Friday, July 29, 2011

Why it's Called 'Laughing Gas'

I've spent more time in the dentist chair in the past five weeks than I have in the past 10 years. Usually I only go once a year, to have my teeth cleaned and occasionally X-rayed. About 20 years ago, I had two cavities filled, one in each of my back molars. No problems since then—beyond a wisdom tooth getting yanked. Until this year.

I'd been thinking it was time to get my teeth cleaned, so I was on the verge of finding a dentist on my new insurance when, one weekend in June, one of those cavities fell out. The metal one. When I checked in the mirror, I was shocked at how much of that tooth was gone. I went to the drug store and got a 5-dollar emergency dental repair kit, which consists of a tiny container of puddy that hardens as it dries. I used this and it was quite successful. On Monday I made an appointment to go to the dentist on Tuesday morning.

And then work got in the way. As usual. I had to cancel my appointment when I found out the night before my appointment that my boss had scheduled a second interview with a candidate that my own brother had referred. I have the world's best boss, but he failed to communicate that tidbit with our team. I absolutely couldn't miss that interview because I was the referral source, so I cancelled my dental appointment.

It was hard getting the dentist rescheduled. When I finally got in, a full 10 days later, I realized I was in a bit of trouble. The night before, I discovered that my other molar had lost its filling too—although I don't know when—and that tooth appeared to have a substantial crack on top. Yikes. In the dentist's chair the next day, Dr. Mills didn't even go there when she saw the original tooth that had lost the metal filling. The decay was fairly serious, and extremely close to the nerve ending. Infection was just setting in. There was a huge gap in the side of the tooth, not just the top. She had a lot of restorative work to do, so I kindly asked if she just knock me out to perform this work.

That's when I learned the joys of nitrous oxide. Wheeeeee! When you are under that stuff, you just never know what you are going to find funny. I never had so much fun at the dentist's office in my life. Truly, this particular dentist has a great staff, and they all have a good sense of humor (thank goodness).

Dr. Mills ground out that tooth, put some medicine in there to prevent infection, and filled it with a temporary compound. This whole thing took two hours. Then we had to watch and wait to see if a root canal was needed. That day's tab was $470.

For my entire life, I'd heard horrible things about root canals. My July vacation was rapidly approaching, and I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to make it to the beach to spend time with my two best high school buddies, Chris and Missy, and their families. When the tooth became painful a few days later, that was my signal that a root canal was necessary.

Meanwhile, I went in for yet another visit to get the other molar fixed and crowned. Another two hours in the chair. The tab for that? $1,300.

Worse came to worst, and I ended up scheduling a root canal on July 13, in lieu of my beach vacation. The root canal was done in a different office, by a doctor who does nothing but root canals all day long. That guy must drive a Bentley, because the charge for that procedure was $1,480. If he just does five of those a day, he's raking in close to two million a year. Sheesh!

But the root canal was quick and painless. It only took an hour. I was so stoned on the laughing gas that it seemed like five or six hours. I now know the meaning of the expression "going on a trip," because that's what it felt like. When I was coming out of it, I told the doctor, "Now I understand what the 60's era was all about." They must have really cranked the nitrous oxide that day. Wheeeeeee! Root canals have a bad rap; don't believe what you hear. It was a cakewalk.

Alas, it came time to go back to Dr. Mills and put a crown on the original tooth. When I walked into her office yesterday I announced, "You know, this is my third time in here in a month, and I have yet to get a single free toothbrush!" Everyone laughed.

I spent yet another two hours in her chair, watching the suspended TV while getting high. Insurance doesn't cover the $49 nitrous oxide charge, but I didn't care. I hate dental work, and I wasn't going to do it lucid.

Stoned, I asked Dr. Mills where my free toothbrushes were. She said I had to get with the staff on that. I replied, "But the staff told me to talk to you!" It was pretty funny.

They charged even more this time than for the crown on the other molar—unbelievably, more than the root canal itself. But I left with a little goody bag that included two 'free' toothbrushes.

The grand total spent on these two teeth in the past five weeks is close to $5,000. For two crowns and a root canal. That's a lot of toothbrushes. Insurance will cover about 60% of that. Hopefully. You know how it goes ("Oh, that's not covered under your policy. Read the fine print.")

I have yet to get my teeth cleaned this year. I told Dr. Mills I needed a vacation from the dental work, at least for a few weeks, then I'd come back for the routine cleaning.

Too bad you can't get laughing gas for that!