I never felt better: Thank you for the cadaver bone

This is what started me on the road to cadaver bone.

The “number 3” molar on the right upper row of my teeth was dying, cracking, screaming euthanasia. If I ate ice cream or had a cold drink, excruciating pain pierced through the tooth, the gum line, the jaw, like hot bolts of lightening hitting me direct in the face. There are so many nerve endings in your gums. Sometimes the entire right side of my face went numb from the pain. I guess numbness is your brain’s method of coping.

The tooth problem began about a year ago. I was having lunch with my brother and one of my nieces at the 99 Restaurant in Marlborough, Massachusetts. I was eating a cheeseburger with a soft bun, ground beef, cheese, tomatoes, onions, and so on – and I broke my tooth. It’s not as if I was cracking peanut shells with my molars, and yet, there you have it, a tooth screaming its death throes.

At first I tried for a repair of my tooth.

“You need a root canal,” my dentist said. Hearing your dentist make this statement is on a par with hearing, “You’re vagina is atrophying,” which is something I did hear several years back (but not from my dentist.) This is all about aging, folks.

My dentist’s name is Matt and he plays Led Zeppelin music in his office or the Beatles or Government Mule. He has autographed photos of some of the biggest stars in classic rock hanging on his walls: Keith Moon drumming for The Who, John and George jamming in the studio, Kurt Cobain (a little after the classic rock era. Matt is into collectibles. As I sit and wait for a cleaning, I can view a glass encased platinum album (an actual ALBUM) of Jimi Hendrix, “Are You Experienced?” How much did Matt pay for that item? He has a beautiful amber Gibson electric guitar on display, alongside the posters of tooth decay and the three dimensional human size model of upper and lower jaws, teeth, gums and all. Matt has longish hair and is my age. He’s a very cool guy and a very good dentist. I’ve been seeing him for 20 years.

The first year I met him, I was 37-years old and he made me get braces to pull a tooth forward that decided to grow after three and a half decades. He had to pull the baby tooth (yes, the baby tooth) that had been in my mouth for all that time, hanging sore and loose. Teeth have never been my strong point.

Matt also made me go to an oral surgeon the following year because my wisdom teeth needed to come out. He knew I was full of anxiety so he sent me to one of the kindest doctors, perhaps one of the kindest humans, I’d ever met. Matt understands me.

So when he said “You need a root canal,” I knew I would do it. I trusted him.

Most people freak out when they hear the words “root canal,” but it’s really not bad. It’s like getting an intense filling that takes 90 minutes rather than 15 minutes. The only freaky part is the number of root canal needles and syringes you see on the trays. So many sizes! So many colors! It’s like all those colorful spools of thread you see at a tailor’s, except, you know, sharper. The sight does scream torture. This doctor had trays of them, hundreds of needles. During the procedure, she kept calling out a number to her assistants, and they would provide her with the new needle each time. Once she argued with them about which number she had called versus which needle they handed over to her.

“Who do you agree with, Cindy, me or them?” Given that she was giving me a root canal, I agreed with her.

How did she know which number needle she needed? Why did she need so many different ones? How complicated is a rotting tooth, anyway?

There was no pain, either during the root canal or after in the days that followed. In fact, the procedure wiped out the pain sensitivity I’d had, and for the first time in nearly a year, I could eat without screaming. It would be nice if I could end the story here, but I cannot.

After a root canal, you go back to your dentist so he can give you a crown. Well, Matt had barely gotten started on prepping my tooth for the crown when the root-canal-ed tooth fractured into three pieces. The pieces were attached to my gum, real hangers-on in a bad relationship with my mouth. Immediately, as if I’d just been wheeled in on a gurney through an Emergency Room door, Matt applied a vice-like instrument to hold the tooth together. The pain was horrific and he kept tightening the grip. I thought I might shoot through the ceiling. This is the first time I ever felt pain in his office. He had to hold that vice really tight to squeeze the tooth pieces together. He managed to give the shattered tooth a temporary filling, and I was on my way.

“You need to have the tooth extracted,” Matt said. Pulling a baby tooth ready to fall out is one thing, but Matt doesn’t do extractions of this magnitude.

“I know,” I said.

I went back to the endodontist, or rather, the endodonist’s brother, who does extractions and implants. I thought of going to an oral surgeon, perhaps to the same kind man who had extracted my wisdom teeth two decades ago, but you see, I had a $1,300 credit at the endodontist’s office from the failed root canal. When the applied the credit toward the extraction and implant, this would be like a half price deal. I am always looking for a deal.

This was another nice man, who explained the procedure for me during the first visit and then did the extraction on the next visit. I want to say once again to to those of you freaked out by a dental procedure that when this man did the extraction there was no pain at all. After the procedure, there was only the most minor soreness and swelling. This is nothing to sweat.

Of course there are always reasons to freak out with a dental procedure. In this case, you could freak out when you hear the crunching noises as the tooth is extracted, or the pieces of tooth in my case. I could not see what he was doing, nor did I once taste or feel blood in my mouth (which amazes me still), but it did seem, to the imagination at least, that he was literally using a pair of pliers to pull the tooth. I am reminding of a Dennis the Menace type TV show and can imagine Dennis getting his dad’s pliers out of the garage to remove the tooth of one of his little buddies.

But still, remember, there is no pain at all. Don’t fear the endodontist.

Freakier still, in order to prep you for the implant, a titanium screw that will be what? Installed? three months later, powder made from human cadaver bone is added to the space left by the pulled tooth to strengthen the bone, preserve your jawline and to fuse with your mouth and create a strong base for the screw.

The endodontist had explained this to me during the first consultation and I had some time to stew upon it — the bone remnants of a dead person in my mouth. And while the concept can still make me cringe, I have come to accept it as no different, although less serious, than having a heart or a liver or even the eyes of a deceased organ donor placed in my body.

I have to say, after a year of so much oral pain, now that my tooth is gone and the cadaver bone is in my mouth, I have never felt better. I’ll let you know what happens when I get the screw in October.

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