When A Dental Appointment Goes Bad

Sometimes you read a news story that involves a routine, daily experience that somehow went bad, and you have to be thankful that it didn’t involve you.

dental_chair_umsodFew things are more routine than a trip to the dentist.  You go, sit in the chair, open your mouth, have people mess around with your teeth, and try to think of happier things that are far away until they are done.  It’s not a pleasant experience, but it’s a part of everyday life to be endured in the interests of better overall health.

But what if your routine dental appointment went horribly wrong?  That’s what a lawsuit alleges happened as a dentist in Nevada worked on a five-year-old girl’s mouth. According to the lawsuit documents, the girl was put under anesthesia and the dentist began using a motorized tool to smooth her teeth.  The lawsuit claims that the tool allegedly emitted a spark that caused a “throat pack” in the girl’s mouth to catch fire for a second or two, causing the poor girl to suffer burns to her palate, tongue, mouth, and lips and require hospitalization.

I’ve always thought the only risks at the dentist’s office are a stern lecture from the dental hygienist about flossing and the possibility that the dentist might strike a nerve while drilling.  The possibility of experiencing a mouth fire never entered my mind.  Now that thought is there, and it will make it harder to go to that mental happy place the next time I sit in the dentist’s chair.  I’ll never look at a trip to the dentist in quite the same way again.

The End Of “Drilling And Filling”

Here’s another example of the miracles of modern medicine:  scientists have discovered a drug that appears to encourage damaged teeth to regenerate — a development that could bring an end to the practice of drilling out cavities and filling them.

normal-tooth_1The drug is called Tideglusib.  It not only is self-evidently unpronounceable, it also has the effect of stimulating and activating stem cells within the pulpy center of teeth, promoting the generation of the hard material that makes up most of our teeth, called the dentin — as anyone who has carefully read the tooth diagrams and tooth charts at the dentist’s office will recall.  Scientists tested the drug on mice, and found that applying the drug to cavities in the teeth of mice, using a biodegradable sponge, caused the tooth being treated to regenerate enough dentin to close the cavity.  (Wait a second:  mice get cavities, too?  They must not be very attentive to brushing and flossing.)

The next step will be to test the drug on humans, but the signs are encouraging that we may be on the verge of a new approach to dentistry.  Speaking as someone who practiced terrible dental hygiene as a callow youth and often found myself sitting in the dentist’s chair, mouth agape, listening to the whine of the drill and hoping it didn’t strike a nerve, I think an approach that lets teeth regenerate naturally would be terrific.  And, for those of us who have dental fillings that date back to the days of Beatlemania, the regeneration of natural teeth would have the advantage of avoiding visits to the dentist because old fillings are finally cracking or breaking and need to be replaced, too.


Tooth Technology

Last Tuesday night I was watching TV when I suddenly felt a pebble in my mouth.  “What the,?” I thought.  “Where did that come from?”  Except it wasn’t a pebble.  When I fished it out of my mouth, and then went and looked in the mirror, I saw that part of a tooth had somehow broken off.  Fortunately, the nerve wasn’t exposed, and it wasn’t painful, but it sure looked and felt weird.

broken-teeth-repairI don’t know what caused a part of the tooth to break off like that.  I hadn’t been slugged in the chops or hit in the face by a hockey puck.  My understanding is that, even long after we reach adulthood, our teeth keep moving slightly along the gums, like the tectonic plates shifting under the San Andreas fault line.  The tooth in question had been increasingly pressing against its neighbor, and it may have been that the stress finally caused a fracture.  (Or, it may have been that I like eating almonds, and also like crunching on ice cubes, but I’m going with the “moving tooth” theory because it leaves me blameless.)

I groaned when I saw the broken tooth, because I thought the lack of structural integrity in the tooth might require some major dental repair work, like a crown or maybe even an implant.  But when I went to see my dentist yesterday morning he took a look at the breakage, expressed his sympathy, said he’d have me fixed up in no time at all, and went right to work.  First he slathered on some goop, then he did some sculpting to give it the appropriate tooth shape, then he stuck a plastic sheet between the tooth and its neighbor to create the appropriate dental floss gap, then he used some kind of heat ray/laser light gizmo that looked like some throwback to a Flash Gordon movie.  The process ended with him grinding and polishing the reconstructed tooth so that it felt like a natural tooth, and then handing me a mirror so I could check it out for myself.  To my amazement, the rebuilt tooth looks (and feels) exactly like the old tooth — and the whole process took less than a half hour, without any need for novocaine or gas.  Within an hour or so, I was eating a pot roast sandwich for lunch without missing a beat.

Everybody makes fun of their trips to the dentist, me included.  We’re all anti-dentites, I guess.  But I’ve got to give credit where credit is due — when the chips were down (pun intended) and my tooth and I needed some serious help, my dentist came through and did a great job.  And it’s interesting that we’ve got the technology that allows a busted tooth to be reconstructed in the time it takes to watch your average TV sitcom.

In Ted’s Fantasy World

Some mornings, Kish starts the day by reading news stories, and sometimes watching video clips of newsworthy events on her iPhone.  Today was one of those days.

ted_cruz_rnc_cleveland_ap_imgUnfortunately, the clip she chose to watch this morning was footage of Ted Cruz closing his speech to the Republican convention last night to a deafening chorus of boos.  Even more unfortunately, I was able to hear Cruz’s whining voice — which in my view is the human equivalent of a dentist’s drill — over the uproar.  I had hoped that, with the ending series of debates finally behind us, I would never have to endure Cruz’s irritating and overly studied vocal gyrations again.  Alas, it was not to be.

I don’t like Donald Trump, but I like the smug and smarmy Cruz even less.  If I’d been at the Republican convention — fat chance of that! — I’d have booed him, too.

Apparently Ted Cruz thinks his performance, and failure to endorse Trump, positions him to be the presumptive GOP nominee in 2020.  I think Ted Cruz is living in a fantasy world.  The only reason anyone other than Bible-thumpers backed Cruz was because he was running against Donald Trump.  Once Trump is gone — and by 2020, he’ll either be President or yesterday’s old, old news — Cruz’s base will dwindle to back to the religious righters who don’t mind his scripted speech patterns because it reminds them of the cadences they hear every Sunday morning from the pulpit.  By 2020, the world and the United States will be moving in a different direction, and everything that gave Cruz a shot this year will be totally changed.

I seriously hope I never hear Cruz’s holier than thou voice again.  It makes my teeth ache.


Anybody who’s leery of going to the dentist will undoubtedly appreciate this story:  a man from Indiana went to the dentist to have four teeth pulled, only to awaken from the procedure to find that all of his teeth had been removed.

dentures-anchorage1The four teeth were being yanked out to allow the dentist to deal with an abscess — which is a disgusting enough problem in the first place, when you think about it.  According to the patient’s wife, the dental surgeon then decided to pull all of the teeth to prevent the spread of the infection. The dentist’s office is limited in what it can say about the patient because of federal health care privacy laws, but has released a statement that every patient receives a thorough explanation of the treatment plan for their condition and the issues that might arise, and then executes an appropriate consent form.  Either way, a guy who had a full set of choppers when he was put under later awoke from the procedure with a gaping void where once his teeth had been.

We tend to take our teeth for granted — until they aren’t there, I guess.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to wake up and find that all of my teeth were gone, but having read the story about that guy from Indiana I’m sure going to do what it takes to avoid ever having to deal with that nightmarish scenario.

Excuse me while I go brush my teeth, will you?


What Kids Want To Know

What do kids really want to know?  Sometimes parents wonder.

Fortunately, there’s the “What If” website and book to help answer that eternal question.  It promises to provide serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions.

backyard-designs-outdoor-swimming-pools-5And guess what?  It turns out that kids want to know answers to questions that I’d also like to have answered, like:  “How long would it take for a single person to fill up an entire swimming pool with their own saliva?”

This is a question that is of intense and particular interest to me, ever since a kind of disgusted dentist who was constantly having to use the spit-sucking device and multiple cotton swabs told me, when I was but a callow youth, that I had “exceptional saliva flow.”  Now I’m proud of my drool-producing capacity.

It turns out that it would take a normal person a very long time to fill that pool.  Humans produce an average of half a liter of saliva a day, which would mean it would take a year to fill a bathtub.  And, at that rate, it would take 8,345 years to fill an Olympic-sized pool to a depth of four feet.  Even at my alarming spit-producing rate — I’m guessing I’m at least double the average in the drool category — I wouldn’t be able to accomplish even a reasonably sized in-ground backyard pool in my lifetime.

Too bad!  It would be a laudable life goal.

No Novocaine

When I was a kid, my trips to the dentist were characterized by two realities:  lots of cavities, because my dental hygiene in the face of mass consumption of sugary cereals was intermittent and appalling, and a steadfast opposition to getting the novocaine shot before the inevitable drilling began.

Shots don’t bother me, but my first novocaine injection was a disaster.  The dentist said I would “feel a pinch” — which seems to have been the standard pre-shot statement used by dentists for the last 50 years, even though no pinch feels remotely like a novocaine injection — and the next thing I knew a huge, bulky hypodermic needle was sliding between my gum and lip and then burrowing deep into the nerve clusters down there.  It hurt like hell, so I started to refuse the novocaine shot in favor of a no-numbing, tough-it-out approach to the inevitable cavity excavation.

This was not an easy choice.  The novocaine shot was painful, sure, but sitting in the dentist’s chair, holding the arms of the chair in a death grip and trying to retreat into my inner world while much earlier, much drier versions of dentist’s drills whined and smoked and chipped away the enamel around the cavity, touching the central tooth nerves with distressing and instantly excruciating frequency, wasn’t any walk in the park.  In fact, it always hurt like hell, too.  Our dentist, a kindly fellow, would notice my eyes watering and my lip quivering and ask if I was okay, and I would splutter, from a mouth filled with gauze and cotton, that I was fine — but of course I wasn’t.  Those novocaine-free cavity-filling visits to the dentist seemed to last forever.

Finally, after a particularly painful multi-cavity-filling visit, I decided that the next time I would try novocaine again.  Sure, my initial encounter with it had sucked, but all of my friends and siblings seemed to go for it without much problem.  Maybe I should change my position on this damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t choice?  So the next time I visited the dentist I went for the novocaine.  It wasn’t a pinch by any means, but this time it didn’t hit a nerve directly on the way in and it was . . . slightly better.

It was my first experience with choosing between the lesser of two evils.  Only much later did I realize that maybe I should make a more significant and potentially meaningful choice, to change my habits and improve my lax attitude to brushing and flossing and mouthwash and try to take steps that hopefully would eliminate the need to make such a choice in the first place.  I guess that is called the maturing process.

Pop Music In The Dentist’s Chair

Yesterday I went to get my teeth cleaned. As is always the case, the whine of the rotating toothbrush the dental hygienist was using was accompanied by the drone of pop music over the office sound system. For some reason the radio at that office is always tuned to Sunny 95, one of several pop music stations in Columbus.

Why Sunny 95? Who knows? Maybe the station encourages dental office listeners, or maybe there are studies showing that dental patients are less likely to focus on the fact that there mouth is hanging open and a stranger’s hands are inside if they are forced to listen to bland and mindless songs and equally insipid DJ chatter on a generic FM pop music station.

I don’t listen to pop music radio stations, and there’s a reason for that: they’re uniformly awful. The forced, allegedly humorous banter between the DJ team is always intensely annoying. The music sounds like it is computer-generated and is instantly forgettable — except, apparently, if you have to listen to the station all day. One song began as the hygienist was pricking away at my gum line with a sharp, cold, metal instrument and she instantly blurted out “I hate this song. They play it all the time.” The song, which I had never heard before, was about a girl on fire, and it certainly did suck.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to listen to such drivel for an entire working day, and suddenly I was intensely happy that my exposure to pop FM stations and the crappy music they play is limited to 40-minute increments every few months. When I left the office that morning, my teeth buffed clean and my gum line tingling, I happily got into my car, turned on one of the Sirius XM Classical stations, and left the pop music world behind.

Baking Day, 2013

IMG_5537Today will be another holiday baking day.  All of the ingredients have been purchased, the countertops are groaning with flour, sugar, nuts, shortening, food coloring, chocolate chips, spices, dried fruits, and cookie cutouts, and the dogs are prowling and primed to snatch any stray bit of cookie dough that may be hurled to the floor by the electric mixer.

Fittingly, I’ll be beginning the day with a visit to the dentist, for a cleaning and undoubtedly a lecture on the paramount need for better dental hygiene.  What better way to get ready for long hours of creating sweet treats?

Floss First, Or Brush First?

The other day we were getting ready for work and I noticed that Kish flossed her teeth before brushing.  I follow the opposite approach.  My morning routine is inviolate:  first brushing, then flossing, then use of the mini-bottle brushes for the “food trap” spaces between my teeth, and then finally pressing this weird rubber tip device against my gums.  (Why do I do all of this stuff?  My dentist recommends it and says I will lose my teeth if I don’t spend every waking hour focused with laser-like intensity exclusively on dental care issues.)

Kish’s use of a different approach made me wonder whether there is a “right” order to the brushing and flossing activities.  Surprisingly, it turns out that there has been a lot of chatter about this.  Some people say floss first, so that the brushing can whisk away the plaque that has been loosened by flossing.  Others say brush first, and then the flossing will sweep away the remaining toothpaste grit.  I brush first because I am desperate to get rid of the disgusting morning breath in my mouth before I do anything else.

Some quick internet research determined that the American Dental Association has actually considered this issue.  They conclude that it really doesn’t make any difference what order you follow, so long as you both brush and floss.  I briefly wondered whether any research had been done before this pronouncement was issued, or whether it was of dubious scientific merit — like the chewing gum ads that said 7 out of 10 dentists recommended a particular gum for their patients who chew gum.  Then I realized that it was an incredibly boring topic, anyway, and I had spent more than enough time getting to the bottom of it.

The Submissive Indignity Of The Tooth Cleaning Appointment

In modern America, we take for granted a lot of things that are really weird, if you stop to think about them.

I was reflecting on this the other day when I was lying flat on my back and some perfect stranger wearing a white suit, rubber gloves, and a surgical mask had her hands in my mouth.  She was scraping away at my teeth with a collection of sharp implements that could have come from the torture museum we saw at San Gimighiano, and she alternately hectored me about my flossing, gabbed about her family and vacation plans, and curtly instructed to move my head up and down and open my mouth still wider.  At one point, as I sat with the flexible clear plastic suck tube perched on my lower teeth while the hygienist peered inside my mouth with mirror and drill, I realized I must have looked like a car whose engine is being worked on by a mechanic, with one of those hang lights dangling from the underside of the open hood and various tools perched near the carburetor.

Going to the dentist is pretty embarrassing and risky too, when you think about it.  We lean back, defenseless and blinded by the glare of the fluorescent light inches away from our eyeballs, and put ourselves at the mercy of the woman with the dental hygienist certificate.  Does any other aspect of modern society require us to routinely assume such a submissive and undignified posture and meekly accept the constant lectures, pokes, and proddings?  What do we really know about these chatty and judgmental ladies, and why do we think they won’t snap after putting their hands into the tenth slimy and smelly mouth of the day and plung one of the sharp scrapers into our exposed jugular vein as we lie helpless and exposed?