One tooth less wise – I had intended to write a follow-up to my final post from last year, one called “In with the new,” that would be looking forward to 2019. As I thought about it, though, I realized that I would probably just end up writing about all the things I have on my plate this year. Not only would that not going to be interesting to anyone, it would also be rather stressful for me to write, as just thinking about everything I need to get done this year makes the bottom of my stomach drop out. So, instead, I thought I would write about something far more interesting and far less stressful: my latest visit to the dentist. Heh.
During my last visit in early December, I got a bit of good news and a bit of bad news. The good news was that things were looking up in general and I wouldn’t have to come back for a cleaning for another six months, instead of the usual three months. The bad news was that the dentist felt that I should get one of my two remaining wisdom teeth pulled. I told her I would do so, but I put off making an appointment because... well, the truth is that I am very good at procrastination, and what better to procrastinate than causing yourself pain and suffering?
This past Monday, though, I had to drop by the dentistry hospital for some paperwork, and while I was there I figured I would try to make an appointment to get the tooth pulled. They told me that they were booked solid through April... except for a single slot that had opened up at 11:30 on Wednesday. I hesitated for a moment. I had figured that I would have at least until February and thus wouldn’t have to worry about it right away. But I also didn’t want to have it done in the middle of the semester, so I made the appointment.
Wednesday came, and I went out to my office to try to get some work done before the appointment, because I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to get much work done after it. I also had a snack shortly before 11:00, because I knew it was going to be difficult, if not impossible, to eat lunch afterward. Then the time came and I left my office and began the fifteen-minute walk across campus to the dentistry hospital. As I walked, it was difficult to think of anything else but the impending procedure. I started to ask myself if I really needed to do this. After all, my wisdom tooth didn’t hurt now, and it hadn’t hurt since well before my last visit to the dentist. Pulling it, though, would mean a lot of pain, at least in the short term.
I was reminded of when I had my gallbladder removed. That was a much more serious procedure that required general anesthesia and a hospital stay. It was similar, though, in that I did have the option not to go through with the procedure, but I decided to go through with it in order to save myself more pain in the future. I also thought about those (recently questioned) “marshmallow experiments” designed to determine if the ability to delay gratification correlated with success in life. The ability to delay gratification has long been considered a sign of maturity, but I pondered whether the ability to choose pain in the short term to prevent a greater pain in the long term was not a more significant indicator of maturity. In simpler terms, I was trying to convince myself to go through with the procedure because that’s what a big boy would do.
I also thought about the term for this little bundle of pain and suffering lodged in one corner of my mouth. In English, we call them “wisdom teeth” because they emerge at a much later age than the rest of our teeth, presumably when we are much wiser. Seeing as how they generally emerge sometime in our late teens or early twenties, though, I question this presumption; I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I had very little wisdom at that age. The Korean term for these teeth, though, translates to “love teeth.” The term might be different, but the reasoning is the same—they emerge at an age when we are capable of knowing love. Honestly, though, that seems a little late to me. But I think I like the Korean term better anyway. Like love itself, everyone experiences love teeth, and that experience generally involves a lot of pain and suffering before we eventually figure out how to live with them or just tear them out entirely.
I didn’t actually think of all of this on my walk to the dentist. I continued my mental meandering in the waiting room, because they were running behind schedule. In fact, I had to wait for over a half an hour, all the while listening to the whining and scraping of various instruments of torture. Pondering the possible meanings of wisdom and love teeth was one way of taking my mind off of my impending suffering.
When I was finally led into the torture chamber, a nurse sat down with me and went over a checklist of all the things that could go wrong. Again, this reminded me of my gallbladder procedure, although at least this time none of the possible catastrophes ended in my death. Still, there was some scary stuff in there, such as the possibility of permanently losing feeling in that part of my face. The nurse also said that the procedure would take thirty to forty minutes, which startled me—I couldn’t imagine having to sit there for a half hour while a dentist rooted around in my mouth. I voiced my concerns, asking her if this was really the right thing to do. She asked me if I had ever experienced inflammation in that area. When I told her that I had, she said that once that area becomes inflamed, it will continue to experience inflammation in the future (again, like my gallbladder). I just nodded but didn’t saying anything, because there didn’t seem to be anything to say.
To be honest, I wasn’t that worried about the possibility of the more extreme possible outcomes. I knew that the tooth was not impacted or otherwise dangerously close to the nerve in that area. I wasn’t even that worried about the actual pulling of the tooth. True, if things went south and the tooth shattered, they would have to go digging around to make sure they got all the pieces out—this is, in fact, was what had happened with one of my upper wisdom teeth, which I had pulled many years ago because it was impacted. But I knew that I wouldn’t really feel that because of the anesthetic. What I was really worried about was how much it was going to hurt afterward, once the anesthetic wore off.
I was also a little worried about the anesthetic shots themselves. My first experience with dental anesthesia was a very traumatic one, and I remember it hurting quite a lot. Last February, when I went through torture on a weekly basis, I got quite a bit of anesthetic, but it never hurt as much as I feared or expected. Yet, for some reason, I still remember that first experience and get absolutely terrified when it comes time for the shots, even though it never hurts that much. It still hurts, of course, but it is not really that bad. This time was no different. I don’t know what this means. Am I misremembering my first experience with dental anesthesia? Or does it genuinely hurt less now than it did then? Can we even really remember intensity of pain? I’ve heard women say that they don’t remember how painful childbirth really was, and that this is by design—otherwise no woman would ever have more than one child. So I guess it would make sense if it hurt more than I remembered. It’s just weird that it would hurt less. But I guess I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
Once the anesthetic had time to render the right side of my face numb, the dentist came back and went in with her implements of destruction. After about a minute or so of what felt like pushing and pulling, I was surprised to hear her say that the tooth was out and she was now going to stitch up the hole. “Did you say the tooth is out already?” I asked. Or at least that is what I would have said had I been able to talk. Instead, it sounded more like “Aaaah aaaaah aaaaah aaaaaah?” Wisely, the dentist did not answer. And then it was over. The whole thing couldn’t have taken more than five minutes tops. Not only did none of the horrible possibilities become reality, the procedure went just about as smoothly as you could want.
I left the dentistry hospital with a big wad of gauze stuffed into the side of my mouth and headed to the pharmacy to pick up my medicine. Then I went back to my office, sat in front of my computer for about thirty minutes, and worked at roughly ten percent efficiency before deciding to just go home. I wanted to take my first round of medicine with the painkiller before the anesthetic wore off, but that would mean eating something, and I didn’t have anything suitable in my office. So I went home, waited until it was time to take the gauze out (when I did, I found that the bleeding had stopped, thankfully), and then made myself a small bowl of farina. It was a bit of a trick to eat, and I kept having to wipe the right side of my mouth, but I managed it. Then I took the medicine and waited for the pain.
It took longer for the anesthetic to wear off than I had thought it would, and as I waited I idly wondered if I had not in fact lost feeling in my face after all. But then the numbness began to give way to a constant, throbbing pain. The painkiller seemed to have had no effect, so I took some Tylenol (as they told me I could if I needed to). After about two or three hours, the pain subsided to a dull and distant ache and soreness. I took some more Tylenol before going to bed on Wednesday, but I haven’t taken any since then. My jaw doesn’t ache anymore, but the right side of my mouth isn’t fully back to normal yet. The final step will be next Wednesday, when I get the stitches taken out.
At least I won’t have to worry about any more inflammation due to that wisdom tooth. And, after I get the stitches out, I won’t have to worry about the dentist until May. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.