At long last, ten months after I had to have a painful molar extracted, I finally have a full set of teeth. Nasty old 19, which nearly ruined a weekend vacation in New York City last May, has been replaced by an implant.
None of this has been fun. My scleroderma creates many complications for dental work, especially much difficulty opening my jaw wide enough for my dentists and hygienists to manipulate all the probes and pics and suction tubes and needles and pliers needed for the various steps in the process.
Despite the fact that the roots of my molar had resorbed to the point of exposing the nerve—a rare complication of scleroderma—pulling the damn thing out of my jaw was quite the ordeal last spring. My periodontist, whom I trust implicitly, had to drill it into pieces and extract it by segments, because the roots just didn’t want to let go.
After my gums healed up, the next step was a bone graft. Then setting in the foundation for the implant. All of this required long visits, a lot of Novocaine, and much pulling and stretching of my lips and cheeks, which don’t have much give. Plus months for my gums to heal, in-between.
Finally, in February, I was ready to go back to my dentist and get impressions made for the crown. He, like my periodontist, understands how hard it is for me to keep my mouth open wide and is always as careful as can be, apologizing whenever I wince. But there’s just no getting around it—even when he uses the smallest tray for the impression or whatever, it hurts. I always feel like my lips or cheeks are about to tear.
Last week, my new 19 arrived. I went to the dentist Wednesday afternoon, looking forward to getting it over with, at last, and being able to chew thoroughly once again—without taking twice as long as normal (which is long enough already) to eat a meal. My dentist tested the placement three times, made adjustments and set in the molar. But when the cement dried, it had settled too close to the next tooth, so he had to jigger it a bit so a piece of floss would pass between the two teeth.
When I left, I noticed a crunching sound inside the molar when I bit down, but I told myself it was okay. I enjoyed chewing a piece of gum—on both sides of my mouth—on the drive home. But by evening, it was clear that the crown was loose. I could click it with my tongue. Saliva was pooling under the base. The left side of my tongue was really sore from all the poking and prodding earlier that day.
So on Friday, I made another 80 mile round trip, back to my dentist, to have the crown reset. I was frustrated, but there was no point in getting angry about it. I can’t open wide, and that makes it much harder for my dentists, no matter how good they are, to do what needs to be done.
Fortunately, this time, the procedure was successful. Ninenteen is now firmly in place. My tongue has healed up from the second round of poking and prodding, and my inner cheek has gotten used to feeling a tooth instead of a gap. I’m still relearning how to chew on the left side. I can’t sense food through the crown the way I can with a real tooth, so it’s taking some practice.
We’re still catching up with all of the dental bills, too. Insurance only covered about a fourth of the $7,500 total—better than nothing, certainly, but still. Talk about sticker shock.
But I can chew again. You don’t realize how important each tooth is until you lose one. Missing that molar has increased the risk of gagging on food, which happened far too many times over the past ten months. I’m grateful that I have excellent care, that I’m able to work my schedule around all these appointments, and that we’re managing to pay for it. There will undoubtedly be another tooth that needs replacing at some point in the future, but, with any luck, it won’t be any time soon.
Meanwhile, pass me the biscotti.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.