Going to the Dentist, Getting my first Cavity

It is said that when under pressure (e.g. deadlines), the average geek will let other seemingly less important things (such as personal hygiene) fall by the wayside. Although I can safely say that I still keep myself squeaky clean (either that, or I’ve got mice under my bed), there was one thing that I didn’t really keep on top of.

Going to the dentist.

For two years, I let that slide. Unintentionally, I have to add. In fact, I’m kicking myself for letting it go that long. But with the new year came a number of changes (a new diet, a search for a home, a couple of attempts at regular exercise), one of which was a visit to the dentist. That was a week ago today.

The dentist (Dr. Chin) is quite good. Very sociable, very nice, and extremely professional. His assistants, on the other hand, I think he found at Dominatrices ‘R Us.

Because I had no dental records, they had to get those going. Which mean a full set of x-rays of my mouth. Far more detailed than I’ve ever had before, I should add. I’ve had the ones you bite down on, but never the ones that come with a fancy bracket and dig into either the roof of your mouth or try to burst out through your lower jaw.

Did I mention I have a really bad gag reflex?

My first dentist (Dr. Wallace) called me “Captain Choke”. He hated doing anything but checking and polishing my teeth. X-rays were almost an Olympic event: In goes the x-ray, I start to convulse, he dives behind a lead-shielded wall and punches a button, gets back to me just in time for me to spit it out. (I’d love to have something like that on film. It would be entertaining to say the least.) It was so bad he wouldn’t even bother with the fluoride trays.

So while the x-rays were developing, the dental assistant (there must be a universal constant somewhere that all dental assistants must be female and extremely attractive — mine looks a lot like Claire Forlani) probed my teeth. Much fun. Gingivitis in the top left. (Bad flossing habits, or rather, complete lack thereof.) But otherwise fine.

Well, except for grinding teeth.

None of my other dentists made note of this, so it might be a more recent thing. But it’s hard to tell. Either way, Dr. Chin highly recommended getting a night guard so I don’t grind away everything. At the very least, I’ll find out if I grind my teeth at night.

The x-rays came back, and Dr. Chin started scanning them. He “hmm”ed for a few moments, then said something like “2-7 DO”. I tried to figure out what he meant. Sounded like “do over” to me. Just what I needed, another round of that wretched bracket wedged in my mouth. But I thought I should check.

“What does ‘DO’ mean?”

“Oh, you’ve got a cavity.”

Twenty nine years, six months, and 14 days. That’s how long I’d gone without getting a cavity. But because I’d neglected my dentist for two years (and drank the my body’s volume in Coca-Cola in a very stressful December), I’d managed to finally bore a hole into my previously perfect teeth.

(Okay Cathy, you can stop cheering now.)

I was in shock. Literally. I couldn’t believe it had happened. I had a cavity. That could mean only one thing. The drill.

But it wouldn’t be that day. I still had to go through an hour of extensive scraping, gouging, poking, prodding, polishing, and a mess of Kleenex to wipe all the tears of pain away. (What can I say? I’m a wimp.)

My gums hated me for two days.

Today was my follow-up. I ducked out at 11:00 so I could get to the office (about two blocks from our apartment) by 11:30. I was a little early, which was fine — they were waiting. With big smiles.

The first thing they did, once getting me down, was stuff a cotton swab in my mouth. I had no idea what this was for. After a moment, I thought it might be a new form of anaesthetic, where I could avoid the needle. Quite content with this, I lay back happily. Then Dr. Chin returned with a needle. A big one.

I hate needles.

The cotton swab was a topical — so I wouldn’t feel too much pain as Dr. Chin rammed this device of medieval torture into my upper nerve bundle. Needles are bad enough on their own, but are usually quick. This thing was in there for about a year (actual elapsed time, a couple of minutes), flooding my upper right side with a HUGE dose of painkiller.

Painkillers are funny things. (Especially nitrous oxide. [Insert drum roll here.]) At first you think nothing’s working. You’re convinced that you can still feel everything, and this is gonna hurt like crazy. Then you realize that your face has actually slid off your skull and is lying on the floor.

At this point, Dr. Chin thinks it’s a good idea to get me to sit up so they can do impressions of my teeth for the dental guard. Still being tense from the needle (which actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be), all the blood rushed out of my head to hide somewhere. It took all of 30 seconds for me to feel extremely ill. They had to put me back down again.

The next time they brought me up, I was much better. Except that I no longer had control of the right side of my face, from my upper lip to my lower eyelid. Poking it was a peculiar experience because I knew I was hitting something, just couldn’t figure out what it was. It was like being drunk without all the fun.

Dental impressions are done using some really fun stuff: dental alginate. It’s basically a funky kind of latex rubber that sets very quickly, and will set in just about anything, including a wet mouth. (Special effects houses use this stuff a lot when making prosthesis for creature effects in movies.) For me, this involved a very large metallic form which gets rammed in your mouth, full of this bitter-tasting pink stuff.

I’m amazed that I managed to keep the upper mould in for the 45 seconds it took for it to set. I gagged up a storm (and found out why the dental bibs have a plastic backing), but it came out in perfect shape. I prepared for the second one by starting breathing exercises, and staring at a single point on the ceiling. Barely even noticed it was there. The breathing was important, because the worst was yet to come.

At this point, I’d recommend that anyone who doesn’t want to read about my tribulations in the chair might want to stop reading. For the rest of you, just don’t mock me, okay? This is the first time I’ve had to go through this.

The freezing well in place, the assistant (I think she said her name was Madame Helga, but I’m not sure) started to insert a “clamp” onto a tooth adjacent to the defective one. This clamp looked like something out of the Spanish Inquisition — big, nasty, pointy, jutty things that gouge into parts of your mouth so that something else can stay in place. (It’s a little hard to tell, since my eyes can’t look into my mouth.)

Next came the “Suffocator”, a large piece of pink latex rubber (I’d love to know what’s with all the pink) which they stuff into your mouth [insert gag reflex here] and connect to the clamp. Then they pack on a 10×10 metal frame that sticks out of your mouth to stretch out the rubber so they can actually see what they’re doing. I was fine with all of this right until the latex started to stretch.

Eventually, Dr. Chin had to reset the whole thing so I wasn’t squirming in agony. I think they loosened a tooth in the process…

With me subdued by the dental dam, they proceeded to relieve me of my precious enamel. At this point, I should mention that the closest I’ve ever come to a drill was my last dentist, who ran it across some of the deeper crevasses in my rear molars (so I wouldn’t get anything caught in there). Now I was having a drill actually bore out my teeth.

The problem is that I’m not a huge fan of pain. Never have been. (I’d make a lousy spy.) Having my teeth drilled was pretty bad — I couldn’t tell if it was vibration or them drilling through the largest nerve in my body. (It’s either a lot of pain, or none at all.) Dr. Chin was a little frustrated at me, I think, as I ended up pausing the operation a couple of times because it began to hurt a bit. Turns out it was vibration.

Oh, and talking with that damn dam in your mouth is an exercise in clarity, let me tell you!

Drilling complete, I managed to relax my grip on the chair arms (I think my fingerprints are permanently embedded in the naugahyde) and breathe a little easier. Next came another fun little exercise: Wedging things between Geoff’s teeth. I have no idea what the heck some of these things where, but none of them seemed to be real dentistry tools. I’m convinced Dr. Chin was trying to see how many things he could pack into my mouth without me knowing.

The fact that he had to pound a couple of them in there makes me certain of that.

I now had about 15 different tools wedged, clamped, stretched, bored, packed, and stamped into my mouth. (If nothing else, my big mouth actually came in handy for a change.) There was some more poking and prodding, and then finally came out the drill again. But this time, it was to grind off the excess packing they’d wedged into that teeny little hole. A few moments of that, and then they proceeded to sand.

Yes, sand. With sandpaper. Small strips it, mind you, but it’s still sandpaper. Back and forth they went, smoothing out where the filling is. (I can’t even feel it anymore … but I know exactly where the sanding was. I can feel it on my teeth.)

With that all done, they finally removed all the various implements of pain from my mouth, and released me to the bathroom to tidy up. (I had bits of dental alginate, spit, tooth dust, and who knows what else plastered all around my mouth.

Let loose to the world, I returned to the office and attempted to return to work. It’s a little hard when you can’t talk out of one side of your mouth (and every second person cracks a joke about drooling). But luckily, it’s since worn off, and the only thing that hurts is my tooth.

The one they drilled. Go figure.

This was a small cavity, fortunately for me, but still took about 30 minutes to bore, pack, and file. Why? (Everyone, all together!) ‘Cuz I’m a wimp. If nothing else, it’s taught me a very valuable lesson: I’m never going through that again, so I’m going to have the most rigid dental hygiene from here on.

Speaking of which, I gotta go and brush my teeth.

12 Replies to “Going to the Dentist, Getting my first Cavity”

  1. Hi there,

    Just found out I had a cavity today. Did a google search and came up with this site. Yay for me… It’s the first one I’ve had – ever. Let’s see, that’s 18 years and about 259 days.

    Just wanted to let you know that I’m not looking forward to the removal of the beast and that you weren’t the only wimp in the world.

    Cheers,

    Jason

  2. Thank you for posting. I’m going to have my first cavity filled next week (found it four days ago) and your detailed experience makes me feel at least a little prepared for what is to come! Yes, I’ve been in a bit of a panic. For me, it took 34 years and 109 days.

    Good Luck, Jason!

    All the Best,
    Jennifer

  3. OMG… Google found this site for me. I have my first cavity and will be getting it filled in 5 days. I have already cried! your not the only one. 22 years 156 days

  4. 24 years and 42 days.

    Found out I am now the lucky owner of 8! No one ever told me it’s common for new mothers. Woe to me.

    Tomorrow is my first 2 hours in the chair.

  5. The dentist just found my first cavity today just five weeks shy of my 38th birthday. 38 years without a cavity and I thought I would NEVER have one! I want a second opinion!!!

  6. Google brought me here. I also found out I have my first cavity. 23 years and 252 days. I have the appointment tomorrow…I’m freaking out.

    I still kind of don’t believe them. I’m going to a new dentist though because they can fix it with laser…or with the normal drilling but with a new kind of anesthetics that isn’t a shot.

    I’m still freaking out though.

  7. I just thought I’d update. I just got back from the dentist and they fixed my cavity (which apparently was really small). Since it was a small cavity they didn’t think it was a good idea to use laser and using the new anesthetics thing apparently isn’t that good to use on the upper teeth.

    So I ended up drilling without any anesthetics at all. (Let’s just say that when he mention using a shot I got “a little” scared.. :S) The drilling wasn’t that bad. It hurt a little bit at one point but it wasn’t that bad.

    Although my tooth hurts now.

  8. Thanks so much for posting this, it has made me feel a little better. My first cavity was found yesterday, just months shy of my 38th b-day. Imagine my shock and dismay. I actually cried a little bit.

    I feel better, slightly, knowing what the process will entail, though my hygienist explained the process to me, your humor and willingness to put yourself out there helped tremendously.

  9. Traveller from Google again!
    Thanks for posting this! The comments are also proving that I’m not the only one with cavity at a mature age.
    Btw, my story is pretty similar. I managed to keep cavities away from my life for almost 24 years (respect to all of you avoiding it even after your 30s). I postponed visiting my dentist for nearly a decade and he was shocked to found I only had one small lesion. Absolutely in contrast to his reaction I was gutted. I was hoping he would say something like: “Hey Ivan you have teeth from steel and not a single cavity”. He said something similar 9 years ago.
    It seems that perfect hygiene is not enough. I started new carrier more than a year ago as a freelance artist and it was taking all my time. I often worked late at night so I can meet the deadlines. The fridge and bed was pretty close to me lol. So I was so wrapped in my work I ate too much crappy food between meals and large amounts of cola. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the reason for my cavity. Now I totally quit any junk. I eat more fruits and vegetables. No sugar! Also I recently start to floss and rinse with mouthwash for maximum prevention. I’m also looking forward to see the dentist after 6 months. I hope he will have better news then.

  10. I’m 14 and then some and I just got told today that I have my first cavity. It is kind of sketchy considering I got my braces off 6ish months ago and the person who checked is a new dentist at that office. Also almost everyone was fired and switched out to a new person. The new people are really bad considering that I kept getting poked in the gums to the point that he had to suck the blood out with the sucking tool. I am trying to get a second option but we will see what happens.

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