I’m finally ready to open up about something that has been too painful to talk about until now. People magazine wanted me to do the cover, but I didn’t want to cheapen this story by selling out for hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s time to tell the tale of my student dentist, Timmy the Tooth.
You may remember the happy ending to Teef, Part II. I had endodontistry fit for a queen; the swiftest, most painless root canal in dental history. That was not quite my crown experience.
For people who have never been traumatized by the root canal/crown experience, let me briefly explain it: When a cavity gets to the danger zone, aka the pulp and nerve ending areas of a tooth, the tooth must be killed. A dentist drills into your tooth and removes the nerve ending that has been besieged by decay. The reason people usually equate a root canal with blinding, horrific pain is that their nerve ending has already been exposed. Fortunately, mine wasn’t, as we know from reading this.
After the dentist has essentially destroyed the outside of your tooth in getting to the inside, they must administer a temporary filling to keep it safe, while preparing either a permanent filling or crown that you will have until it wears out and needs to be replaced.
Upon finishing my root canal and patting myself on the back for my adult proactivity, I proceeded to wait 7 months to go back to get a crown. It’s hard to make time to go to the dentist. I was waiting tables and then I was looking for a job and then I found a job and didn’t want to take time off. But then I had throat surgery and needed to miss a week of work. I figured this would be ample time to get my new crown and restore my tooth to its former glory. I was so young and naïve.
My first visit to the regular dental school clinic was made all the more interesting by my inability to speak. Having just had surgery, I needed to rest my voice. I was communicating through pen, paper and eyebrow raises.
When you go to dental school for treatment, the first visit is purely diagnostic. No one brushes your teeth or cleans anything. It is a pure examination. Even if you’ve recently had a root canal and have x-rays of your teeth ready to display, they still have to do all new x-rays, scans, scrapes, etc. Then, they bring over a minimum of two dental students to look in your mouth and try to diagnose you visually. This usually involves a lot of groping for vocabulary and repetition of whatever new jargon the students have learned that day in class. All of this is supervised by a real, grown-up dentist, so you feel safe.
Upon this first meeting with Timmy (Timmy’s real name is obviously something else, but it is equally as stupid. If you are 5’3” and look like you are eight years old, you should not go by the “-y” form of your name.), he was in charge of examining my throat. Even though he had just been told that I had recently had throat surgery AND that I had a tonsillectomy in 1999, he poked me straight in the larynx and pronounced my tonsils swollen. This was an inauspicious start.