Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Long in the Tooth

This past week was a tough one for me.  On Tuesday, I had surgery to graft skin to two teeth with receding gum lines.  That's right, like many other old people, I am long in the tooth.  I've been putting this surgery off for almost two years.  The first time I had the procedure explained to me, I was so horrified that I didn't even allow myself to think about it for six months.  The second time I had it explained to me, I thought "Hmm, that sounds rather gruesome.  I'd rather not go through that."  But reality always catches up with you and I knew that eventually, I'd have to get this wretched thing done. 

Like any good talker, I thought that perhaps it would help me to get used to the idea, if I shared it with others.   I began to talk about it to people during appropriate conversations.  "I need to have gum surgery," I would say, casually, like it wasn't freaking me out or anything.  The way one might say, "I have to go to the grocery store" or "Tomorrow, I have to remember to wear thicker socks."   I firmly believe that the more people who know of something, the more quickly you actually have to do it. 

First, I had to find a new dentist.  You see, my original dentist had referred me to a periodontist in my town - the same periodontist who told me about skin grafts and mouth stitches for the first time.  This particular periodontist was scary and I took an instant dislike to her.  And not just because of the hateful prison sentence she inflicted on my poor gums.  She never even looked at my gums;  instead, she read the note from my dentist, sat me in a chair and said ever so breezily, "You have receding gums.  It will continue to be a problem unless you take skin from the roof of your mouth and stitch it over the offending teeth.  It will be a big deal and you won't be able to eat for two weeks."  This worried me a tad, because like most people, I love to eat and fasting for two weeks is not really an option.  I think it was her casual tone that was the most off-putting.  I'm sure to a Periodontist, the phrase "skin graft" is not a big deal, but trust me, it is.  I decided it was time for a second opinion - preferably by someone who would actually look inside my mouth.  Maybe even someone who would say, "Receding gums?  No problem!  We'll give you this nice liquid and you will rinse twice a day for a week and it will all go away."  I also decided that my entire dental practice was at fault.  I mean, who would send a person to see such a butcher when there are other doctors out there with better solutions!

My new dentist sadly agreed with the first.  She referred me to another periodontist who was housed in a modern office and used high-tech equipment to photograph my teeth and display them to me 100 times their actual size.    He showed me how my gums were receding in three spots and he told me the sad news that I did indeed have to have skin grafts taken from the roof of my mouth and stitched in place to cover the roots of my exposed teeth.  My naked teeth were excited that I was finally doing something about getting them some covering;  I was not so excited.  But, I had told about 50 people that I needed gum surgery and that makes it true.  I forced myself to make an appointment before I left.  I was determined to get this awful thing over with.

On the day of the surgery, Gordy took a vacation day from work.  Anyone who knows Gordy will now have to stop gasping.  It is true, he did not actually go to the office that day.  And it should be noted that the world did not stop turning and his office did not actually implode.  Do not fear, he had his blackberry on the entire time.  He loves me and this is the sacrifice he had to make to prove that love. 

We arrived bright and early and I was escorted to the dental chair.  That is when I started to cry.  At first it was just eye wetness and the doctor probably didn't notice.  But when the sheet was placed over me and the chair was raised, the tears were no longer unnoticeable; they were, in fact, streaming down my cheeks. 

Why was I crying?  I admit, I was nervous about the whole "graft" concept.  Scraping the happy skin off the roof of my mouth seems mean and invasive and then there was the whole stitches concept.  I've only ever had stitches once before and I don't remember the time fondly.  I'm not good with discomfort and I was justifiably worried about the whole "liquid diet" thing.  But really, I was crying for two reasons:  firstly, I have an extremely low self-pity threshold and I had crossed it on the drive down to the periodontist and secondly, once I start crying, it is almost virtually impossible for me to stop.  It is a good thing that I'm not often a weeper, though it was unfortunate that I had chosen to do so in front of this innocent dental professional.

I don't think my calm, soft-spoken periodontist had ever been more horrified.  I'm pretty sure that he's never encountered anyone as strange as me before.  He even used the phrase "in my 19 years of practice, I've never had even one person experience any pain during the surgery."  Sweet man, I think he thought I was afraid of pain.  He didn't realized that I was just in the middle of an enormous pity-party and he was my guest of honor. 

The surgery took about an hour and was as awful as I had expected.  Maybe more.  I was awake the entire time and crying for a good 90 percent.  I wasn't boo-hoo crying or sobbing, just silently tearing and my nose was runny.  I was having a hard time getting away from the thoughts of how much this was all going to hurt when it was done and how much it was going to suck to drink smoothies for two weeks.  It was all very embarrasing.

This is what I looked like when I got home.  I texted this photo to my sister as I sat, moaning on the couch. 

The first day was horrible.  It wasn't so much the swelling or the pain that bothered me, but the feel of the stitches on the roof of my mouth and my burning desire to brush my teeth.  Forget food, I didn't even want to eat for the first two days.  Which is probably why I was so nauseous and why I almost fainted in the middle of the first night.  Well, that and the fact that I was still bleeding and I had a blood clot in my mouth. Did I mention that this was going to be a disgusting blog post? 

The next day, Gordy had to go back to work and I was on my own.  Luckily for me, two of my three children know how to read and this made asking them to do things easier.  It was almost impossible to talk.  The swelling was one problem and the presence of sharp stitches on the roof of my mouth was another.  The Periodontist had told me not to move the cheek near the surgical sight for fear of dislodging the skin graft, so that made opening my mouth worrisome.  Along with eating and talking, the list of things I couldn't do included:  smiling, laughing, brushing, flossing, using a straw, chewing, looking at the injury or feeling remotely human.  Anyone keeping track can see that that is a whole lot of "no's."  And I am usually a "yes" type of person.

Here I am on the third day:

I call this self-portrait,  "Squirrel with Nut in Her Mouth"

Each day has been a little better, but at this point, it's been a week and I'm still feeling pretty lousy.  I'm starving, sick of smoothies (which I've never enjoyed), dying to brush my teeth and ready for a huge, chewy meal and a good stiff drink.  I am ready to say good-bye to my new best friend, the blender.

See?  Don't I look better? 

I call this one "Strange Neck / Needs Lipstick" or perhaps "Feed Me, I'm Starving"

This has been the year of surgery for my family.  Georgia just passed the one-year mark on her heel/cord lengthening procedure.
Here is Georgia almost exactly one year ago.  She spent almost two months in that yellow wheel chair, unable to move her leg and see how chipper she was?  I promise to follow her example! 

And six months ago, Gordy had surgery to remove a non-cancerous tumor from the side of his head. 

Cool huh?  He wouldn't let me put in any photos of him with swollen face, so I had to get graphic.  Sorry.

And the best news?  I still have to do this again!  That's right.  The Periodontist only wanted to do two skin grafts this time around and there's still one more naked tooth shouting, "Hey!  What about me!  You forgot me!  I'm cold too!" inside my mouth.  This time, I'm keeping mum about it.  I will do the surgery - eventually - but it's certainly not going to be right away!


Aaron said...

Are you a tooth grinder? I have some serious recession and this post made my eyes water.

Martha said...

No. At least, I don't think so. They think the recession was caused by my wonky bite. It's been a long week +, I keep dreaming of all the food I could be eating...

three more days!

Martha said...

oh! and tee hee, but the way! It took me a minute to get my own joke! You should be crying. It's a ridiculously miserable procedure.

Anonymous said...

I feel so bad for you! I' ve had a surguery too

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