6 Unburned Pieces of The Mind
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The Worm in the Tooth

Last Friday, I noticed a couple of my teeth on my right lower jaw were starting to bother me, but the pain was slight and didn’t seem that significant. It was also hard to figure out whether it was a tooth, or a couple of teeth that were starting to develop a problem. The pain wasn’t constant and went away after an hour or so. Saturday was pretty much the same. When I woke up on Sunday, though, I felt sharp pain in my bicuspid and first molar. The pain, however, subsided and I was able to eat breakfast like I normally do. Lunch, though, proved to be a different experience. I had made a bowl of tomato soup and set out a few Triscuit crackers to go with it. When I started chewing on the cracker, I discovered it wasn’t the teeth I had thought were involved, it was my wisdom tooth. The pain radiated from the tooth to my jaw hinge. It felt like the side of my face and ear had been turned into a heating pad. My dentist doesn’t keep hours on Sunday and Monday, and so the best I could do was leave my number with her answering service.

Monday afternoon, though, she did return my call. I described my situation to her. She prescribed penicillin for me, which I picked up at the Rite-Aid on my way home from work. Tuesday morning, her office called and had me come in for a one o’clock appointment. “You’re pretty sure it’s your wisdom tooth?” the dentist asked.

“Well, at first I wasn’t. I couldn’t tell which tooth was creating the problem,” I said.

“Do any of these hurt?” she asked as she tapped on the teeth in front of my wisdom tooth.

“No, they feel fine,” I said.

“What about this?” she asked as she tapped on my wisdom tooth.

I didn’t have to answer for her to realize she had found somebody at home. I just about lit out of the chair.

The fun part came next when she said she needed to take an X-ray. The right side of my face had been swollen for the last two days, and I could barely open my mouth wide enough to get a spoon in, and yet she wanted me to open my mouth wide so she could place the piece of plastic containing the X-ray film over my wisdom tooth. “I know this will hurt,” she said; “But you’re going to have to bite down hard, otherwise I won’t get a clear picture of the roots.”

If ever the CIA wanted to devise a new torture technique that was it. The one minute it took for her to position and take an X-ray would’ve had me admit to just about anything to stop the pain. I began reminiscing about how Dustin Hoffman’s character was worked over by the sadistic dentist in Marathon Man.

Five minutes later she came back with the results. “Well, the tooth is definitely abscessed,” she said. “Unfortunately, it can’t be saved. You have a hairline fracture that surrounds the bottom corner of your filling.” She pointed my attention to the X-ray she held under the light. “See, right here, this is how the abscess started.”

“You mean it’s not a tooth worm?” I asked.

“Tooth worm? Oh, goodness, no.” she said with a chagrined look. “That’s some kind of folklore.” However, before continuing with giving me a lecture on the history of dentistry, I let her know I was just kidding. She wasn’t amused.

“It’s going to have to be pulled. I’ll have the receptionist set an appointment for you to come back in ten days. In the meantime, keep up with salt-water rinses, anti-biotic, and take two Advil with two Tylenol every four hours.

The combination of penicillin, Advil and Tylenol seems to be working. My face isn’t as swollen today as it was yesterday. The three teeth before my wisdom tooth have stopped throbbing, which is a good thing, although my wisdom tooth is still quite sensitive. But at least the pain is more tolerable. I’m able to concentrate and focus on my thoughts once again, which I haven’t been able to do for the last five days. Actually, I wasn’t able to do much of anything during the last five days. No reading or writing. No housecleaning, although I did take care of the litter box after my cat threatened anarchy. One small hint—thankfully on the bathroom floor—was enough to make me realize I needed to take care of least one thing other than my pain.

I still can’t eat anything significant, so I’ve been keeping to soft foods such as yogurt, oatmeal, pasta, and soup. If anything, I’ll manage to lose a few pounds before I go back to the dentist to have her rid me of the worm that still seems to be thrashing about by grabbing onto it and giving it a hard yank. A much more direct approach, I think, than what might’ve been suggested as a cure a few hundred years ago. My grandmother, for example, once told me that a popular remedy of getting rid of a tooth worm was to eat a bowl of dirt that’s been gathered up next to an outhouse and mixed with honey. As far as remedies go, I’m glad that’s one I won’t have to consider.

By S. L. Cunningham