Monday, March 28, 2011

LOfT LIFE: The whole tooth

I am the queen of root canals, and that’s not a title I’m happy to report. It’s a long story, and just thinking about the “why” brings back some pretty hefty unresolved resentments.

You see my dad was the dean of Temple University School of Pharmacy, and the pharmacy school shared a building with the dental school. That meant, for some reason, that our family got “free” dental care a la dental students. It took three hours to fill one tooth, and there was an hour’s commute each way to and from our home to North Philadelphia, which meant getting carsick and missing a whole day of school. Little me would sit dutifully in the dental chair, wait for a student to do a partial bit of work, raise his hand (don’t remember seeing any women there), wait for a professor to arrive, follow the next piece of advise--which usually involved drilling deeper, and then raise his hand again, wait again, and see the next professor raising an eyebrow saying something on the order of: “Hmm, maybe a little too deep.”

I was young, not deaf or stupid. So, when I was 16, I decided, enough! I took my babysitting money and hired my own local, actual gradated, dentist. This brought no end of ire from my mother, who could not understand my lack of appreciation at the free services they were providing due to my father’s prestige and hard work. How was she (or I) to know that this “free” dental care would cost me tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention extreme pain and suffering. We won’t even mention how my mother added sugar to everything, even iceberg lettuce, in an effort to encourage nutrition.

I want to make clear, I have deep respect for my father’s brilliance, hard work, provision and prestige (he was actually world famous in pharmacology, which I found out when he died and we got telegrams from around the globe). However, that said, I did not appreciate being the guinea pig for the students, even though I know they have to practice somewhere. I mean, maybe a bad hair cut at a beauty school. It grows back. But teeth! My first real dentist pointed out that my teeth were filled so deeply that I would probably find myself having a series of nerve dying experiences as my roots met my fillings in my young adulthood. He was correct. I probably have root canals in half my teeth, and now in my advanced years, the originals are beginning to need redoing. That mean new root canals, and then new crowns also because the aging ones are in need of replacement.

Enter new world! No longer do we have to succumb to bridgework, false teeth, and gaps like our parents had to. There are now nifty things called implants. Evidently, many people elect to have implants for cosmetic reasons, because insurance companies do not cover them, nor their accompanying crowns. 

I hardly know an over 50 woman who does not have dental implants, or is not about to get them. It almost seems when an over 50 man or woman visits a dentist, you can see the $10K figures dancing in the eyes of the “team” of dentists and periodontal specialists who will solve the problem of broken and diseased teeth. It is around $2K for each implant, then charges for extraction, bone grafts and crowns round out the party.

I’m not begrudging these talented practitioners their living. They do good work, they train for years, and they do have big expenses in their practices. It’s just that $10K out of pocket is no small consideration. 

So when one of my molar root canals cracked, then became severely infected to the point of complete bone loss in that area from gum infection, I became a statistic. 

Note: I told my very capable and understanding periodontist about my blog, Spinning Straw into Gold, and he sent me a note saying he spins mouths into gold. Indeed. At least we can laugh about it.

In any case, I needed two implants, and though it still was caused by disease, we do not have dental insurance to cover this. It is all out of pocket. 

My dentist and my periodontist have both been understanding and gracious about our self-pay status. Both are very competent and kind. But, the whole tooth--these implants will most likely not be the last of the implant saga. I have almost a dozen more root canals to expire before I do--at least I hope that is the order.  So, goodbye more trips to Europe, hello “open please.” And, that is: open wallet as well as mouth.