Tuesday, October 02, 2007

More of Life's Unpleasantries: The Dentist.

It's strange how even the slightest changes in our routine can throw us completely off. From my own experience it seems that these deviations are magnified as I age. I do remember a time when I was much more adaptable than I currently am. Nowadays virtually all of my hours are spoken for even before I reach them. When I add another task or chore into the mix, I have to compensate for it somewhere else. Even the food I eat can wreak havoc with my day. During the last couple days I've eaten meals that I would have been better off passing over. My digestive system is definitely aging. I used to be able to eat acidic or fried foods right before bed, and not notice any ill effects. Now it's a completely different story. I have to carefully monitor the state of my stomach.

I used to be amused whenever I talked with my grandmother about what she ate. It seemed strange in my youth to learn that she turned down foods that she enjoyed. I'd ask her why she didn't eat something if she liked it. She would reply that she dare not, because it didn't agree with her. I never understood quite what that meant. Did it make her throw up, or give her diarrhea? She was certainly not the type of woman that was going to go into any great depth of detail in explaining her bodily functions. I do remember that she had something called a hiatal hernia, though I never understood quite what that meant. All I knew was that sometimes she'd have to rush to the bathroom after eating. Apparently this syndrome means that a part of the stomach protrudes into the stomach past the diaphragm muscle. Basically that causes food and acid to back up into your esophagus, causing acid heartburn and chest pain. I can only imagine its pretty painful.

My maternal grandfather meanwhile had a way of grossing us kids out at the dinner table. He would pop his dentures out of their position and suck on them like an after dinner mint. The more squeamish relations always had a problem with that. It did however provide an object lesson that adults could scare us with. If we didn't maintain our teeth well, then that could be us in a few years. I never took that very seriously until recently. During my twenties I simply didn't have access to quality dental care, so I never had my teeth examined or cleaned. I barely had sufficient funds to cover the necessities- like spaghetti, beer and cigarettes. My regimen did not include worrying about my health. Hell, I rarely even thought about it... until my wisdom teeth started to bother me.

In my middle and late twenties, the left side of my mouth would periodically swell up, for weeks at a time. I knew something was wrong, but I believed that if I ignored it, the pain would eventually go away. Sure enough it did after awhile. But it had a way of returning a couple times a year. I just made sure not to chew any food on that side of my mouth, and switched to drinking a shot of whiskey every night. I knew other people were dealing with worse, so I made it a point not to complain very much about it. In retrospect I think each one of those bouts was probably a sign of a pretty serious infection in my mouth. Those kinds of ailments can be dangerous because the infection can work its way into the brain. I'm glad I didn't know that at the time.

When I finally hit my thirties, I got a job with health and dental benefits. After a few years in, I finally scraped up the courage to go to the dentist. I was told that one of my wisdom teeth had rotted all the way down to the nerve. I was put under, and a sliver of tooth was removed from my mouth. Surprisingly I didn't have a single cavity otherwise. Instead I discovered my gums were receding. Apparently tartar works its way beneath the gum line, and if it isn't removed properly it will eventually come to rest at the base of the tooth. Once there it has nowhere to go, so it dissolves, taking a piece of enamel foundation with it. That's why gum disease leads to tooth loss. And if you don't floss properly and often, then you have to get a deep cleaning that entails poking a sharp hook along the pockets of your unhealthy and sensitive gums.

Earlier in this post (when I mentioned a change in routine), I was referring to the fact that I have to go to three follow-up appointments just to get back on a healthy track with my teeth. It's exhausting to include that into a workday, and the office gets booked up months in advance for the openings between ordinary working hours. Lucky me- the dental assistant agreed to stay later on a series of Saturdays. And all this is in the service of maintaining whatever remnants of health I still have. It's a joy to grow older.



Anonymous jefg said...

Welcome to the world of maturing adult health. I'm currently dealing with trigger finger and a pulled muscle in my forearm. It hurts when I use a screwdriver, grip a toothbrush (I'd better be careful or I'll be visiting the dentist more often), and wipin...oh, never mind. In any case, it's truly wreaking havoc on my golf game. Getting me to go to the doctor or dentist for anything other than a dire emergency was always like pulling teeth. I'm just lucky to have most of my originals, even if I didn't grow up in the days of fluoridation. I suppose we should be thankful we're in the group that has medical, dental and drug coverages. PS...your grandmother was truly amazing, enduring all those aches and pains, and never once complaining until the last few years. I think her having been a nurse contributed to her view on life.

8:45 PM  

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