Sunday, February 20, 2011

This is a summary of my first two dental appointments on January 19th and 21st

Dental Update #1

by Paul Jones on Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 1:20am
Thanks everyone for the huge amount of support and conversations and help I have received since I first posted my "secret" note a few weeks ago now! As you may not know, My scary, looming February 2nd appointment date was moved forward a few weeks, and last week I got to have not one, but my first two appointments of my screening at AZ School of Dentistry in Mesa. I was pretty anxious at first in the waiting room, not even knowing how things would begin. My name was called promptly and, presuming dentistry to be somewhat like other medical care, presumed that the the cute, upbeat young woman who led me to my chair to go over my medical history was perhaps a first year student or something.
Thank you Kara, for snapping this surprise shot with your phone :-)

Feeling anxious, I joked that I felt really awkward and guilty in a way meeting her for the first time under such circumstances, like I was bringing my broken car in to an auto mechanic only to have them yell, "DUUUDE, you drove your car 50,000 miles without an oil change!?" and shared a bit of my story of how I ended up this way and how I had finally begun to find the courage to reach out to my friends and find support to deal with  my health after all these years.
Over the next several minutes it was really strange to just open up my mouth to a total stranger after years of not even sharing with my closest friends, not once, to a somewhat intimidating, perfect smiling student, but to 3 others as well. I was led to another room to take a 360 degree xray that I thought made me look like a pirate, before i had about 20 different smaller xrays with two people putting the films in and out of my mouth so fast I felt it was such epic teamwork it seemed like I was a drive-thru window! Haha. This whole time I had thought I was told that after this appointment I would then be assigned a student dentist, presuming maybe they were assigned by the faculty or something based on the first day's findings? When I was led out to the receptionist to make my next appointment I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the wonderfully comforting and funny student who had been working with me the whole day was offering to be my dentist! A little in shock I could be so lucky when she asked if I wanted HER to be my student all I could get out was a timid "sure," to which she replied with a smile, "We will work on your enthusiasm!" and I believed her.

I left the school with Kara feeling hopeful for the first time about getting help with my teeth for the first time in my life, though in a kind of confusing stupor that it had all even just happened so quickly and surreal. It looked more like a busy tattoo studio to me than a place to go get teeth fixed. All 5 staff I interacted with seemed like some of the most positive experiences I have ever had with any people in health care my entire life, spending a large part of my childhood in hospital emergency rooms year after year watching my grandfather slowly die of heart disease over ten years. After putting it off for so long, when they offered me an appointment again only 2 days later, scared or not, this time, I jumped at it.

My second visit and supplementary part of my screening appointment I managed to arrive at via the help of Ian and Jo and also Becca and her Mom, and I was greeting with even more enthusiasm by my new dental heroine. On this day, Friday, January 21st, I would first be tested for bone loss. Without seeing it, it was hard to really tell what the hell was actually being done, but it consisted of what felt like working slowly around my whole mouth tooth by tooth while closely consulting the Xrays and poking at my gums at the base of my teeth while recording numbers of varying degrees. Another faculty was brought in to compare her findings and to spare me some of the pain of sensitive spots they skipped many teeth. Everyone seemed shocked that I appeared in less constant pain than they imagined, and at my body's ability to fight infection. I was told most all of the areas surrounding my teeth or lack thereof suffered little bone loss, which was good, though I am still not fully sure what it means. Upon discussion with other faculty, and answering my numerous questions, it sounds like I am probably a candidate for partial rear dentures, and I hope perhaps implants still in the front. I have a few front teeth that are infected at the root and would require root canals, and as far as I understand most of the molars would require surgery. The other faculty recommended that I have a "gross debridement" done before anything which is an intense cleaning using some fancy faster than the speed of sound device that will remove the first layer of tarter that will from what I understand do two things: the first being that after a few weeks will allow the puffy misshapenness of my gums to go down and put my mouth in a healthier state, and second, allow them to get a better look of the status of my teeth and bone loss. This as it later turned out, is going to be the subject of my next appointment, which is the first actual action towards healing that I will undergo that I fear is going to be quite sensitive during and after for a while, but we shall see. I was already administered a topical numbing agent when she was doing all her poking for her precaution of my sensitivity that tasted like coconut suntan lotion to me.

For the next task at hand, Rakhee proceeded to mix up some alginate and pour it into a little tray she pressed up against my top teeth to make a mold of my mouth, asking "You're not a gagger, are you?" I managed to control my breathing through the awkward posture and limited passage of air through my mouth despite the dripping mixture seemingly inching ever closer to the back of my throat only to have her pluck it out like a bloody suction cup to realize I needed a Size Large. Uuugh. I endured the second mint tasting mixture without gagging, and then a third for my bottom teeth, before I had to wear this other mechanical contraption that locked into my ears and against my nose while another jaw-shaped piece coated with purple dental epoxy pressed against my teeth one last time to somehow I think "measure my bite."

It was during this process that I couldn't help but think of my dental visits like an art class. Asking questions all day, trying to decipher lingo and process so much happening at once, so many expert opinions, all about little old broken me in a bizarre way made me feel like a star, but also like I was the subject of an art critique. The really moving part, was that Rakhee was the artist, with an army of teachers to help her create a new smile, a new life, for me, the sculpture.

Call it strange "crush" or whatever you wish, but...after only 5 or so hours of two visits, I am incredibly moved that I feel completely comfortable in her hands after so many years of hiding, that I trust her 100%, and am excited and eager to begin walking with a stronger stride after taking these first timid steps forward toward a healthier, happier life, and I am absolutely dumbfounded that I could be this "lucky." I am so happy knowing that with each new appointment we will each be growing together, that I will be helping her learn as she helps me heal and find a renewed self-confidence and smile and voice. It is really interesting to me, to navigate such a deep, intriguing form of "intimacy" I have never really known with anyone, to face a lifelong fear with a near stranger, whom I will be dedicating the next several months of my life to in order to experience a real life and metaphorical "transformation." She is someone who can give me something no other "partner" ever could, and I can also offer her a wealth of knowledge and experience, albeit in my very fucked up mouth. Strange perhaps, but incredibly beautiful to me. I look forward to jokes and questions and learning and healing and pain and continuing to share the unique story of this journey with her and all of you who are helping to support me in this incredible and challenging time over the next many moons.

Thank you all for reading along with me. And thank you, Rakhee, for inspiring me every day for the first time ever in my life, to try to make a daily effort to finally brush my teeth. I love you.


  1. Way to go Paul! Thanks for this report. I'm a dental student (at another school) and I love reading things from the patient point of view. It sounds like its going well so far!

  2. I wasn't aware many people are still scared of root canal treatments despite of modern painless procedures. But some people are more afraid of how much it costs rather than how painful it is. Hahaha! A reasonable price takes away some of the fear of an RCT. :)

  3. Being treated by a good dentist service would definitely motivate you to take better care of your teeth. Brushing is a good way to start. Visiting a dentist is the second step. Being disciplined would be the most important part.

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  5. Glad you were able to conquer your anxiousness in dental surgery with great courage and positivity. I think it’s because of your nice dentist that had helped you a lot to get through to this process easily and quickly. I’m pretty sure your next visit will not be like the first time.

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  11. This is a summary of my first two dental appointments on January 19th and 21st