I guess like most guys if we ever find a problem with our body we have a remarkable superhuman ability to put it to the back of our mind and lose it amongst all the anniversary dates and birthdays – we know technically these things should happen but they never make it far enough up to our conscious that it registers as something to think about or to act upon.
And so it has been about many things related to my body which I only decided to correct after the pain and suffering can not be ignored any longer. It took me a decade to finally admit that there was a slight possibility I might need to wear glasses while using a computer (having said that I’m not wearing them now) – that happened after several days of brain pounding headaches forced me to meekly book an appointment with the opticians (and this being in England they could only see me by the following week at the earliest).
The other health problem I’ve been ignoring over the years is that of my wisdom teeth. I dare not think about how many painkillers I’ve taken in the name of wisdom tooth pain. My upper ones finally pushed through a few years ago but my bottom ones decided to be difficult and kind of got stuck half way through.
11 months of the year I could get on with my life without a (dental) care in the world but like clockwork the lower teeth would flare up and reduce me to a pill popping ibuprofen junkie. Which actually isn’t nearly as interesting as being labelled as a crack addict. Hi, my name is Peter and I flirt dangerously with the recommended daily dosage limits on ‘profen with a reckless disregard to my own well being.
Earlier this month my teeth started to play up again. Out came the ibuprofen and we* carried on as normal. However after the 2nd week and still in pain it began to dawn on me that professional medical advice might need to be sought.
Not An NHS Dentistry
Very fortunately my office happens to be opposite Chennai’s best dental practice and so my trip across the road was made a lot sooner than if the nearest dentists was miles away. I reckon I could have easily ignored the problem for another week otherwise. A better man than I probably would have anyway.
Now since this is India and the dental practices are not run under a British pseudo-NHS (ie. where you have to save up for 3 months just to be able to afford to have the dentist peer in to your mouth and count your teeth for 60 seconds – but that’s ok because there is a 3 month waiting list just to have your teeth counted anyway) I walked in to the building, told the receptionist that I had some kind of discomfort with my wisdom teeth and I was sitting in the dentist’s chair 10 seconds later and informed that I would need an x-ray to see what’s going on.
“Come this way, Mr. Claridge” and I got set up in the x-ray machine which wouldn’t look out of place in a George Lucas space opera. Now I don’t want to advertise how long it’s been since I last went to a dentists but I don’t remember the x-ray machines being hooked up to Windows and the digital image being immediately available onscreen – tooth fillings being highlighted in all their shameful glory. Does the NHS have that? Or is that extra?
“Right then, Mr. Claridge”, the dentist boomed, “you have an impaction on your lower teeth”, pointing at what looked, in my medical opinion**, like two perfectly formed, perfectly straight teeth. “see how this tooth is at an angle, it’s going to have to come out” indicating that a tooth which was inclined by as much as 0.1 degrees from the vertical is cause for urgent attention “and since we have to take the bottom teeth out we might as well take out the top ones while we’re there.” I didn’t like the jolly sound of his voice.
“OK, right” I said, “when can we get these buggers out?” making a mental note that I had 4 more days of ibuprofen left before I had to buy some more.
“How about tomorrow afternoon” he replied. This definitely isn’t dentistry on the NHS. “You won’t be able to eat for three days, cold liquids only, shall I book you in to get the first two removed? We’ll do the other two the following week”
I was loaded up with a prescription for a concoction of pills which elevated my junkie pill-popping status somewhat. I think anyone addicted to painkillers should make a beeline to India because not only do prescription-only painkillers cost about Ã‚Â£2.00 for a 2 week supply but the pharmacist also gives you back your prescription paper so you can go to another pharmacy to get even more! This is India! Hmm, I wonder if they do co-proxamol here.
The Day of Extraction
My final meal before extraction was an Italian BMT Subway on honey-oat bread, delivered hot and fresh to my office. At 5pm I walked the lonely road (well, across the lonely road) to the dentist. At 5:10pm I was in the dentist’s chair in a very vulnerable position staring up at the ceiling.
Now I want to get the opinion of others here that have recently had local anesthetic injected in to the roof of your mouth and gums. Do you cry a bit? I don’t know what it is but the sharp sting always seems to force out a couple of tears, which is frankly hugely embarrassing when you are a tough macho guy like myself. Do any other equally tough men here have this problem? There is something about the insertion of the needle that seems to literally force water in to the eye. Who knows.
Anyway. If you are squeamish and afraid of blood you might want to skip to the end where everything turns out alright in the end. My blog is kind of like a Hollywood movie really.
I’m always a little nervous about local anesthetic, what if it’s not enough for my superhuman body, what if I need more than the regular person and they go for a scalpel incision and the anesthetic hasn’t worked? Yeah, I have far to much of an overactive imagination. But it could happen, right? Bad batch of anesthetic. What if it didn’t go deep enough and as he starts drilling it goes in to some flesh which isn’t numbed. Shudder. Nightmares. Moving on.
Using tools which probably wouldn’t look out of place in a secret CIA rendition chamber in some 3rd world country the surgeon got to work on my troublesome lower teeth. 30 minutes later the tools had been replaced by some truly frightening equipment dreamed up by Hollywoods finest sci-fi/horror writers as he tried to wrestle the tooth out of the socket. There was twisting, turning, pulling and all sorts but it turned out that I was actually rather attached to my tooth.
Another 20 minutes later and we were back to good old human brute force as he stood up, clamped pliers around my tooth, carefully placed his right foot on my chest and heaved upwards. My world suddenly became a more frightening place.
Eventually though there was a sickening cracking sound which isn’t the tooth being crushed but rather the jaw bone giving up its hold and going for a quiet smoke around the back.
I kid you not, the surgeon was massaging his arm after that extraction and sweat was running down the sides of his head.
“Difficult extraction?” I tried to ask, but thanks to the numbed cheek, tongue and lips it came out as “niffilt extakta”. Fortunately the surgeon spoke numb tongue and he silently nodded his head. “Ready for the top one?” I asked in my stupid lisp. He didn’t look at me, he was instead staring intently at the array of very expensive tools that had been defeated by my tooth, but he nodded his head slightly.
Luckily for the surgeon, the top wisdom tooth was far easier to remove, although he did take a very deep breath before he started 🙂
The Extraction: Part Two
If you are a member of public reading this because you are about to have your wisdom teeth extracted, let me remove any doubts and put your mind at rest right now. It frickin’ hurts. See? Don’t you feel better now that you know what’s going to happen afterwards?
You will relive the moments as the surgeon levers out your tooth, you will dream about the cracking noise as the bone gives way, you will remember how the surgeon was twisting your head off trying to get the tooth out, your jaw will ache like hell, you can’t eat a thing, blood will fill your mouth for hours after the operation.
But after a few days it will be fine. And if you are lucky you can milk the sympathy for all it’s worth because you will look like blowfish with your cheeks swollen out to double the size of your face. Anyone who looks like that must have gone through a lot of suffering.
The following week I had to go back to get my stitches out (did I forget that you’ll be left with some bloody great big holes that need to be stitched up?) and confirm that I wanted to go through the entire ordeal again. I must have a deep seated masochistic side I never knew about.
Now I’m not saying that the surgeon wasn’t looking forward to removing the other wisdom teeth but the original appointment was scheduled for 4pm, then pushed to 5pm before finally being told that they’ll call me once he’s finished his weight training preparations.
After the drama of the other extractions these ones were quite easy, the foot on the chest technique wasn’t required this time and to make sure I got extra sympathy I brought my girlfriend along to watch – it was worth several fruit smoothies over the course of the next few days! However I think she took more delight in peering in to my mouth and demonstrating with her thumb and index finger just how large the holes were and how much blood was gushing out!
Being a veteran of tooth extractions now, I went home and barely moved my mouth for the next three days as the dentist ordered. It very nearly worked too because I was in much less pain except on the 4th day when I tried to make myself an omelette and I opened my mouth to put the food in, except my mouth didn’t open. Which was far more odd than alarming.
So I tried it again, but with similar results, I couldn’t open my mouth to put food in. (I realize that there is a joke in here about getting egg on my face, but I’ve chosen to purposely avoid it to maintain the high caliber of writing regular readers have come to expect from me.)
Fearing that I would be resigned to drinking fruit smoothies for the rest of my life (which can quickly get boring after 3 days) and being known by the neighbourhood kids as the man who can’t open his mouth I rushed to the dentists and pointed frantically at my locked jaw.
Oh boy, did I feel stupid. Apparently if you don’t open or move your mouth for several days your jaw muscles lock and seize up – resulting in the condition I had – Lock Jaw Pete.
The medically prescribed solution to locked jaw, as I was informed, is to get two wooden sticks, insert them in to your mouth and lever your jaw open slowly over the course of the day. Oh, and you really do look as retarded as it sounds!
As I’m writing this I’ve been diligently levering open my mouth and managed to get more movement in my jaw – I’ve now got a window of about 1cm to post very small pieces of food through and it’s getting better by the hour.
My stitches will come out tomorrow and everything seems to be healing very well.
On a more serious note I want to thank Dr. Satish and his team for fixing me up. Esthetic Smile is certainly the best Chennai dentist so if you are an expat living in Chennai and you’ve got some tooth trouble definitely head over to these guys, I was really impressed with the setup and felt very comfortable with the staff and the expertise. If you are British it would probably be cheaper to fly to Chennai, get your teeth done here and then go back to England rather than relying on the NHS to do it in 6 months from now!
* ‘we’?! Do I have some kind of semi-dormant schizophrenic disorder with multiple personalities?
** Mostly learned from WrongDiagnosis and WebMD with a smattering of Wikipedia articles