Out, damned teeth!

June 17, 2013

I used to brag about my teeth for two reasons:

  1. I have never had a cavity.
  2. I only had two wisdom teeth.

Thank you, good genes.  Dentists did recommend I get my shorthanded supply of wizzies (that's a cool nickname I've come up with for "wisdom teeth") pulled, but I suspected they were just trying to make a quick buck. They were fine. They were better than fine. They were mine and awesome.

We all know that pride goeth before the fall, though, and that fall occurred when my new dentist proclaimed that my wisdom teeth needed to come out, and she demonstrated this by showing me, in the mirror, how riddled with cavities they were. I felt ashamed. I ran a half marathon. I got my master’s degree. I gave birth to a baby. Yet I was somehow unable to stick my toothbrush a half inch further back in my mouth to prevent them from rotting.

Well, screw those teeth. They were ruining my perfect cavity-free record, so I would finally have them removed, out of spite more than anything else.

I went to consult with the oral surgeon a few weeks ago but the experience did not fill me with confidence. I was led to an examining room that displayed a pillow with the phrase “Botox saved my marriage” needlepointed onto it and a framed piece of art chronicling the evolution of pubic hair through the decades. Um, what? (You can go here to check out this not-quite-safe-for-work image yourself.)

For some reason, pop culture has bestowed a creepy sex vibe upon dentistry. We saw it in Little Shop of Horrors, with the masochistic Orin Scrivello. Then there was Seinfeld, where Bryan Cranston may or may not have done something bad to Jerry while he was under sedation. Then there was the female rapist character played by Jennifer Aniston in Horrible Bosses. And most recently there was a disturbing call to the Savage Love podcast from a woman who wished to be sexually manipulated while in the dentist’s chair. Something about the power exchange made dentists seem like icky sexual puppetmasters.

So you can imagine that this hilarious framed image did not make me want to get put under anytime soon.

“Uh, what’s with that drawing?” I asked the hygienist, who barely seeemed to register it.

The oral surgeon wasn’t much more helpful.

“A woman who performs cosmetic procedures works in this office,” he explained to me.

I’m not that prudish but I didn’t want to see a drawing, even in cartoon form, of a woman’s clearly-defined labia during a weekday in the Loop. ESPECIALLY at the dentist’s office. Once the dentist was done consulting with me, I considered throwing the frame in the trash but merely turned it around to face the wall, hoping to give its owner a hint.

Back to the teeth. I was told that in terms of knocked-out-ness, I had the following choices:

  • Novocaine
  • laughing gas, which the hygienist said would make me feel like I’d had a few glasses of wine
  • an IV sedative where I would be almost totally unconscious but not quite
  • being completely knocked out

Novocaine was out because I didn't want to witness any part of the procedure, let alone a needle in my gum. Three glasses of wine did not seem sufficient for how litle I wanted to feel. The prospect of going completely under scared me almost as much as the prospect of getting my teeth pulled out. What if I never woke up? Was I really going to get the same treatment for tooth removal as people do for serious surgery? So I decided to go for the IV.

The prospect of the surgery scared me much more than the idea of labor that struck me when I was eight months pregnant, (because the beauty of pregnancy is that by the end, you are so sick of being pregnant that you don’t care what happens.) However, my teeth were much less obtrusive than the very active fetus in my abdomen. After labor, I would be rewarded with a baby and an unpregnant body, but after my wisdom teeth came out, there would be no reward. I would just have two fewer teeth.  I was worried that the IV wouldn’t work. I was worried that I would feel everything. I was worried that I would hear my teeth coming out. I was worried that I would see my bloody long rooty tooth after it was extracted. I was worried I would throw up. I was worried about "dry socket," whatever that was. I read as much as I could about IV sedation (and unwisely watched a video of a woman getting her wisdom teeth out while she was under it; she seemed a little too conscious for my taste.) Even though everything I read about the IV said that it was awesome, I was not satisfied because not a single article said, "Here is what you, Claire Zulkey, will feel when you get your wisdom teeth out."

The morning of, I asked my husband not to make fun of me or take my picture or take any videos of me after the surgery (“Why do you think I’m evil?” he asked.) When he dropped me off and asked whether he should wait for me or come to pick me up, I got panicky and said “I don’t know, you decide!” before fleeing the car. I nervous-pooped. I considered asking for a Valium. I had been warned that I had maybe waited too long to do this, and that it could be difficult. My poor coworker Carrie at work had come in several days after her wisdom teeth had come out with awful-looking green and brown bruises striping her throat. Jesus.

But sometimes things work exactly the way you’re told they will. After getting hooked up to some monitors and having an oxygen nub placed over my nose, the dentist chit-chatted with me as he put in my IV. He told me a story that seemed incredibly tedious about going to a square dance and knowing the guy who was calling the dances despite not hearing from him in 40 years. We talked about children. My legs started to feel relaxed but my heart was still pounding furiously. Then I closed my eyes and I opened them again and I was all done. I didn’t hear, see or feel a thing, not even the IV coming out. The whole event lasted 20 minutes (thanks to the superiority of my only-two teeth which had long broken through and were not impacted.)

Here is where I wish I had some hilarious anecdotes about how loopy I was after my teeth came out, and maybe actually a funny video where I mourned my teeth or something, but sometimes things just work out the way people say they will. I was led to a recovery room where I texted with a friend. My husband arrived and I got my medicine. I went home and relaxed while he went and bought me some supplies for liquidy eating. I watched "30 Rock" and "Community." I discovered I enjoyed blended-up chicken noodle soup. I chilled out on some painkillers. It all went well. The doctor did a great job. Next time I will perhaps not judge so harshly when I visit an office that has a ribald drawing of the female anatomy on display.

(No, I probably will.)