When I was 18 or 19, in one of my last dental appointments while still living at home, I got an x-ray done, and the dentist told me that all four of my wisdom teeth were impacted, and would eventually have to come out. At the time I had just finished up with a ton of orthodontia a year or so before, and it didn't seem like a huge priority at the time. I was just about to go back for my second year of college, if I remember correctly, having spent the summer traveling, and figured I'd do it later.
For the past 12 or so years, I have ended up avoiding routine and necessary dental care.
There are a lot of reasons for this, of course. 10 years ago, I didn't have dental insurance (I was self employed); since then, I have had a variety of insurance plans, but -- like most dental insurance plans -- they do not have an upper limit, and never covered everything I needed to get done.
I did actually go to the dentist a few times in there -- usually when something was wrong, though once when Jess set up the appointment and had me go.
During all this time, I have had intermittent mouth pain -- sometimes where my wisdom teeth are, sometimes not; sometimes for longer periods of time, sometimes just for a day or two, followed by it going away. I've always known my teeth are in bad shape, but I've just never done anything about it.
I did actually get bad enough that I did do something at one point: I had enough pain from it that I wasn't able to sleep at night for a couple weeks, and I finally made an appointment and went in to a dentist.
They were able to quickly identify the primary problem area -- an upper wisdom tooth that was heavily inflamed/infected -- and pull it out the same day. I made a follow up appointment and came back the next week, and they took out the other one. The first one was done without me even knowing that was what was going on, and the second one, I at least knew, but there was very little communication.
At the end of the second visit, they printed out a list of everything they wanted to do from that point forward: cavities, root canals, crowns that I needed -- one that needed fixing, and one tooth that needed a new root canal -- and a bunch of deep scaling cleanings in my mouth to fight back on a ton of long-running buildup. The total at the end of the proposal: $7000. (Note that at this point, I had already burned through my dental insurance for the year.) When I asked "Okay, I see what you have here, but I don't really have this kind of money right now: what do we need to do *right now* vs. at some point later?" The answer was "We need to do all of it right now."
So I just didn't go back.
About 3 months later, the crown that I did have on a rear molar cracked; I could feel it at the time, but still wasn't willing to go back; I just couldn't afford it at the time (or at least, didn't feel I could). Ever since then, I have been unable to chew on the left side of my mouth without getting food stuck in there, so I've been basically using only one side for eating for the past 3 years.
So, earlier this year, I finally am in a position where it was time to fix this. I need the dental care, and I can afford it. The dental insurance I have is decent, and I can pay the rest out of pocket; I need to get my mouth fixed.
So I've been doing that. Slowly but surely, I've been doing that. I got two deep cavities filled; one that the dentist hoped was going to just be a cavity ended up being a root canal. (Of course, I told him before he went in it was going to be a root canal, but he told me he thought it would be fine. I was right. He was wrong.)
So, the root canal got *mostly* done... except that because it's way in the back of my mouth (and apparently I have a small mouth? Who knew!) and they didn't have any of the right size files, they couldn't actually finish it up. So I had to schedule to come back in two weeks.
During those two weeks, something happened to my lower right wisdom tooth -- I don't know if it was related to the root canal, or just happened at the same time -- but by the time I got back in on my followup, I had to say "I'm having a ton of pain over there, I assume this is just because of what's left of the root?"
Nope. Turns out, it was just my wisdom tooth, acting up. And after looking at the x-ray, they said "There's no way that the dentist is going to be able to put a crown on this with the wisdom tooth pushing into it: you need to get that done first."
So, I called the oral surgeon that my dentist recommended. "Hi, I need a wisdom tooth consult." "Great, we'll see you at 9:30 tomorrow." Well, that's handy; especially since I really am suffering at this point (I was unable to sleep that night from pain).
Got in, and talked over the wisdom teeth with the oral surgeon. She was straightforward and informative: showed me the x-ray of my mouth (pano x-ray! whee! everyone else was using cheap single shot x-rays), and where the problems were; gave me the standard "things can go wrong" pitch, and talked to me about the various bits that we could take care of. In the end, we decided to take out the two wisdom teeth and the upper molar which had lost its crown 3 years before; the dentist was planning to take that latter one out the next time I saw him, but she figured she could just do it while she was in there, which is nice: it saves me another dentist trip, and it seems like it's also going to get covered under medical, rather than dental, insurance.
"So, when can you do it?" "Well, I'm leaving for a conference tomorrow." "Okay, is there some way that someone else can do it?" "Actually, I had a cancellation for tomorrow morning, so we can just do it then, if you want?"
So, 48 hours after walking out of my root canal finishing up, I had both of my wisdom teeth out. While I'm still in pain at the moment -- mostly in my jaw, rather than in the area the wisdom teeth actually were -- I am no longer to the point of random pains in the middle of the night waking me up; while there's still a bunch more to do -- 2 or 3 major cavities, plus I need to finish up the crown on the recent root canal, and need to get some routine work done as well -- I may actually be in a better position for eating by next week than I have been in years.
Some of this is, of course, my fault: the root canals I've had might have been something I could prevent with better brushing, or more routine maintenance. But the wisdom teeth are something that is just a fact of genetics and or bad luck; there's nothing I could have done to prevent them from being impacted, and I don't think that they would have been any easier to take out at any other time.
I am privileged that I'm able to just go do things like this, and I'm sorry to the many who can't. I'm sorry to those less fortunate, who just suffer like this forever; who lose teeth not because of laziness or fear, but lose teeth because they can't afford any better.
But I'm thankful to my lovely wife for helping me finally get this taken care of; to Dr. Joe Deprimio, who has been a jovial and positive influence on me actually continuing to go back to the appointments, to Commonwealth Oral & Maxillofacial Surgical Associates and Jingye He for accomodating my wisdom teeth removal almost instantly.
Because I think it might actually be on the way to getting better. And that's a pretty cool thing for someone who has lived with intermittent annoyances and pain in his mouth for the past 10 years out of fear and mistrust of dentists.