Rotted Teeth

I went to an oral surgeon this week to atone for my dental sins.  After thirteen years of neglect, part of the price I paid for these dental sins was the extraction of three rotted teeth.

In 2004, the last year in which I saw a dentist, just a few months after getting my first crown, it chipped away as I ate a peanut M & M. That crown was expensive.  And it hurt.  And, just like that, biting down on a peanut covered in chocolate and candy coating, it was busted.  I was angry and afraid.  Getting that crown hurt.  Paying for it hurt more.

I learned to live with it.  I didn’t chew on that side of my mouth for years. Years and years.  I adapted.

After that chip, four more teeth chipped.  Hell, one fell out completely, save the root, which was tucked away in my gums, playing a game of periodontal hide and seek.  That, too, was years ago.

I have walked around the earth for thirteen years carrying a mouth full of rotting teeth.  I have been living one of my anxiety dreams on the daily — teeth so rotten that they just crumble out of my mouth.

Dang, it fells good to admit that.  I am certain I was fooling nobody.  Any wide smile confessed my dental sins and shame whether I intended it to or not.

BEHOLD. My dental shame. This is what 13 years of neglect looks like.
BEHOLD. My dental shame. This is what 13 years of neglect looks like.

My dental phobia was trumped this spring by some pretty intense dental pain.  One of my teeth started aching something fierce.  I experienced the kind of pain that woke me up at night.  It was time.  I called a dentist.  It was a new dentist, someone I had found through an “ISO kind dentist” request over a year ago on a local Facebook mom’s group.

The woman who answered the phone was nice.  So compassionate and so kind.  I spoke through tears, “I have severe dental phobia, but a tooth is hurting terribly.  I need help.”  I am crying even now as I type these words. Crying about a stranger’s kindness and crying about the resolve it took to pick up that phone and crying about a husband who loves and cares for me even more than I do myself some days.

They saw me that morning.  Within a few hours I was sitting in a different office getting the root canal-ed right out of that painful tooth.  There was some antibiotics and one hell of a bill.

Two weeks later was another appointment for another root canal for the next door neighbor of that first rotten tooth.  Teeth 30 and 31, respectively. With my acute dental pain addressed, I had instructions to go back to my referring dentist for follow-up and to begin the process of trying to salvage thirteen years of neglect.

Par for the course, it took me almost four months to make that follow-up appointment.  Dagnabbit.  I hate that I am this way.  I can freaking guide a daughter through cancer treatment, I can give birth, I can claw my way through the adoption process, but sitting my ass in a dental chair is somehow too difficult for me to manage.

But push was coming to shove and my referring dentist started to make polite “reminder” phone calls that I needed to get back on the dental saddle.  Finally, I made an appointment to have three teeth extracted this week with an oral surgeon.  I went for the one stop shopping package, getting three teeth pulled at once, ripping those suckers right the fuck out, including the coy one tucked up in my gum, no longer fooling anybody.

The surgeon was young and had kind eyes.  We chit chatted just a bit, making small talk, all assembled (me, my husband, the surgeon, two assistants) politely ignoring my shame that filled the room, my dental dirty laundry.

The doctor told me I would receive drugs I know well — Versed and Propofol, to sedate me.  I wouldn’t feel a thing.  It made me cry thinking that I was getting what my girl got each morning before her little brain and spine were hit with a harmful radiation that, like me, could not save her.

And then, just like that, three rotten teeth disappeared.  I didn’t feel them come out.  I don’t remember feeling anything.  The drugs did their thing so I could get on with my thing.  And now, with the help of Visa, I can start to heal.  I am still angry at myself that I did not ask to keep those suckers.  They would have been a useful tool in a cautionary tale of “What happens when you don’t brush your teeth,” for my sons.

As the hours give way since the triple extraction, I can’t help but think, Wouldn’t it be lovely to take all that is rotted and rotting in our lives and just extract it?  Take the bad stuff away?  Have someone give us a magic potion that puts us to sleep and wake up to a fresh start, even if that fresh start is a bloody hole, a cave where there was once a rock?  Make a clean break from that which holds us back, leaving room for repair and something better, stronger, not broken and damaged and rotten to its core?

I am so flawed, so broken, but I can still choose hope.  My rotten teeth are gone.  For now.  There is a real possibility that if I do what I am supposed to do, I will never experience this shame and pain and fear again.

I hope I am strong enough.  I hope I learn to value my health more.  I hope my ability to do what is needed is greater and stronger than my fear and tendency to retreat and withdraw from that which I do not like.  I hope my husband forgives me.  I hope I can be a teacher to my sons about the importance of caring for oneself.  I hope I know I am worthy of living outside of shame and owning my flaws.  I hope one day soon I can feel again what it is like to chew on both sides of my mouth.  I hope I can forgive myself for being rotten to my core and knowing I can do better and be better.

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