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The Whole Tooth: Free Advice

First off, I'm not a doctor nor do I plan to become one, ever. (My current profession has an average life expectancy of 57 years, which still beats being a dentist -- which is the profession with the highest suicide rate.) So take my advice with a grain of salt.

Disclaimer: The statements on this page reflect the personal opinion of the author. It should not be construed as medical advice. Your mileage may vary.

Don't Fear The Dentist

After what I've been through, that might seem a strange remark, but I mean it. If you visit your dentist on a regular basis, you should be able to prevent most tooth incidents. It's absolutely no use to skip dental appointments and drag them out for years. Your teeth aren't going to become alright by themselves. No, really. They aren't. I know this for a fact.

Once you're in the chair, don't fidget. If you are nervous, tell your dentist and get it over with. If you're with the IRS, the fear might be mutual. Break the ice. You are have to trust this man/woman. S/he's gotta earn it, though -- see below.

Speak Your Mind

If you are unsure of what the dentist is doing with you, ask. You should be able to utter a surprised "Whmmmmmfff?" even if you have three dental instruments in your mouth. Perhaps you'd like to carry cards in your hand, one reading "What are you doing, please?" and one reading "Ouch." ("What's up, Doc?" and "OWWW!" will do just as well, if you're the whimsical sort.) Make sure you can tell them apart without looking, because you'll have them in your lap. For the same reason, write the same thing on both sides of the card. Usually, hand signs will do just as well.

If your dentist doesn't keep you informed of what he's doing, if he is not willing to discuss your situation with you, get another dentist. That being said: Don't bug your dentist too much, or s/he'll become annoyed. If s/he gives you a rundown of the following procedure, you shouldn't ask "Are we done yet?" every time your mouth's empty.

Generally speaking, dentists have the best intentions. They want to help you. Keep this in mind. But be wary, nevertheless: Some dentists are less capable than they appear.

Beware Of Extremist Dentists

If you fear dental appointments, a full anaesthesic might sound like a good idea. In practice, it isn't, especially if a situation arises which can be solved with a variety of options. Let's say you have a bad tooth and the dentist can either pull it, try to save it with a filling or perform a root canal. If you're completely unconscious, your dentist will either have to wait until the anaesthesic wears off or s/he will simply make the choice her/himself. It might not be the decision you'd have preferred.

A bad joke to illustrate the point. A man came to a barbershop and said "I want my hair just like Michael Jackson." Then he fell asleep in his chair. When he woke up, he was completely bald. He screamed: "Barber, Michael Jackson doesn't wear his hair like this!" The barber said: "He would if he came here." (as told by Lenny Henry, British comedian)

If your dentist tells you "I'm going to do this and that" and it sounds a bit extreme to you, ask about alternatives. Especially simpler alternatives. If the dentist refuses to consider alternatives, he damn better have a good reason -- i.e. a reason which convinces you. Else, find a different dentist.

Choose a new dentist wisely. Don't go by the phone book. Ask co-workers, friends and family about their dentists and whether they are happy with her/him. Don't be discouraged by one or two bad experiences.

Beware Quacks

Since launching this part of the site, I have gotten quite a few e-mails by dentists out in the field. Apparently, they entered "tooth ache" in Yahoo and ended up with this site within the first dozen hits (instead of their site). They all gave me free advice, all of which essentially consisted in "come to see me, my secretary will make an appointment." The offer usually even included the option of having the dentist's office take care of all travel arrangements including airplane tickets and hotels. One went so far as to e-mail me an Excel chart where I should enter the results of a self-examination.

Let me phrase this as carefully as possible. (Lawyers patrol these waters.) I don't believe that any doctor can even make a fairly educated guess as to the cause of my tooth problems by reading the half-baked, commentary-ridden ramblings posted on these pages.

I have gotten half a dozen e-mails where dental specialists told me what exactly was the true source for my pain. Each of them stated a different source and a different solution. This should speak for itself. The first dentist who e-mailed me got an enthusiastic response back. I was thrilled, excited, hopeful. The second e-mail, from a different dentist, with a different analysis, arrived within the week. I lost my faith right on the spot.

Most of the suggested treatments are not yet proven to actually work (especially "NICO", see below). Some of the dentists even admit freely as much. You can read this as "they're ahead of their time." I choose to interpret it differently. For instance, one dentist would have cut my gums off the jaw bone, treated the underlying bone structure in some manner and then stitched it back together. To quote good ol' Charlie Brown: Aaauuugh.

The most simple suggestion for treatment was never given: If your pain increases with the amount of stress you're subjected to, try to subject yourself to less stress and begin to compensate. When I wanted to know more about their proposed treatment, they would invariably clam up and suggest that I make an appointment at the soonest possible convenience. There's nothing wrong with making a buck, but I find this kind of behavior despicable.

Some links:

By the way, you might be suffering from something else entirely:

Don't Overreact

Tooth pain is very close to the brain and therefore very immediate. It's really easy to lose focus when this happens. Don't despair (easier said than done, and I should know).

When you're in the dentist's chair and s/he suggests a drastic measure to rid you of your pain, don't go "Anything, as long as the pain is gone!". If you can't think clearly because of the pain, there's medication. Don't get rushed into things you later might regret. ("We're going to pull off your gums from your teeth, clean the bone and stitch everything back together." No, thank you.)

Don't Underreact

Let me say it again: It's of no use to skip dental appointments. It is completely futile to hope that the tooth pain is "just going to go away" after more than one day of pain. If the pain goes away, that usually means the nerve's died and you now have a dead hull of a tooth in your mouth. It'll eventually start to rot and collapse, the bacteria will attack other teeth, your gums and possibly the jaw bone. It can happen.

In summary: Don't delay going to a dentist.

Beware Too Much Medication

Pain killers are nice, especially if they help. They are only immediate and short-term solutions, however. Your body gets used to medication fairly quickly, so when you take too much of a medicine and eventually need that pill again, it might not work as it should.

The abuse of pain killers has led many people into rehab. They compounded one problem with another. Your aim should not be to live a painless life, but a life with as little pain and medication as possible.

If You Can't Change It, Live With It

There is a simple cure for my ailment: less stress. Easier said than done.

You might not be able to change your lifestyle enough to remove the underlying source of your pain. However, try to reduce as much stress as you can. If you know you can't avoid certain stress situations, to compensate by alternating stress with things you enjoy.

I, for instance, have two choices: Get a different job with less stress and perhaps lose my tooth and jaw aches, or keep the well-paying job (it pays well enough to keep this site ad-free) and try and deal with the pain. I periodically re-evaluate my choice, especially when a deadline looms and my whole jaw is on fire.

There is no guarantee that a different job would calm my teeth down. It might take a year until I even notice any improvement. Even worse: I might end up feeling new stress because I felt compelled to quit a job I was really good at. And I can grind myself down real well. (Why do you think I chose this domain name?)

Anyway, I've made my decision and I'm standing by it. I remember the decision whenever the pain flares up again. And I might consider some of the alternatives. There's therapy: psycho analysis, stress reduction therapy. There's training: stress management, success strategies (essentially the same thing as therapy). I might get in touch with my inner self. Blah blah.

I'll be the first to admit that I have "issues." I readily acknowledge them. When I look at other people's issues, however, I feel rather up-beat about myself. (Quick: Bush Jr., Ossama Bin Laden, everybody working at Entertainment Weekly...) And maybe my issues keep me going. I know a good number of nice, pleasant and boring people.

Don't Whine

Avoid the reputation of being the office's resident hypochondriac. Let me rephrase this has harshly as possible: Stop whining.

One day, my boss said that I was a hypochondriac, that the whole thing was in my mind. Needless to say, I took offense. My resentments against my boss were too big to qualify as carry-on luggage. But I did stop telling everybody about my current tooth status, even when they asked. And I even suspended my updates to this site (now the truth can be told).

I had a really good come-back the day my boss returned from a very harrowing dental appointment. As he sat in the office, pale, spent and quite obviously in pain, I popped my head in and told him, in the cheeriest voice possible: "It's all in your mind, you know." Yes, I still have my job.

Take Good Care Of Yourself

No, really. Brush your teeth at least two times a day. Floss daily. Drink a lot of water. Don't smoke, save alcohol for special occasions. Start the day with a song you like (and not with the goshdarned radio). Be good to yourself.

If you suffer from low self-esteem, learn to like yourself.

Before you read the next paragraph, I have a statement to make: For personal reasons, I harbor a deep distrust in psychology and psychiatry. And I really despise armchair psychologists -- you tell a friend about a health problem, and he retorts "Have you considered a possible psychological cause for this problem?" (It takes a lot of self-control not to snap back "Have you considered that you might have just said this because your brain lacks oxygen?")

That being said... If your dentist fails to find anything wrong with you and you have no reason to believe that s/he's a capable doctor, take a good hard look at your life. Are you happy? Are you reasonably satisfied with the existence you are leading right now? Is there some huge unresolved issue weighing you down, something you've been avoiding for weeks, months or years? Perhaps you have found the reason for your dental woes.

Next: The First Doctor: "A root canal? I went into serious shock." >

Previously: Health Section: A general description of my health situation. <

You are here: Hell On Earth / Health / The Whole Tooth / Advice

"The Continuing Health Crisis" is an 100% true account of MOATMAI's health problems. It is intended to keep all friends and enemies informed about his current status. The Whole FAQ.

First Visit? You might want to check out the summary before continuing.

Current Status: The root canal, it is done. The tooth is dead. And the pain? Well...

The whole mess began in June, 1997. The Whole Tooth starts here.

Content & Form © 2002 by MOATMAI at HELLONEARTH dot COM
This Section Last Updated: 2002/01/02

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