Bye bye, molar

So today I had one of my molars yanked.

I had a root canal on it a few years ago, and about a week and a half ago I noticed a bump beside the tooth. Some quick research on Wikipedia, the Fount of All Knowledge, informed me that it was most likely an abscess: an infection deep within my gums. It didn’t hurt, but apparently an abscess can flare up within a day and become a massive, painful lump that makes you look like you have a tennis ball in your cheek. Some of the photos are pretty scary.

So I went to a dentist, who charged me $85 to poke at it and tell me, “Yep, it’s an abscess.” Since it was related to my root canal work, he sent me to an endodontist. Until that day I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an endodontist– evidently they specialize in root canals.

I headed over there a few days later, and he told me the tooth had cracked. Apparently that’s not uncommon with root canals, because there isn’t much tooth left after it’s been ground down, rooted, and capped. Also, I occasionally grind my teeth while I’m sleeping, which probably put enough pressure on this particular molar over the years to crack it. That leads to infection, which leads to an abscess. Whee. Anyway, the endodontist charged me $115 to tell he couldn’t help, and I needed to see an oral surgeon.

As I’ve taken this exciting journey over the past week, I’ve learned two things:

1) There’s a surprising number of people who specialize in different areas of the mouth: orthodontists, endodontists, periodontists, prosthodontists, dentists, oral surgeons, and probably a few other -ontists I didn’t have to visit.

2) All of them charge a lot of money for their work.

We don’t have dental insurance, so the dollar signs were racking up as I talked to the oral surgeon about extractions and bone grafts and implants and (eventually) crowns. I could easily buy a decent used car for the cost of handling this one tooth.

This morning I went to the oral surgeon, who took care of business. He did a great job with the local anesthesia, because I only felt little pricks and tugs as he reached into my mouth with a scalpel (yikes!), those silvery pointed things, a drill, and eventually a huge pair of specialized pliers. The tooth came out, and he proceeded to do a bone graft.

Being the curious guy I am, I asked about the bone graft: specifically, where does the bone come from? I had visions of him scraping it off some other place in my jaw, or maybe doing something with my femur or whatever. It turns out that a bone graft is really just powdered bone that’s packed into the holes left by the massive roots of my molar. Although he danced around it a bit with terms like “bone donor material”, in the end I asked him directly if the material came from a cadaver. Of course it does, but he finds that most patients aren’t all that comfortable knowing some dead person’s ground-up bones are being jammed into their jaws. I got to see the little vial of bone powder, and it was even labeled with the donor’s name: Betty. Yep, I now have little bits of Betty in my mandible.

Anyway, a few stitches finished the job and he sent me on my way with a big wad of gauze clenched in my mouth and instructions to fill the four prescriptions for drugs. Peridex is a special (meaning expensive) mouthwash; vicodin is a powerful painkiller, decadron is for swelling, and amoxicillin is for infection. Wow. I asked if I could just take some ibuprofin and gargle warm saltwater, and he agreed that would be fine too.

So far it’s been five hours. The painkillers have definitely worn off because I can feel my lips again, but I’m still waiting for the excruciating pain that should require four drugs to handle. Although it definitely hurts, it’s not even bad enough that I’ve popped any “Vitamin I”. Maybe I’m lucky, or I have a high pain tolerance, or maybe it’s going to hit later tonight with a vengeance that’s going to make me wish I could crank up on vicodin. I don’t know.

So, three or four months from now, everything should be healed up and I can decide if I want to spend another used-car’s worth of money to get an implant and a crown. Maybe I’ll find that missing a back molar isn’t a big deal, and I can go on living my life without it. We’ll see.

To finish this post, I figured I should really include a photo of me with my bloody tooth.


This kind of stuff makes me appreciate my teeth a little more. Maybe I’ll even floss a little.