(The root of the problem. The panoramic X-ray of the affected 3rd molar.)
For the last 72 hours, I’ve had a lopsided face, been on hundreds of milligrams of medication every 6 hours, not eating much except mostly ice cream, and spending a lot of time in bed. It’s not clinical depression. It’s post-operative care after the surgical removal of my 2nd molar and impacted 3rd molar. Simply put, I’ve had my bottom left wisdom tooth removed and the tooth next to it.
It’s the second time in 4 years that I’m having dental surgery. The first time was when I had my bottom right wisdom tooth removed. That was excruciating. My mouth was open for several hours as the orthodontist yanked, pulled and grunted relentlessly while invading my oral cavities with all sorts of cold instruments of torture, including what I thought was a mini chainsaw (it was an automatic drill) to cut through a small piece of bone… which explained the burning smell at one point (too graphic, I know).
My left wisdom tooth had not given me problems for years, except about a month ago when it started becoming sensitive then became painful, and started waking me up from sleep. I knew it had to go.
So one bright and sunny afternoon, I was in the dentist’s clinic waiting to get a panoramic dental X-ray when I started pondering: Why so much pain for a tooth I don’t even use? Why all this trouble for a body part that is as inconsequential as the appendix or the tonsils? (And while we’re at it, why is wisdom tooth extraction so damn expensive and why doesn’t my health card cover it?!!! Pardon the mood swings… it’s the meds.)
Some scientists claim there’s an evolutionary explanation to the wisdom tooth. Our prehistoric ancestors had bigger jaws and more teeth because it was said to be necessary to catch, breakdown and chew their large prey. But with evolution, man’s brain grew bigger, the jaw line receded, tools became more sophisticated and food became more processed. A lot of teeth became unnecessary.
Medically, there’s not enough space for the wisdom tooth, so instead of growing upright it gets squeezed into a tiny corner and gets embedded into the gums at a weird, painful angle. This is what’s called impacted tooth. This could cause damage to the surrounding teeth, gums, nerves and jaw.
I came across another thinking about pain, a spiritual view this time, when I picked up a reading material from the dentist’s lounge. The book is How to be Really, Really, Really Happy by Bo Sanchez (trust me, you’ll gravitate towards anything that will give relief when your teeth hurt). He writes, “Pain urges one to continue walking. If the journey were not painful, one would be tempted to stop – and slow down along the way.”
(How to be really happy before dental surgery.)
I’m sure Bo wasn’t thinking about my impacted tooth when he wrote about pain, and I wasn’t high on meds yet at that time but still I was able to draw connections. Pain, whether physical or emotional, forces us to get to the root of the problem and confront it. It’s that desire to get out of the pain that pushes us to snap out of our complacency, despair, etc. and find solutions that will free us and give us comfort.
With those in mind, after having my X-ray results examined and getting a 2nd opinion, both orthodontists concurred that not only should the left molar be removed but the 2nd molar as well. Whopeee! Twice as much pain.
So the day of surgery came. I ate a big breakfast (fried rice, sausages and eggs) because I knew I won’t be eating normally for the next few days. And I braced myself for a lot of pain.
Sitting on my orthodontist’s chair (she’s a petite and soft spoken woman but, man, can she pull!) I told her “God bless you” and said a prayer for her sure and steady hands. She injected anesthesia (local anesthesia… I’m not going to be knocked unconscious for dental surgery) but I asked for a few more happy doses, just to be sure.
So with some light pop music in the background, the procedure began. I expected the worst, but before I could even pray a full rosary, the dentist had already pulled both teeth, was cleaning up, and told her assistant to call up my cousin to pick me up pronto! It turned out to be an easy procedure because the impacted tooth was at a convenient angle and the dentist did not even have to cut through bone. Praise God.
(Dental surgery diet. Not bad.)
So now upon doctor’s orders, I’m spending the next 5 days at home to let the wound heal and the swelling subside. God heard my prayers because apart from a little discomfort, I feel no excruciating pain. The first 24 hours, I was eating nothing but ice cream (cold heals the wound faster), but by the 2nd day, I was eating normal food again (in very, very small bites and chewing only on my right side). I can’t talk too much or laugh too big, and my cold compress gel is now my best friend (as well as sweet friends and cousins who come over to entertain me).
Oh and by coincidence, perhaps as a tribute to evolutionary science, I’m using a kid’s toothbrush for now (extra soft for ages 2 to 5), color apple green, with the design of a happy dinosaur with a big toothy smile.