February 8, 2009

A trip to the dentist

This may interest the Dental Maven: I'm having dental surgery tomorrow. That's right, I'm going under the knife.

I have straight teeth, no cavities and healthy gums. Unfortunately my gum tissue is on the thin side and has receeded almost to the bifurcated nerve on 2 molars so they're going to patch it up with some tissue harvested from the roof of my mouth.

Yep, I expect this to be about as fun as it sounds.

I was supposed to get a gum graft before we left California but it was scheduled so that I'd be getting the stitches out right before we left and what with packing and everything I chickened out.

The American dentist, who was very excited about healthy gums and taking proactive steps to keep them healthy, wanted to graft across 8 teeth instead of just 2. He said over time more gum tissue will probably receed so why not take care of it while he's already under the hood?

On the plus side, he was going to give me a happy pill to make the surgery fly by.

There are no happy pills in Germany.

Between you and me, I'm a bit worried about tomorrow. Here are a few things I'm worried about:

1. I will lose my mind sitting with my mouth wide open for 90 minutes listinging to various surgical sounds inside my head.

2. A sloppy medical assistant will neglect to steralize the surgical instraments because she was out drinking and I will get AIDS or blood poisoning.

3. I will cough at the wrong moment during the surgery and the dentist wil cut through a nerve and one side of my mouth will be frozen forever like the Joker.

4. The graft will not take and I'll have an exposed nerve or a chunk of dead skin stuck to my gum for 6 months before we can try again.

5. It will hurt.

I fear other things as well but this is the core list. I haven't had dental surgery since my wisdom teeth were removed and that was pretty awful.

Oh, and I should probably mention that they're going to inject some protein complex extracted from pigs to hopefully thicken the gum tissue a bit and help it heal. What the hell?? The American dentist never mentioned this.

I don't think I'm totally on board with the pig protein.

There was no pre-op with the German dentist to discuss my concerns but I tried to wring some sops of reassurance out of the stern receptionist while getting my teeth cleaned last week. She heard me out as I recited my list while her eyebrows climbed steadily higher up into her hairline until finally they disappeared altogether.

She didn't deign to respond to most of my concerns but I did manage to extract a neutral promise that any dead skin would be removed if the graft isn't successful. And she grudgingly allowed that it will in fact hurt.

At which point her missing eyebrows settled complacently back into place.

So that's something.

I suppose I can take comfort from her complete lack of concern that something will go wrong.

Or I could worry even more because I'm in the hands of people who don't care what happens to me.

What do you think?

(All advice welcome except 'don't do it' because it's too late for that now. . .)


  1. Hey HPH! No need to get worked up. And, without the benefit of seeing more info (x-rays and photos) I personally prefer the more conservative approach of only 2 teeth. When done well, the worst of it is usually the donor site (palate) - feels similar to a pizza burn for a few days. You'll do fine. Thanks for the shout out!

  2. Ouch. I am so sorry.
    I'm not a dentist, so I can't answer. But I am a coward, so I try to avoid pain. But if I have to ahve it, I like it done with, so I might have persued the larger option. But I would be concerned about the pig extract (which I would not allow) so I would have followed up on that... and so on.
    Best of luck and a speedy recovery.

  3. I will defer all professional opinions to the Maven! But I will say good luck!

  4. Wow, good luck! I still need to get my wisdom teeth out because I am terrified of the dentist. Oh, and dying.

  5. Kopf hoch -- es wird schon nicht schief gehen!
    roughly translates to "Hold your head up high -- it will hopefully not go wrong (literally: go sideways)"
    At least that's what a German would say by way of comforting words.
    Really, best of luck! Be brave -- one way of thinking about this is: what would the alternative be, i.e. doing nothing -- sounds to me that would be worse!
    Good for you for asking those German dentists & staff for details, and doing your research. I must say that American doctors (and esp. dentists) generally have much better bedside manners!!!
    I remember how pleasantly surprised I was at how gentle the dentist was here compared to my German dentist (well that was 30 years ago, but still!) Anyway, maybe you can just think of this as fodder for your next blog post...

  6. I went to the Dentist yesterday - for the first time in four years! I must admit it is not one of my favourite things to do - is there no way you can insist on a 'happy pill'? Thinking of you!

  7. I'm sure it will go well... and if it doesn't, I know a brother who can hook you up with some of those "happy pills".

    Stay strong.

    Peace out.


  8. Oh no! Sounds nervewracking, but by this afternoon you'll be done with the worst of it. Good luck! I'll keep my fingers crossed for you-- hope all goes well!

  9. I had this exact surgery in '94 -- and I'm glad I did! It's still holding up well 15 years later, and I have a feeling if I hadn't had it things wouldn't look good now because when you're prone to receding gums, things just get worse with age. You're doing the right thing!

    I remember it being uncomfortable for maybe two days. I had four young kids at the time and I don't remember it being debilitating.

    Relax and let us know how it went!


  10. Get someone to knock you on the head with something large before they start

  11. No advice for during the surgery, but after, make sure that Ralf is in charge of your cell-phone. It's amazing the number of people you can call and chat with after dental surgery, and not remember the conversation at all. Um, or so I've heard.

  12. I'm so sorry for you! I have an unreasonable fear about my teeth. I have nightmares for weeks each time I go the dentist. And I've never had anything more than a cavity. Why I obsess over root canals, gum grafts, and extractions is beyond reason. I think something like this would push me completely over the edge! I hope you survive! Take drugs!!!

  13. My 18 year old daughter had it done several years ago;she has the same problem as you.(very thin gum tissue) It was uncomfortable and she bled for a while, but went back to club gymnastics the next day for a four hour practice. So, I don't think it was utterly horrible.


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