The End of An Era: Wisdom Teeth Extraction

Oral Surgeon:  Now you’re sure you don’t want general?
Me:  Yes.
OS:  So that leaves local plus laughing gas or just local.
Me:  Well, what’s the price differential?
::tech produces paperwork showing me that laughing gas is an extra $70, making my bill upwards of $350::
Me:  Let’s just do local.
OS:  Are you sure?  The laughing gas will make you calmer and more relaxed.
Me (in my head):  Listen buddy, you have no idea how calm I can be for an extra $70.

This story starts 15 years ago.  I was 15 when they first discovered I even had wisdom teeth.  They told me to give it three years and then they’d reassess.  They told me this every three years for the next 15 years and it had gotten to the point where I actually had to remind the dentist that I had wisdom teeth and ask if they’d become a problem.  I finally got a definitive answer this year when the dentist took a long hard look at my x-rays and said, “Look, they’re not going to be a problem for another 10 years.”  He pointed out that I had a lot of gum tissue surrounding my wisdom teeth, but that this gum tissue would deteriorate over time and sometime in my 40’s I’d have bone-on-bone and therefore a much more difficult and painful extraction.  Not to mention I’d be 10 years older and heal more slowly.  He recommended they come out sooner rather than later.  So I booked the appointment, worked the night before, went for a hike the morning of and then had my wisdom teeth literally yanked out of me (for the record, the oral surgeon complimented my composure despite all the head-wrenching he was obliged to do).  Then they stuffed my mouth full of gauze, denied me access to my personal property (i.e. they wouldn’t let me keep my teeth and cited “biohazard” as the reason.  I wanted to point out that we let women keep their placentas all the time, but I didn’t have enough paper to make my case) and sent me away with a prescription for Motrin and Vicodin.  The whole procedure took just 20 minutes.  Prepping me and discharging me took longer.

I always tell my newly post-partum patients that they want “one and one” for pain management after a vaginal delivery – that is, one Percocet, one Motrin.  Everyone always wants to forgo the narcotic because they’re afraid of transferring it to the baby or addiction or whatever, but I always tell them that whatever small amount of the drug that gets to the baby will be made up for by the fact that they’ll be more able to breastfeed and bond with their newborn at all because they won’t be in a shit-ton of pain every time they move.  Motrin is great for inflammation, but if you really want to stop hurting, you need to add a narcotic.  Now I have personal experience to back this piece of advice up, as my first 24h post-op were blissfully pain free while combining medications.

The thing that hasn’t been so awesome is the surprisingly long recovery time.  Initially, they told me I’d be back to normal after three days.  This seemed suspect to me, so before the surgery, I got real specific with the surgeon – How long before I could do inversions?  How long before I could be flipped around by my partner?  These questions begat more questions (“I have to admit, I’m curious as to what you do that you want to know the answer to these questions”) and then I learned the awful truth – three days before I could eat solids again and at least five days before I’d likely feel well enough to return to physical activity.  Two weeks before I could lift anything heavier than 20 pounds.  I wanted to protest that I had a dancing gig in a week and needed to practice, and that I’d just learned some new tricks to improve my hand-to-hand, but the local anesthetic was taking effect and my face was going numb.  I’m now two weeks post-op and back to doing just about everything, although because I’m me, it took a little longer to feel better than the surgeon said I would.  He didn’t sew me up (turns out mouths are like vaginas – put two pieces of one in the same room and they’ll find their way back together.  Seriously, though, super vascular tissue heals fast), so I still have gaping holes in the back of my mouth where food likes to get stuck and rinsing my mouth out every time I eat has become a secretly enjoyable grotesquerie.

Part of the reason I didn’t get general was because I didn’t think I’d have anyone to drive me to and from the surgery, but it turned out that I had an army of helpers willing to drive me wherever, feed me pudding and ice cream and sherbert, watch TV with me and read my chicken scratch and interpret my miming as I attempted to keep up in conversation.  I was also worried about removing a piece of me, worried that I might actually be losing some reservoir of wisdom by having my teeth extracted, but that fear appears to be unfounded as well.  Thanks to everyone at Perfect Teeth ABC Tucson, for taking good care of me and making this a not-totally horrific experience.

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