near Folsom and 12th in San Francisco called Cafe V in case you're interested). A chipped tooth requires a visit to the dentist, so I reluctantly made an appointment. While there, they attempted to get X-rays, but I gagged, so they used this really cool digital x-ray machine that doesn't require you to put the x-ray film into your mouth. Awesome! Even more awesome, the machine says my teeth are healthy! Well, it doesn't really say that, it's just that the digital x-ray resolution is too low to tell anything, so it all looks fine. While my new dentist (of course, it's a new one, I can't go back to the old place after not going there for almost four years - plus I never liked them - AND I was recommended to this dentist by a Michael Chiu who works in my wife's business group, so this is a perfect setup for a situational comedy) fixes my front tooth, she manages to convince me to come in later to take care of the rest of my teeth.

So, the following week, emboldened by my successful, non-throwing-up visit to fix my front tooth, I show up at the office for my cleaning. But now they want to do the x-rays again. So, for the next fifteen minutes or so, we wrestle with my uncooperative body/mind that's causing the gag reflex. We did all the teeth except for the back molars (and those penultimate molars weren't a cakewalk either) before trying to do the two x-ray shots needed for the last teeth in back. The dentist's assistant shoved (gently) the plate back there on my left side and ran out of the room to pull the trigger on the camera. I started gagging and dry heaving (I learned as a child that it's best not to eat before a dental appointment - I vaguely remember an unpleasant incident involving cup 'o noodles and the lead lined x-ray vest that is very good at catching and holding solids and liquids), but managed to grit my teeth and force myself still for the half second when the machine takes the picture. Oh, what torture! I did it again for the right hand side - almost sure that my heaving body was going to result in a blurry x-ray.

I guess I was lucky I did the x-rays because apparently I had a really big one on my right side, last tooth in back, on top. So big that my dentist was now very nervous. She did NOT want to perform a root canal on a gagger of my skill level. I also have 9 other cavities. On the plus side, I had very healthy gums and the surfaces that my sonicare could reach were very clean - the crevices and crenalations that were smaller than a toothbrush bristle, not so much.

A week later (which was yesterday), I showed up for my appointment to take care of the "big cavity" before it got any worse. She assured me that anything of this size had to have been there for well over four years - my last dentist had missed it. (I've been wracking my brain ever since, trying to remember if I got those teeth x-rayed on that visit. I remember looking at x-rays (not digital ones, but honest to goodness film x-rays) but it was almost four years ago and the details are fuzzy.) She said she'd try to clean it out, but if the decay reached the spongy part of my tooth, they'd have to do a root canal. After a few early gaggings, she mentioned that if indeed we needed a root canal, I'd probably have to go to a specialist since they could perform a root canal much faster that she. Plus, she probably didn't want to deal with me and my gag reflex any longer than she needed to. In the end (which was an hour later), I didn't need a root canal, but she had removed a significant portion of that tooth. I must have exceptionally thick enamel or something because I didn't know you could remove so much without hitting the pulp.

She didn't rebuild the whole tooth with a crown - the majority of the chewing/grinding surface was intact. The area on the side that was removed was filled in and bonded to form a sloping side. After eating lunch and dinner, I'm pretty certain that the performance of my back molars was not reduced, so I'm fairly happy. (Happy that was caught before it needed a root canal and happy that it's over.)

So next week, I go back to take care of a few more of the minor cavities…

2 comments to Dental Appointments

Kan, April 21st, 2007 at 8:05 pm:

  • I have the same problem with going to the dentist, and would not go regularly either, if it weren't for my mother (despite the fact that I've been an adult for quite a number of years now, my mother is imposing enough that all of us siblings still listen to the old dear). I find one way of reducing gag reflexes and the amazing amount of saliva that builds up in the mouth during appointments is to take a nap in the chair. Somehow my mouth still remains open, and by the time I wake up everything's fine and easy.

Lisa, April 28th, 2007 at 9:05 am:

  • That's a drag. I have the same problem brushing my teeth; but not so in the dentist chair: it's a full-on panic attack for me.
    I have to brush on an empty stomach and as for the dentist, I just keep my visit very short and far between and bring my Zen.
    It's too bad more dentists don't recognise these problems in their patients and give them general anesthesia.