Fear and Loathing in the Dentist’s Chair

February has been a month of dental visits so far – first Dave, then me, and Dave goes again next week.  To say that neither of us enjoys a trip to the dentist would be an understatement, but Dave is much more stoic about it than I am.

He’s been waging a dental war for years, dealing with teeth and gums that have been adversely affected by the chemo and steroids (to help with graft versus host disease from his bone marrow transplant) that he got when he had leukemia in 1993.  He’ll get a filling just to have it fall out a month later.  Over the 16 years I’ve known him, he’s gotten crowns and had teeth pulled, gotten a bridge replaced, gotten countless fillings (and had them replaced over and over when they fall out) … he’s just basically had to deal with the same issues over and over.  Because of the chemo and GVH, his gums have receded and his teeth have gotten weak.

Over the past couple of years, he’s been on a quest to get dentures to replace his bottom teeth.  He’s had so many teeth pulled on the bottom already, and the bridge (also on the bottom) is anchored to teeth that are no longer strong enough.  Every dentist he’s visited, though, either refuses to pull his teeth or tries to talk him out of dentures.  Some say that the roots of his teeth are too long; some just refuse to pull a tooth unless he agrees to get an implant in its place (which we can’t afford).

Way back in the day we had dental insurance, a plan that covered the whole family that I purchased on my own, since I was self-employed.  That was okay; Dave always maxed out the yearly coverage (usually $1,000) but it was nice to have cleanings for me and the kids covered at either no charge or a very minimal charge.  It didn’t take long, though, for them to start raising our monthly premiums in a BIG way.  Eventually they just flat out dropped us, which I didn’t even know they could do.  I guess we used the insurance too much for their liking; it wasn’t like we ever skipped a premium payment or gave them a hard time about anything.  They just dropped us for no reason.

At that point, the kids were on the state medical plan and they got their dental coverage for free.  Dave and I did a lot of research and realized just about all the dental insurance plans had an 18 month wait before they’d cover the procedures Dave needed, and the monthly premiums were now way out of our price range.  We took a chance and went with a dental plan rather than dental insurance, one of those deals where you pay a yearly fee and then get a discount on your dental procedures when you go to a participating dentist.  You don’t have to wait for them to cover anything.

Our current dentist didn’t participate in the plan, so we had to find a new dentist.  Things were going well; it was weird to pay for cleanings and x-rays, but the yearly fee plus what I paid for cleanings was less than a year’s worth of the monthly premiums I had been paying for actual dental insurance (WAY less) and I was pleased.  Dave was getting frustrated, though, because this new dentist was also resisting his pleas to just pull his rotten teeth so he could get dentures.

Dave gets his medical care through the VA, but he doesn’t get any dental coverage because his disability isn’t service-connected.  Up until this year, he was able to go to the VA emergency room when he was in bad pain from his teeth; they would pull the teeth for him, no problem.  Lately, though, he’s been in a lot of pain where he has the bridge.  He thought the front tooth it was anchored to was cracked, so he went to the VA with the hope that they’d pull the tooth.  Once he got there, though, he was turned away; now they will not do any dental procedures at ALL unless you fit certain criteria (and he fits none of them, since he’s not diabetic and his cancer is not currently active).

He was really despairing, and finally decided to try our county health department.  We couldn’t figure out if we fit the income guidelines for the urgent dental care clinic, so he called and they told him that he did qualify.  After a missed appointment (thanks to one of our many snow storms in Illinois) he finally got in last week.

He went off with our documents and I took a seat in the main waiting room.  After a while, I went in search of a bathroom.  As an aside, this is the kind of thing I used to be too scared to do; I hated asking directions or for information from people on the off chance that I wouldn’t hear or understand their response.  It sounds crazy, but it was so cool to just get up, walk casually past the intake ladies, have one of them call out and ask if she could help me, and then get directions to the bathroom (while I stood quite a distance away) and understand her.  It’s the little things, isn’t it?!

I took the elevator downstairs, did my business, and when I came out, I noticed a sign down the hallway that said ‘Dental Clinic.’  There was Dave, standing at the desk.  I walked up next to him and freaked him out, since he expected me to be upstairs.  So we sat down together, and he explained that we actually don’t meet the income guidelines (I wasn’t surprised; we usually don’t qualify for any kind of medical assistance even though our income is fairly low).  They still sent him downstairs, though, and the people there were much more laid back.  Because he was in pain, they were still going to examine him.

I was sitting there reading The Snow Child on my Nook (great story, by the way) when I realized the lady at the desk was talking to me.  I looked up, and from the desk she said, “You can take his prescription to Meijer and it will be free because it’s an antibiotic.”  Again, with the hearing – it’s so cool, seriously!  I realized then that Dave was out of the exam room and standing behind her, talking to one of the dentists.  Then he pointed at me, and I realized they were talking about me.

I walked up just as Dave was explaining about my cochlear implants.  I guess the dentist made a big deal about Dave’s hearing loss (in a good way) and kept talking into the ear that doesn’t have a hearing aid.  When they got to the check out desk, Dave told the girl he was deaf in that ear; the dentist started laughing and said, “THAT’S why you kept turning your head the other way!  I thought that was your good ear so I kept talking to you on that side.”  When I walked up, we started talking about CIs and another dentist walked up and asked if we watched ‘Switched At Birth.’  (I had a hard time picturing him watching that show, but he was a big fan – as are we.)  So we started talking about sign language and how, when I went deaf in 2008, I didn’t know sign language and got by with just lip reading.  It was a fun conversation and they were really nice people, very interested in how we communicated and how my CIs work.

It turned out that Dave had an abscess under the bridge, and he was feeling referred pain in that front tooth.  Now he’s on an antibiotic for 10 days, and he goes back to the clinic on Valentine’s Day to get two teeth pulled.  They referred him to a local dental college that will do dentures for half price, so after he heals up, that will be his next step.  FINALLY!  I’m so glad they stepped in and helped Dave even though we didn’t technically qualify, and I’m glad Dave got to talk to a professional who gave him unbiased advice.  (He recommended a partial denture for the bottom instead of a full denture.)

After Dave went through all of this, I had to face my own fear of the dentist.  All I needed was a cleaning, but I was way, WAY overdue because I kept psyching myself out about how much it might hurt.  I finally decided if Dave can go through all of this, I can certainly handle a cleaning.  My dentist had an opening for the same day, so I didn’t even have a chance to fret – the appointment was made in the morning, and three hours later I was in the chair.

Going to the dentist with bilateral cochlear implants has been a serious challenge.  Because they recline the chair so much, my processors fall off my ears and the magnet headpiece gets knocked off repeatedly.  I’ve tried headbands and scarves to no avail, but this time I tried a knit cap.  It worked!  The headpiece lost connection a couple times but it would re-connect on its own; a couple of times I had to reach up and re-seat the processor on my ear, but the hat kept it from actually falling off.  So I can highly recommend a knit cap if you wear BTE processors like I do.

After I reassured them that bitewing x-rays were okay with my cochlear implants, I got x-rays done and then they handed me these dark plastic glasses.  I realized why a few seconds later, when the dentist started aiming a stream of water at my teeth while her assistant blew cold air into my mouth (at least I think that’s what it was).  A spray of water hit my face, and I gripped the arms of the chair when I felt the cold air and water on my sensitive teeth.  I was really anticipating some pain at that point, but my teeth got used to the sensation and it never really did hurt – it was just briefly uncomfortable a couple of times.  This seemed to replace the majority of the scraping they usually do; there was still a little bit of scraping, but not much.

I was walking out within 15 minutes, feeling immense relief at having this dreaded visit behind me.  I got a thumbs up from the dentist, no issues that I have to deal with.  Hopefully it won’t take me so long to get the courage the next time I have to go.  And I’m definitely wearing a hat!

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About wendiwendy

This was my original info in 2008: I'm a newly-deafened adult. I'm still getting used to the sudden silence, and I want to talk in the only manner where I can still hear my voice...in print. Now: I'm a bionic woman and I can hear myself roar!!

Posted on February 7, 2014, in Cochlear Implants & Hearing Loss, Family, Medical Visits and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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