Drilling and Filling
Updated: Nov 20, 2019
Teeth checkup at dentist’s office
Don’t you love the caption of this photo? It’s like, “Oh, is that what that is? I thought it was a picture of the Hubble Space Telescope.” Maybe it’s for the benefit of Brits who don’t go to the dentist? Buh Dum Cha.
Anyway, I’ve been putting off my dental X-rays for awhile now because of all the controversy surrounding whether or not we should be exposing ourselves to extra radiation without a lot of upside. I’m not trying to incite a debate here; everyone believes what they believe and that’s fine and we can all be friends or enemies or whatever. I’m just saying that’s why I had been putting it off. Then I had my six-month check-up a few weeks ago and the hygienist told me it was time for X-rays. I was about to argue her out of it but then I remembered a conversation I had had with a friend of mine (a dentist) a year ago in which she told me that there is less radiation in dental X-rays than in the X-ray machines we go through at the airport. At least I think that’s what she said. So, having gotten the green light from my friend, I allowed the hygienist to take the X-rays. I guess it’s a good thing because I was very surprised to learn that I had not one but two cavities, both in my lower back molars. I made appointments (yes, appointments, because you can’t do both sides of the mouth on the same day) to come back a few weeks later for the drillings and fillings (almost sounds like a Rodgers and Hammerstein production).
So in I walked to the office today, la la la-ing all the way because the sun was shining and the humidity was gone. I’d had one small cavity about 20 years ago and I had had it filled without novocaine (which wasn’t too bad honestly) and I’m not afraid of needles so I didn’t even get worked up about the appointment, which, for me, is rare.
I had a good book open in my lap and the hygienist and I were talking books and weather and it was all just grand. Then the dentist came in and we bullshitted, he painted the inside of my left cheek with a numbing cream, waited a minute or two and did the first novocaine (or whatever it was) injection. It was a pinch, the kind that causes a tear to spring into your eye, but a very small tear that’s not big enough to be shed. The next shot I barely felt. The dentist left and said he would be back in five minutes.
When he returned, he asked if my lips felt the same on both sides. I told him they didn’t, that the left side (the side he would be working on) felt numb-ish. So he injected another shot of novocaine and left.
And a few seconds later I started catastrophizing.
Now, let’s be clear: a little bit of catastophizing in life is normal, or so I’ve been told. It allows you to prepare for horrible things that might happen so that, in the remote event that they do in fact happen, you are as protected as you need to be. But it’s supposed to be realistic catastrophizing and you’re supposed to prepare and move on. Here’s how my catastrophizing went in the dentist’s chair:
I can’t breathe. My whole face is numb. My face is paralyzed. Oh God, I knew I shouldn’t have gone to this dentist. My mother was right. Why didn’t I go to her dentist? Does anyone know I’m here? Who are my emergency contacts? Did I leave the oven on? Oh, wait, I don’t cook. I really can’t breathe. I’m hyperventilating. Ok, Anna, pretend you’re meditating. Deep breath in, deep breath out. Imagine a safe place, a relaxing place. A place where you can breathe evenly because OH MY GOD I CAN’T BREATHE EVENLY IS ANYONE GOING TO CHECK ON ME WHERE IS THE DENTIST OR EVEN THE HYGIENIST YES PLEASE SEND IN THE HYGIENIST SHE’S KIND AND UNDERSTANDING LIKE HOW NURSES ARE MORE SOOTHING THAN DOCTORS IN FACT THEY MAY EVEN KNOW MORE THAN DOCTORS BECAUSE THE DOCTORS THEY ARE CHURNING OUT OF MEDICAL SCHOOL THESE DAYS OY VEY–
Then the dentist walked in and my catastrophizing stopped. It turned out I was not having trouble breathing, I just couldn’t feel my face and I confused that with my trachea being paralyzed.
Prior to the dentist’s starting to drill, I was really regretting that third shot of novocaine (aka tracheal paralysis) but it turned out I needed it because, even with the third shot, I could still feel a little bit of pain. However, for me, the worst part of the drilling and filling was the smell. Well, the smell and the sound. The smell of your tooth being essentially hacked into tiny pieces (you know that distinct odor) and the sound of the drill doing the hacking. Feh. I am going to brush my teeth four times a day and floss from dawn till dusk and give up sugar. And food. I am only going to drink water and brush and floss from now on. I will be slim and hydrated and cavity free.
Hours later, after the novocaine had worn off and I was able to move my tongue, mouth, lips and cheeks, I noticed a slight throbbing sensation in my tooth. So, of course, I Googled “tooth pain after filling” and learned that it’s totally normal to have minor pain after getting a filling. The pain can even last up to four weeks. Past that point, however, you need to speak to the dentist about it. This is what WebMD says, among other things: “Contact your dentist if the sensitivity does not subside within two to four weeks or if your tooth is extremely sensitive. He or she may recommend a desensitizing toothpaste, may apply a desensitizing agent to the tooth, or possibly suggest a root canal procedure.”
That escalated quickly, right? In two seconds flat we went from trying out a new toothpaste to removing the nerve and pulp of the tooth. Maybe I should stay away from WebMD.
P.S. I literally (LITERALLY, not like “OMG I literally saw the tallest man ever today” when the tallest man in the world is named Sultan Kösen and he lives in Ankara, Turkey) ate an entire pint of cookie dough ice cream just now. But don’t worry, I ate dinner first.