As I lay/sat in the dentist's chair a few weeks ago, I learned that the huge abscess in my gum would necessitate the re-doing of an old root canal and an extensive cleaning-out process of the affected tooth.
The infection was very severe and was apparently affecting the underlying bone and neighbouring tooth already. It was also causing my tooth to loosen.
The cleaning-out process had just commenced, when both the dentist and his assistant commented with some interest on the amount of crap that they were suctioning out of my tooth. I was feeling mildly embarrassed. Even though this muck had been lurking in my tooth cavity and not in my mouth, it was a bit awkward to have this exposed for all to see.
Just then, I forgot my embarrassment, as the most vile indescribable odour entered the room. My stomach turned. Clearly there was a problem with the sewage system of this place, which was really strange, since the whole set-up was really impressive. In fact I had just been so taken in with their flat-screen tv's in the reception area, their state of the art equipment and modern furnishings. I could not believe that a place of its stature and elegance would not have attended to such an embarrassing problem with extreme urgency.
"Mmm, that's pungent,"commented the dentist calmly.
Yes it's pungent, I thought to myself, while trying not to gag. In fact, it's more than pungent- it's plain freakin' gross!
He continued, "Yes, it's clearly indicative of the extent of the infection."
What!!! No, it couldn't be! That vile odour was not emanating from me, was it?
I felt my face burn with embarrassment. The following few minutes felt like an eternity. As the odour permeated through the room, I lay there trying not to exhale- maybe that would prevent the smell from getting to them. Needless to say, it did not work, since the smell was emanating from the cesspool in my tooth and not from me having bad breath (I swear).
After a while the dentist left the room for a minute, which is when I took the opportunity to apologise profusely to his assistant. "It's okay," she reassured me. "We are so accustomed to it. We experience much worse all the time". I doubted it. But I appreciated the lie.
Close to the end of the cleaning out process, the dentist reached some debris at the bottom of the tooth, which he was unable to dislodge no matter how hard he tried. Eventually, he inserted some medication and decided that he'd try to dislodge the debris at our next appointment.
He then informed me that the possibility of them saving the tooth was not great. It did not only depend on the elimination of this severe infection, but before the root canal treatment could be re-done, the debris would have to be removed.
Then he made an offer: He would not charge for the root canal cleaning or treatment until it was clear that I would end up keeping the tooth. In other words, if the tooth needed to be extracted in the end, then all his blood, sweat and tears (and inhalation of my toxic fumes) in his attempt to save the tooth, would go unrewarded. Since our medical aid scheme does not cover root canal treatments, I was deeply appreciative and humbled by this generous offer.
When I arrived back at the the centre for yesterday's appointment, I did not have very high hopes of keeping the tooth. Further X-rays indicated that the infection was not subsiding. He struggled to dislodge or penetrate the piece of debris a while longer and then he called in his colleague for a second opinion. She agreed that the prognosis was not good, but, like him, felt that everything needed to be done to save the tooth.
Most people would probably wonder what the big deal was about losing a single tooth, and about ten years ago, I would have felt the same way. Now many years (and numerous extractions) later, I do not have many teeth to spare. I was torn.
On the one hand I felt guilt at what this poor dentist and his assistant were suffering to remove this debris to save the tooth. I was tempted to cut my losses.
On the other hand, I could not help but picture myself having dinner in twenty years' time, relying on hubby to chew my food so that I can slurp it through my smoothie straw.
Oh what a dilemma.
My guilt prompted me to resign myself to the prospect of my toothless twilight years. I asked him to go ahead with the extraction. He responded that one should only extract a tooth as an absolute last resort- once all other options had been exhausted.
Despite the whole process being such a pain in the butt for him, he had not been ready to give up yet.
I was both relieved and impressed. I was not accustomed to dentists putting in all this effort to save my teeth, hence my soon-to-be toothless smile.
Eventually the piece of debris was removed, much to the relief of all involved. The root canal treatment was completed efficiently and effortlessly.
I was told to return in six months to see if the infection had cleared, in which case, I will keep the tooth. Hurray!
This team of dentist and assistant have earned my deep gratitude. Perhaps I should take them a plate of samoosas.