It could happen just like that (snap of the fingers). You’re going about your business when for no apparent reason you notice a dull vague awareness that something is amiss in your mouth. Nothing severe or earth shattering, but something definitely there. Your curious tongue investigates the area only to come up empty. You get distracted with the events of the day and the fleeting sensation disappears and becomes a non-event (wishful thinking?). Time passes. Maybe a few minutes, a couple of hours, maybe even several days. Then suddenly, in a New York minute, you have a bona fide really bad toothache. And to make matters worse, it’s Saturday night!
Sounds a bit dramatic or a bit contrived?
Well, my friends, it’s not. Because the you in the aforementioned vignette is really me! That’s right. It was just a couple of weeks ago that I enjoyed my first toothache. And if ever the phrase “doctor heal thyself” applied, it was in this rather novel moment of need.
I am the dentist who had a toothache…a really bad one!
So here’s my dental tale of woe. Several months ago, I broke a tooth that had a large silver filling placed during my wayward youth of candy, gum and Cracker Jack. I called upon a dental buddy of mine (Dr. D. T.) who then restored my tooth with a porcelain onlay. I actually thought a crown would have been the better option, but who was I to dictate treatment? I was just the patient. Well, time passed and my tooth just never quite felt 100%. I went back to see my friend, Dr. D. T., (who by his own request shall remain anonymous) and he adjusted my bite. Things seemed to settle down then. That is, until the Saturday before Thanksgiving!
Initially my symptoms were mild enough that a couple of Advil gave me relief. But as the hours passed, I found myself reaching for more Advil more frequently. I proceeded to self-diagnose as I prodded and tapped my tooth with my finger and opposing teeth. I remember commenting to my wife that it seemed ironic for me to have a toothache the same night that we were meeting friends (who are also my patients) for dinner.
Eating was an adventure.
By the time the main course was served, I couldn’t bring my teeth together without eliciting pain. In fact, just chewing rice on the other side of my mouth proved to be an exercise of dental acrobatics as I took great effort not to bring my upper teeth into contact with my lower teeth. Things went from bad to worse as the meal went on.
At some point during dinner, I had a real eye-opener when completing a deep yawn (I was visiting with some boring friends) my teeth snapped together. Ouch!!! By this time we had not even reached dessert! I knew I was developing a dental abscess and that I needed root canal and needed it soon. (Although things don’t seem quite so urgent when you’ve had a couple of martinis and a glass or two of wine!)
When I got home, I started taking antibiotics and adjusted my nightguard (yes, I grind my teeth) to keep pressure off my tooth. Thoughts of going to my office the next morning (Sunday) to administer a little dental first aid did cross my mind (and no, I was not going to perform root canal on myself!) but I was able to keep the discomfort to a manageable level throughout the night. Monday I met with a dentist in my building who started root canal therapy and relieved me of my pain.
I really did eat a lot of candy!
Now, this was not my first root canal and probably won’t be my last (I really did eat a lot of candy when I was a kid). But hopefully, I will not again have the unpleasant experience of a toothache. When my root canal treatment is completed (one more visit), I will revisit Dr. D.T. and have him make the crown that I told him I needed in the first place.
For the record, it was not Dr. D.T.’s choice of a porcelain onlay that caused my toothache. My dental pulp/nerve degenerated as a result of repeated trauma including the large filling placed so many years ago, and the subsequent fracture and injury it incurred. But, had a crown been made in the first place, I could have had a simple bonded filling placed to seal the root canal access instead of sitting for another 1½-hour appointment. (And don’t think I won’t point this out to him.)
Fortunately, I possess the knowledge to understand what I was feeling and why. Being on the receiving end of such a dental misadventure was enlightening, and pain aside, somewhat amusing. But were I not a dentist, it could have been a very harrowing experience. As many of you know, I have written numerous blogs about a variety of dental topics including how to cope with various tooth-related mishaps and emergencies. In turn, I’ve received literally hundreds of comments from total strangers seeking what has often been real-time advice for their current dental crises. The fact that I have been able to offer some practical insights and helpful guidance to people in need gives me great satisfaction.
And now, having been through my own dental emergency, it only underscores how reassuring and valuable a little bit of caring knowledge can be.
Michael Sinkin is a dentist in New York City. He loves being a dentist and is known throughout the city for taking wonderful care of his patients and for his wicked sense of humor. To contact Dr. Sinkin, link here.