I’m scared and not because it’s spooky season. I am having surgery on Thursday and it has been a long time coming. It’s the type of surgery where I can’t eat or drink anything after midnight leading up to my appointment (not even water) and that carries it’s own set of terrors. I’m a self-professed caffeine addict; the first and last thing I consume on a daily basis is tea and depending on the day itself I may drink up to a gallon of the stuff. So I’m going to show up to the surgeon’s office with a caffeine withdrawal headache in a grumpy mood because I couldn’t eat anything and am expected to just be okay with people cutting into my face!? Oh… I’m having my wisdom teeth taken out by the way.
To those I’ve spoken to about my upcoming
torture procedure they either try to comfort me with words of encouragement (“You’re going to do great!” “You’re a tough girl–you got this.”) or prepare me with words of experience (“My face was swollen for a whole week and I swallowed so much blood that I was nauseous for days.” “I got a dry socket and you don’t want to ever experience that.”). There really is nothing that can be said to make me feel any less anxious about this surgery. I’ve come to terms with the medical necessity of having them removed and my will to power through is the only thing driving me forward at this point.
Some (most likely the majority of) people think I’m overeating to such a routine procedure, but to those I say: “Shut up poo poo head.” When I confide in those that know my history of dental dilemmas, my toothy tribulations, they sympathize and assure me: it’s going to be okay.
I was a pretty active child. My favorite subject in school was recess and my favorite past-time on the playground was the monkey bars. But crossing the railroad track-like bars to and fro became boring. I spiced up playtime by climbing on top of the bars and would practice different ways to dismount. I would hang over backwards with my feet being the only appendages keeping me affixed to the structure and in one fell swoop would dislodge my feet, do a backflip midair, and touch down like a gymnast sticking the landing. It became my signature move. During one of my excursions atop the monkey bars I found myself stuck in between two bars. I was in such a position that I couldn’t free myself and asked a friend to go get a teacher. A strange woman came over and asked if I was hurt. I told her no, that I just needed to get unstuck. Thinking she would give me support to push myself out of the bars I locked my knees, but instead of going up, I was violently yanked by the ankles, smacking my face on the bar on my way down. Blood started gushing instantly and I was escorted to the nurses office and received the prognosis of busted upper lip. But it wasn’t just my lip that had split open; my gum was severely damaged from the impact and I needed surgery to get it fixed. Because I still had baby teeth my dentist felt it best to hold off on surgery until my adult teeth came in. In the mean time scare tissue formed in between my two front teeth resulting in a gapped smile.
A year or two after my literal head-to-head match with the monkey bars I was at daycare spending time in the gymnasium until mom came to pick me up. I went to the restroom, came around the corner of the stall to wash my hands when my feet flew out from under me. As I was falling ever-so gracefully to the floor, my mouth grazed the sink in front of me. The floor was sopping wet and as I was getting back to my feet trying to figure out if the moisture was water or urine, I felt a slight difference in my teeth with my tongue. I looked in the mirror and noticed that my front right tooth was chipped. My gap grew from pencil thin to a right triangle. And that’s the story of how I became a hilly billy. The end.
I learned to live with my awkward smile as I was told it was only temporary. Once my adult teeth were fully grown in and after my impending frenulum surgery I would be able to get my front tooth capped returning my smile to the gapped tooth grin I’d had before. Then came the war of the stones…
I was involved in a playground fight one day at daycare. I don’t remember if it was really by choice or not, but kids started hurling rocks at one another around the playground and as a rock was chucked my direction, instead of weaving I ducked… my face into the wooden play structure. The same tooth that had met the porcelain sink months before also became acquainted with the hard wood hand railing of the playground. This time my poor tooth was lodged upwards into my gum, so only the lower half of the tooth was visible. I can’t help but think of Mike Wazowski’s on-the-spot musical Put That Thing Back Where It Came From or So Help Me at this moment and if you know what I’m referencing hopefully that brings your face back to normal after scrunching your eyebrows and grimacing just now ’cause OWWW.
Another emergency trip back to the dentist where she suggested braces to bring it back down and even closing my gap, but that frenulum surgery that we had been putting off…? Yeah, that had to happen before braces. And the braces had to happen before the cap. I just wanted a semi-normal set of chompers at this point. If that meant dentures I would have been game, but nooOOoooo, my parents decided on the time consuming, painful option. (It was a good call; have you ever heard of a 10 year old with dentures?)
The day of surgery came and though I thought I was prepared, I was stupidly mistaken. I was told I would be numbed up, they would go in and cut out the scar tissue that had formed, stitch me up and send me home with some really good meds. Sounds pretty routine… But you know what’s special about me? I’m a redhead. And you know what’s special about redheads? They require higher dosage of numbing agents than the typical person because of their genetic code. As such I did not receive enough Novocain before my procedure and ended up feeling everything. And what was everything? The surgeon essentially used a piece of thin wire wrapped around his fingers like dental floss and sawed away chunks of my gums. I was hysterically crying and was being pinned down by the dental assistants. Never in my life have I experienced so much pain.
Not long after my recovery I got braces to bring my tooth back down and close up my gap (which is still visible because of the excessive scar tissue). I eventually got my braces removed and got my chipped tooth capped returning my smile to somewhat normal. I continued with my regular biannual teeth cleanings at the dentist afterwards and right after my 18th birthday and just before I graduated high school, my dentist told me I needed to get my wisdom teeth removed. I had flashbacks of my previous oral surgery and stopped going to the dentist altogether for ten years. TEN YEARS because of my trauma from that surgery. And then I developed an abscess at the base of my traumatized front tooth during a pandemic and had to have an emergency root canal. I started seeing that dentist regularly and he too mentioned that it was time for my wisdom teeth to peace out. My response: “Last time someone told me that I quit the dentist.”
It has been over a year of fighting with my insurance to cover my extraction and me dragging my feet to actually schedule my surgery, which brings us to the here and now. I. Am. Terrified. I don’t expect to have the same, or even a similar experience this time around, but I have trauma and trauma results in illogical fear. I will be put under for this procedure which has brought me the slightest bit of relief in my anxiety, but that’s just one pro against the incomparable list of cons that I’ve curated in my head.
Any words of wisdom (pun intended) or recovery tips/tricks? HELP!!