Tooth! in! Crisis!

I am fretful because there was a misunderstanding at my dentist’s office. I thought they wanted me to go get some orthodontic adjustments for cosmetic reasons, and when I called back to say actually that wasn’t a financial priority right now so never mind about forwarding that paperwork, they mentioned that actually this referral was not about looking pretty, and they used the phrase “If the tooth can be saved,” which riveted me. “If the”! “Saved”! When I’D thought we were talking about The Pursuit of Unnecessary Dental Perfection! (This is the kind of event/reaction that gives a nice snapshot of the type of life someone is living compared to the world average. Is a tooth crisis at the HIGH end of my Life Stresses Spectrum? Then things are going pretty well, global-perspectively-speaking.)

This stressful phrase (“If”!) was on my answering machine, which won’t be clear from the first paragraph because I’d thought it would be simpler not to go into details such as that when I called them I talked to the receptionist, but then she gave my message to the dentist, who then asked a different receptionist to call me back. See how boring that is, and how it seems completely irrelevant? And yet without it there is confusion, because it seems like if I called them to say X, and they responded Y, my answering machine would not be involved and there’d be no Stressful Needing-to-Call-Back element to this story, nor a Not Knowing What’s Going On element.

Anyway, this means I need to call back and find out what on earth is going on. Casting my mind back to the conversation the dentist and I had, I think the tooth in question must be one of my two front teeth. [Update: Yes.] The root is apparently re-absorbing, according to the x-rays. (He didn’t say it was re-absorbing. But he said it was “transparent” on the x-ray. And I looked that up online and found that that probably means it’s re-absorbing.) [Update: Yes, the root is re-absorbing.]

It can happen from trauma or, most often, from orthodontic work. Presumably that’s where the misunderstanding happened, but I’m still not sure what the misunderstanding WAS. Why wouldn’t I have come away from the appointment realizing the tooth was in jeopardy? [Update: Evidently because my dentist hates to deliver bad news and also thinks a patient knows what it means when a tooth’s root is reabsorbing.] Why would I go to the orthodontist about a tooth that might need to be pulled? [Update: The dentist was talking about afterward, if I wanted to straighten my teeth in general. The person he was in fact referring me to was an endodontist, to see if the tooth could be saved. Endodontist said no hope.] If it’s the tooth I think it is, it WAS the one I wanted to go to the orthodontist about: it has shifted down from the other teeth in a way that bothers me cosmetically, but not enough to feel like it Must Be Taken Care Of. [Update: It is actually the other front tooth. The one I think of as “shifted down” is normal, and the one I think is normal is pushed up a bit, possibly because of not having as much root as it should have.] And certainly I wouldn’t want to finally go to the expense and trouble of having that tooth re-aligned with the others, only to have it pulled out.

Also, I’m very stressed about it maybe needing to be pulled. It’s not only the expense (my mom recently looked into the price of replacing one of her own teeth, and the estimate was about $5,000) [update: hers then cost well over $6000], it’s also the shock of not anticipating such a thing AT ALL, even as a possibility (“But I FLOSS!! And I don’t engage in dangerous sports!!”), and the way “having a tooth removed” has old-age associations for me. I immediately think of my grandmother and her fascinating removable-tooth-on-a-piece-of-fake-gums.

19 thoughts on “Tooth! in! Crisis!

  1. Amanda

    There’s nothing much more to be said except that this whole situation blows and don’t you wish there hadn’t been a giant misunderstanding so that you could be back there having a reasonable conversation about it with the right person who is not the receptionist? Dentists fly in and out of our appointments and speak so quickly and then are running off – it’s hard to get to the point of understanding and having a question before they are gone again.

  2. Rah

    Is there any possibility the dentist had you confused with someone else, in the receptions-dentist-other receptionist saga? It might helpful to ask them to take a second look at your record, because this is so different from what you understood at the office. That happened to me once.

  3. Doxie

    I agree about looking at the records again to clarify. My own story, I had an eye-tooth that was a “fang” and it was brought down via braces as a teenager. In my early 30’s the tooth began to darken. It was found that it had died…a common side effect of moving a tooth. I was given a root canal and internal bleaching which saved the tooth. But Swistle, don’t you wish that doctors would call you back themselves… I guess it would not be cost effective. Let us know what you find!

  4. Beth (A Mom's Life)

    So glad I read this right as I am heading out the door to the DENTIST! YIKES!!

    Keeping my fingers crossed that this is just a misunderstanding on the receptionist’s part. Please keep us updated.

  5. Elizabeth

    One of Erik’s front teeth is fake (broomball accident in college) if you want more information on that situation. There is definitely the 5K implant into your jawbone option but there’s also a much cheaper version which is a post and crown and cost about 800 bucks. I can’t tell the difference, although it did once fall out the day before a job interview. (He didn’t get that job.)

  6. Life of a Doctor's Wife

    In my experience, one of the unpleasant things about medical professionals is that they try to be very matter-of-fact. Often, the worse the news, the more matter-of-fact. (It is infuriating to get a very blase sounding call from one’s father about how one’s relative has died/gotten cancer/been in an accident.) I want a little URGENCY when it’s called for! No, I’m not saying medical professionals should send their patients into a panic, but let’s try to see it from the patient’s perspective and urgent it up a little when necessary. ESPECIALLY because the matter-of-factness increases the risk that the patient might thing everything is fine. ARGH.

    Anyway, like others, I am HOPING that your original conversation with your dentist meant something FAR less severe than what the message (message!) indicated. But if not, and he merely matter-of-facted you into believing nothing was out of the ordinary, well, you have my OUTRAGE on your behalf.

  7. Alice

    gaaaaah. how infuriating/anxiety-causing. i have a tooth that will need to be replaced someday (because there just IS NO adult tooth there; i still have the baby tooth hanging on for dear life) and recently had a tiny cavity on the side of it. the dentist joked that we had to take care of it ASAP, since that was my $6,000 tooth. i looked at him blankly and he was like “oh, cause see, it will cost $6k when that tooth comes out, so we want to keep it in there as long as possible.” OH. WELL OK THEN.

  8. Mouse

    I have more dental horror stories than anyone of my age should, so I get the old age association. But, I will tell you that there are other options besides the $5k implant. I just had a similar situation with a front tooth over a year ago and opted for the $800 crown. If the root can’t be saved and the whole schabang has to come out, you also have permanet bridge which is less than 1/2 the cost of an implant. Good luck!

  9. Superjules

    Aack! Good luck!

    My sister has a space where an adult tooth never grew in. She never bothered with a bridge– she wears a retainer with a fake tooth on it.

  10. Superjules

    Permanent tooth!
    I don’t know why I couldn’t think of that word when I wrote my first comment!
    I kept thinking “baby teeth and… grownup teeth? Adult teeth?” PERMANENT teeth! Sheesh.

  11. Jessica

    Ugh. I hope this is cleared up soon and everything is OK! Tooth problems are so annoying. Add in phone problems and its even worse.

  12. CARRIE

    Ack! How stressful and annoying. I’m not sure which adjective wins that battle. I’d be worried but I’d be even more pissed that the dentist hadn’t conveyed how serious it was (if it is indeed as serious as it appears).

  13. Caitlin

    I sort of stopped reading and began skimming after there was an allusion to maybe losing a front tooth. I feel like now is a good time to admit one of my very deepest fears: Losing my two front teeth. I am terrified of falling down or otherwise suffering from some kind of injury that will cause me to lose them. Why, WHY do I have this fear? I have no reasonable explanation, other than my own personal horror stories with dentistry (which are really NOTHING except I was young for them and thusly scarred and they CAN be remedied and also I had an AMAZING dentist in MA and I miss her tremendously.).

    So. Now you know my silly secret fear. MY TWO FRONT CHICLETS NOOOOO.

  14. Beth

    I actually had the same thing. After an accident 3 years ago which caused me to lose a whole front tooth but then have it put back in later (!), I got seriously ill last year, and was told that the fix had been done badly and that my body was re-absorbing my front tooth. And because the teeth on either side were compromised after the accident too (a crown and a veneer), I had to have all 3 removed and get dental implants which by the end will have cost us about £6000. It’s really sucky, try to keep it from coming to teeth pulling; because the truth is that the dental work for implants is agonising and traumatising in itself. Sorry. But try to save the tooth if possible!

  15. Rachael Heiner

    One of my molars cracked and had to be removed 8 years ago. I still have a big gap in my back teeth, because at no point in this time have I had $3000+ to spend on an implant and crown. I don’t understand why it has to be this way.

  16. Elle

    I just became a follower of your blog and this ended up being the 2nd post I’ve read. Oddly enough, I’m a dentist. I’m so sorry to hear about your tooth. I hope it has all gotten cleared up. If the tooth is resorbing hopefully they can stabilize it with a splint of some kind. If not, you’re looking at one of three options for replacements (the post and crown option mentioned earlier only works if you have a root to work with). Your options will be: implant (the $5000 option, but the best and the one I would put in my own mouth), the permanent bridge (mentioned in an earlier comment and not horrible, but requires cutting down two perfectly healthy teeth to use as anchors), and a partial (or flipper, also mentioned in an earlier comment…I call this one a retainer with a tooth on it). The partial is the cheapest option. Hopefully you won’t have to worry about any of that and the darned thing will just behave and stay in your mouth. Good luck!!

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