Is it safe?

So, since I arrived here in the U.S. I’ve been using Listerine in addition to my usual brushing. I’m not sure exactly why – I guess just ’cause I was out shopping for the first time, buying soap and bathroom stuff and whatnot, and it was there, so I thought ‘hey, why not, all the other kids are doing it’.

Anyway, fast forward a few weeks, to last week, when I’m sitting at work, ostensibly working away, when I notice something odd about the back of my lower front teeth – kind of like something hard stuck there, sticking out. I apply an unabashed portion of fingernail, and suddenly there’s some ceramicy crap on my fingertip, and I have a very odd feeling hole in my teeth. Well crap.

That bothered me a bit, of course – I haven’t been to the dentist in nearly as long as I can remember… at least ten years, I’d say. So my teeth haven’t been checked and my care for them validated.. thus I was a bit concerned that my teeth may well be falling to bits.

On the other hand, close inspection – and there was much; I was very distracted by the whole thing – seemed to hint that it wasn’t my teeth themselves falling to bits, just the crap caked onto them. [I know, this isn’t a particularly pleasant entry – I’ll write about ridiculously cute baby birds soon, I promise ;) ]

So, since work provides dental cover, I had no excuse not to go visit the dentist. I booked in for as soon as I could, which was two days or so later in the week, and thus on Thursday or somesuch I was in there, bright and early at 9am, for – hopefully – some reassurance and a proper cleaning.

The dentist I went to, Dr. Timothy Sheu, seems pretty good. As it was my first visit – and I informed him my first visit to any dentist in a very long time – he did the full checkup, with fourteen xrays of my teeth and everything. Checked out my gum recession, depth of cavities, all that. I don’t remember ever being xrayed a the dentist before..

Long story short, my teeth are in pretty good condition, considering. For my age, they’re not that great, but, for someone who hasn’t been to the dentist for the second half of their life, they’re better than expected. I have been pretty good with brushing regularly my whole life, so, I like to think it actually paid off.

Anyway, on the upside my teeth are apparently very long, dug nice and solid into my gums, and have no sign at all of root decay. Sweet. On the downside, cavities. Bloody bastard things they are.

I’d noticed a month or two back, maybe more, that I had some sort of what I thought was a ridge on one of my upper-right back teeth. It felt like just some sort of build up – I assumed plaque or some such – which I figured I needed to get cleaned off, but it wasn’t enough by itself to get me off my lazy arse. As it turns out, it’s actually a nice little cavity, right in the side of the tooth there. I didn’t even know you could get cavities in the side of your teeth… bloody ‘ell. :(

So anyway, all in all I have seven extra happy cavities. I know I’m not alone, at my age, in having cavities, but seven? That seems too many. :(

But, on that first visit I got my teeth cleaned, and had fluoride pasted on, and they were even polished with a tiny little buffing thing. :D

It’s funny that I couldn’t really remember much about the dentist, from when I was a child, but as I was presented with the tastes I remembered them vividly – like the sandy stuff they use to clean your teeth, or the fluoride stuff they coat them in. They really invoked some strong emotional memories, even though I still can’t remember any specific events associated with them.

In particular, though, after being cleaned, I now have gaps between my teeth! Holy molly! I’d forgotten that you could get that, seriously… I remember now having the same “wow, cool” feeling on previous visits the dentist. The stuff built up on my teeth – that had started falling off – was just tartar, so, I don’t miss it.

And big kudos to Listerine, which is logically the most likely prompter of this sudden industrial-strength cleansing… I’m pretty convinced now it’s worth the time & effort to use. :)

Now, these damn cavity things, aye?… they took the liberty of booking me in again for Wednesday, just gone, to deal with those. I was actually too naive to realise that meant fillings… I don’t know what I was expecting; I guess I was just hoping they’d heal up in the week between visits and Dr. Sheu would say “wow, you’re all good as new again! No need to do any work here, no worries!”. Which is silly, because he’s Asian-American, so he wouldn’t say ‘no worries’… anyway…

Sadly, my teeth didn’t demonstrate any miraculous ability to regrow themselves in the timeframe of a week, and thus I was doomed to get some fillings. I’ve always heard that fillings are painful, evil things… but then maybe I’m getting confused with root canals; I don’t know. Anyway, I wasn’t keen on the idea. They presented me with the option of getting sweet-as mercury-based ones – mmmm, heavy metal poisoning – or plastic ones. The latter are more or less tooth-coloured, don’t hide further decay so much – and so are better for ongoing maintenance – but aren’t as tough or last as long. And they’re more expensive, I’m told, but my dental plan allowed for them anyway.

So, I went with them… which is to say, I shrugged and looked dumb, so they picked those for me. :D

The whole process took about an hour – I had the sterilising swab first up, then an injection or two of local anaesthetic, and then we got underway. It was the anaesthetic that bothered me the most, in the lead-up – last time I’d had a local anaesthetic, which I think is the only other time I’ve ever had it, was when my toes were operated on. And that was a bit of a screw up – the needle snapped while injecting into one, so he had to stab me again, plus it didn’t seem to work very well – there was no sharp pain through the surgery, but I could still feel it in absolute detail… it was most disturbing. I think from memory I was even given an extra boost of anaesthetic, to no avail.

Thus, I was fearful that I’d have the same problems this time, but it’d be even worse because it’s with fillings, which are meant to be really painful. (so I thought; maybe I just had completely the wrong impression)

Luckily, no such problems – half my face went completely numb, and I could hardly feel a thing. So while it was uncomfortable having my mouth full of drills and whatnot for forty-five minutes, it was no real problem at all. It seemed to go pretty smoothly, and I now have five spankin’ new fillings. They actually look good, I think – only one side is done for now, so I can do an easy comparison, and I prefer the fillings; the white colour is close to my teeth, as compared to the patchy appearance of my cavities.

It took a few hours for the anaesthetic to wear off. At first I could hardly talk, but I then realised that the only reason I could hardly talk was because I thought I could hardly talk… when I actually ignored the numbness and just talked, I of course had no problems. So I’m not sure anyone at work actually noticed I couldn’t feel half my face… I felt very tricksy. ;)

And of course I was warned about the potential problems – hot/cold sensitivity, etc – but thus far at least haven’t had any. I’ve been kind of tentative about actually using my teeth since, like for, say, eating, but I had to get over that one way or another, and thus far I don’t seem to have lost any fillings. One day down, 1500 to go. :D

And that’s another good thing about these fillings – they’re set and ready for normal use by the time you walk out of the dentist; no follow-up trips or other annoyances that you apparently get with amalgam fillings. So that made me pretty happy.

I’m going back next week to get the last two, on the other side, done. That shouldn’t be a problem, now that I know it’s a completely breeze, although I’m still in mourning for the sad state of my teeth. :(

Thus, in addition to Listerine I’m now flossing. I feel very American. I’m determined not to let my teeth get back to the bad state they were in. My dental plan covers three or four check-ups and cleanings a year, apparently, so I’m looking forward to going back in three or four months for the first one, and praying that things go so well I won’t even need a cleaning. (please don’t laugh, you’ll shatter my fragile world ;) )

None of my cavities were more than “three” deep, fwiw, although I’m not sure what “three” is… mm, perhaps? I dunno… anyway, talking to Rosemary apparently four or more is when they start to be a problem… which kind of affirmed my suspicion that I didn’t strictly speaking need fillings, but then I’m not complaining – better to get them and slow down further decay, right? That’s my theory, anyway; they certainly don’t actually stop the cavities from getting worse. Just buy me a few more years, hopefully.

All up it cost me just under US$200, of which US$50 was just the once-off payment (annually) for using my insurance. So, US$30 or so a filling, I figure that ain’t bad. Again, I’d had this impression that fillings, in Australia at least, were really expensive… I’d be interested to hear from anyone who’s had them done as to how much they were.

So, now that you’re up to date with the intimate details of my teeth, your life is better for it. ;)

[aside: 100 karma points to whoever can tell me where that “Is it safe?” quote comes from, in the context of dentistry.. it’s been parodied in more movies than I can count, yet I have no real idea where it’s from or what it’s about]

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