Caroline O’Donoghue: Ten traumatic features of oral surgery

Caroline O’Donoghue: Ten traumatic features of oral surgery

If you picked up this column a few weeks ago, you might remember that I was in the middle of a lengthy tooth implant process and bragging about how sexy I thought having no front tooth made me. Since then, I have been punished by the gods for my vanity. That’s right, Narcissus has stared into the reflecting pool too long.

On Tuesday, I had bone graft surgery on the front of my mouth, meaning I now have a row of stitches that begins at my (remaining) front teeth and stretches all the way under my lip and up to my nose. This surgery was apparently necessary because the bone above my affected tooth has rotted away like beams on an old house, and in order for the dentists to be able to insert a titanium screw in there, the bone needs to be stronger.

So, in I went on Tuesday, where my extremely polite dentist opened my gum, stuck in some pig bone, and sewed it back up again. That’s the short version. For the curious and slightly bloody-minded, here’s the long version.

1. “We need you to sign this,” the receptionist says. “To show you’re OK with the pig bone.” “Why wouldn’t I be OK with the pig bone?” I reply. “Well, some people are vegetarians, and some people don’t like it for religious reasons.” She glances off to the side for a moment, and then adds. “I suppose it’s something to do with the pig gradually becoming a part of you.”

2. I am led into the surgery, where my dentist injects me with local anaesthetic and then sends me back into the waiting room while she sterilises the room and waits for me to numb up. My boyfriend, who has gamely taken the day off work to help me, is waiting with a stack of magazines. “Your lips look huge,” he notices. “Oh,” I say, a bit pleased. “In … a good way?” Gavin catches on to my probing question almost immediately. “You are not using this as a way to trial lip fillers,” he says dismissively. “I’m not going to encourage your newfound obsession with botox.”

3. A quick aside: I am not obsessed with botox. I am obsessed with fillers. I have a friend who gets them, and she just looks like she gets 11 hours of sleep every night and eats a lot of root vegetables. I am obsessed with her fillers.

4. Once I am numb, I am taken back into the surgery, where I am fitted with a gown and a hat. My dentist assures me I will only feel pressure, and not pain. This is still, of course, horrible. Feeling that someone is digging around in your mouth, hearing utensils scraping off bone, tasting the blood as it falls down your throat, is somehow even more disturbing when you can’t completely feel it. Why couldn’t they have just knocked me out with a frying pan?

5. It is at this point that I remember, with chilling clarity, that my dentist is eight months pregnant. We’ve had plenty of lovely conversations about her pregnancy, her due date, and her maternity leave. It’s only now, when the bump is nudged against my shoulder as she operates on me, that I start to sweat. If her baby kicks, I will feel it. If you have ever put your hand on a bump with a kicking baby inside it before, you know how jarring an experience it can be. I have almost always yelped in surprise. What if I get a shock, instinctively move my shoulder, and then the scalpel shoots across my face? What if I’m scarred for life because of a restless baby?

6. I spend the rest of the surgery preparing for the kick, psyching myself up to be cool with it. The kick doesn’t come, and by the end, I’m disappointed in my dentist’s sluggish fetus.

7. When I leave the surgery, I suddenly remember that I have not set my ‘Out of Office’ response on my emails. I do this while extremely woozy and drugged up. The next day, I discover that my ‘Out of Office’ reads: “Hello, I am ynwwl, I will respond email lataer.”

8. I go home and get into bed, only to find that I cannot close my mouth, and therefore cannot stop drooling. Everything is spit. Spit, and blood.

9. The blood is its own issue. I quickly run out of the gauze my dentist gave me, so instead rely on the blood absorbency of tampons. I am a grown woman, sucking on a Lillet super plus like it’s a pacifier.

10. My friend Ella comes over to keep me company after Gavin goes back to work, and we watch old Fred Astaire movies while drinking big cardboard containers of soup. I have ordered her not to make me laugh. When I laugh, the stitches stretch, and the blood starts again. Whenever anything funny happens, I put both hands over my mouth and titter softly with my lips together. I look like someone doing a racist impression of a Japanese school girl.

In two weeks, I will get the stitches taken out, and can slowly work my way up to the greatest of goals: having a front tooth.

After all this time, I’m starting to understand why people get gold teeth put in.

After all this, I feel like I need a shiny trophy to show everyone what I’ve had to put up with.

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