Last week I had oral surgery. The 14th in a series. In fact, I have been having oral surgery as often as some women have pedicures. In fact, I have it so often you’d think it was my secret obsession, my clandestine vice. It’s been close to five years now. Maybe more. I’ve lost count. Perhaps I should have been keeping a scrapbook, marking all the procedures I’ve had done and carefully labeling all my x-rays. Indeed, when you consider all the money I’ve invested in this mouth of mine, thanks to these procedures, I probably should have had it long ago insured by Lloyds of London.
So my gums are a mess, which is crazy when you consider how often I brush my teeth (about eight times a day). And I also floss nightly. Yet my gums are too flimsy to withstand the test of time inflicted by my chompers and the trillions of bites of morsels that have passed through these lips.
I know this because of something to do with an examination that dental technicians perform on gums. You know, the one where they stick a pointy instrument into your gum to measure its depth. Apparently, 3’s are good, but 4’s or higher are really, really bad. The max you can score is a 6, but I think I had nothing but 10’s. Off the charts, if you ask me. Let me put it this way: If we were measuring it in terms of terrorist threat level to our national security, my gums were in the red or “Severe Risk of Terrorist Attacks” level.
I really don’t know what exactly is wrong with my gums, let alone what is being done to remedy them. All I know is that my long-time dentist, the handsome and debonair Dr. T, once told me that I needed to have this surgery done. His gleaming white teeth and movie star good looks gave me no choice but to believe him. So he referred me to a stodgy, old periodontist, Dr. S., who confirmed that I needed the surgery and needed it desperately.
Dr. S., reminds me of Laurence Olivier when he played Dr. Szell, the nefarious dentist who worked on Dustin Hoffman’s teeth in Marathon Man. He actually grimaced the first time he looked inside my mouth, staring at my gums as others might stare at a 52-car pileup on the freeway. I saw the revile in his eyes–the look that told me he would condemn me forever if I didn’t have my gums repaired. So I scheduled my first appoint and kept my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t suffer too much pain at the hands of this menacing periodontist.
In order to prepare me for surgery, Dr. S. started me off with a cocktail of three acetaminophen and two ibuprofen. Full disclosure: I hate swallowing pills. The thought is enough to make me gag.
After I take the medication, Dr. S. gives me five different shots of numbing solution. I need five because, now that I’ve had surgery so often, I’ve built a tolerance for the stuff and it takes much longer for the numbing to take effect. When it finally does, Dr. S. spends the next 90 minutes cutting, digging, shoveling, grinding, scraping, pulling, shoving, grafting, and stitching the gums in my contorted mouth until finally, he finishes with the pièce de résistance: a gray mass of goop that is plied around the wounded, tormented area of my mouth. The goop tastes delightfully like a mixture of water, glue, cornstarch and shredded newspaper. In other words, papier-mâché, and I’m supposed to keep it on for two weeks.
At the end of the surgery Dr. S. reviews the “At Home” directions—all 12 pages, which I pretty much know by heart: I must sleep in an upright position for a week, gargle with antiseptic, followed by a medicated solution, followed by salt water. I must apply an ice pack for six hours to prevent swelling, and Lipton teabags to avoid bleeding. No straws, no spicy or hard foods, and no smoking. Furthermore, no probing the affected area, no stuffing popcorn kernels in my mouth, and, definitely, no sticking poppy seeds between my teeth. When Dr. S. is assured that I know the rules, he sends me home with a cocktail prescription of Vicodin, Tylenol Codeine, and a 10-day supply of antibiotics. Great. Just what I need. More pills to swallow.
I did receive some good news at the end of last week’s visit. Only one more procedure and then all the work on my gums will be complete. It is the light at the end of the tunnel. Or, in this case, the green light at the end of the threat level tunnel.