Uh oh! A couple days ago, I felt a sharp pain in one of my upper molars. Plus, when I drank anything cold, I felt the same pain. My last dental siege involved a new crown for one of my bicuspids, which couldn’t stay on. That was followed by two root canals of the bicuspid and an adjacent tooth, which had to be scrapped by having the tooth pulled. Total cost: about $4,500.
That sort of sequence is not exactly balm to someone like me on a fixed income. After that adventure, I did something I had never really done before. I purchased an electric toothbrush and did a thorough brushing of the gums and all tooth surfaces (fore, aft, and sides) for two full minutes—timed—before going to bed.
Today, I saw my dentist and had the sore tooth x-rayed. Apparently, the problem was caused by the molar next to the extracted bicuspid sticking out a little too far. So my dentist carefully measured my bite and trimmed the tooth so it wouldn’t receive too much pressure from my normal chewing of food.
I am happy to say that basically I am in good health, even though I have lived three quarters of a century. Of course, I still don’t have a pituitary gland (and never will), and my Type II Diabetes, though under control, doesn’t show signs of leaving.
Of late, my major complains have to do with my ingrown toenails and my teeth, both problems I inherited from my father. My father also had Diabetes, and suffered from the pain of excruciating neuropathy. Back in his day, though, I don’t think that his doctors really understood Diabetes. Neither did anyone in my family. The word for Diabetes in Hungarian is cukor (pronounced TSOO-khor), the same as the word for sugar. Naturally, people believed that if you switched from sugar to saccharin, everything would be A-OK.
This week I have been soaking my toes in warm water with Epsom Salts, applying triple antibiotic ointment to two ingrown nails, and bandaging them—with Martine’s help. Tomorrow, I see the podiatrist who will past judgment on how strictly I’m going to have to care for them.
I have bad teeth, but much of the problem is my own fault. I have generally avoided brushing my teeth; consequently, plaque ran wild, caused cavities, and in general undermined my crowns. Only recently, I bought an electric rotary toothbrush (Oral B) and began the long slow process of undoing a whole lot of negligence. Medicare takes care of my toes, but teeth are an entirely different matter. As things stand, I could easily spend $20,000 or more in the next two years on my teeth—and I can’t really afford that.
Watching the News These Days Is Like the Dance of Death
There’s nothing like a spell of plague to make one doubt one’s sources of information. And mainly, I mean the news.
On Saturday, I bit into some fruit, only to have one of my dental crowns pop out. Inwardly, I cursed. Can the crown be glued on? Will a new super-expensive crown be necessary? Or is the underlying tooth rotten, requiring an implant? Fortunately, my dentist was able to see me today. It looks like I’ll need a new crown.
During our conversation, I learned a few things that seem to go against most of the news stories I’ve been seeing lately about the coronavirus. (And really, it seems that over 75% of the news is about just that.)
My dentist came in just for me, her office being closed for more routine dental procedures. So the atmosphere was more casual than usual. We started talking about the “plague” that is gobbling up all the news services. She expected that she expected that the virus would be old news within a couple of weeks. All viruses have a life of somewhere around four to six days. The two weeks isolation described by the news services was because many people are infected by contact with multiple carriers of the virus.
It turns out that the UCLA Dental School, with which she is affiliated, will be re-opening within a couple of weeks. Why would they do that if there is any substantial danger to the dentists?
She re-iterated the usual advice about washing one’s hands, but added one very useful piece of information: Be sure to dry your hands. Viruses like a moist, warm environment. Social distancing generally works. The main danger is being in close contact with someone who cynically does not believe in changing his or her lifestyle, which is a danger to the sick and elderly, who are most likely to die of the virus.
There I was, just outside the Grand Central Market on Broadway, munching on a chewy Mexican cocada, when I suddenly felt there were a couple of dental crowns moving around with the coconuts. Fortunately, I was able to pick out the crowns, wash them, and slip them in a plastic bag. This morning, I had an appointment with my dentist, who, with her assistant, worked the better part of two hours trying to fix my upper left molars. The job was made more difficult by my swallowing one of the gold crowns that had come loose: She had placed it in my mouth to determine whether it would still fit well in my mouth. Well, that’s a moot point now.
In addition, she discovered the beginnings of an abscess in my far left upper molar. That means a root canal. Oh yummy!
Just before I was about to leave for Iceland, I noticed that I not only had a cavity, but that it felt big enough to park a Chevy Suburban with room to spare. Moreover, when I ran my tongue over the spot, it felt sharp. I knew there wasn’t time to get the problem fixed before liftoff on June 19, so I took a big chance. After all, the worst that could happen was that I would have to see an Icelandic dentist.
On Saturday and today, I saw my own dentist; and he confirmed what happened. My crown on the second last top molar was breached both from the top and from the side. What I was feeling with my tongue was the sharp edge of what remained of the crown. There was a 50/50 chance that I would have to see a consulting dentist on an emergency basis for a quick root canal. Fortunately, Dr. Sun informed me that there were a few molecules of tooth tissue separating the cavity from the molar’s nerves. I lucked out.
This morning, he built up what was for all intents and purposes a new tooth on top of the foundation rubble that remained of my molar. First, he put in some insulating material called dycal to prevent the nerve from being irritated by the reinforced concrete with rebar that formed my repaired tooth. Later, he will replace the broken crown with a new one made with industrial diamonds.
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